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March 2011 Archives

There are good days. There are great days. And there's Opening Day.

I hope every kid still in school skips out early and every adult in town calls it a half day after lunch.

The spirit of this town changes on Opening Day -- and it even does so when the Reds stink. In a year like this one, coming off the first division title in 15 years...yeah, this will be a fun one.

As some of you may or may not know, I hold down a position working in the scoreboard at Great American Ballpark playing clips and graphics on the videoboard during games. (When i say Make Some Noise, you people need to be making damn noise!) So, it's extra special to be a part of the organization on a day like this. Last year at this time was my first day with the Reds and I had never done this current job before. Let's just say the concept of screwing up on Day 1 in front of 42,000 people had me as scared as I've been in my life. All went well and once I stopped hyperventilating, I was able to enjoy the day.

It will be even better to enjoy the day without the shakes blurring my vision this year and I hope all the rest of you that will be there enjoy the show. If the screen goes to black for no reason at any point, please don't boo. It hurts my feelings.

As for some UC connections, there will be a Bearcat Caravan running through the Findlay Market parade and Butch Jones will be in attendance. I asked him this week if he would try to throw at the first pitch and he said that he's not down with that after a bad experience in Detroit. Little did he know how low Mark Mallory set the bar around these parts. Apparently, as he tends to do on Gameday, Jones let his adrenaline and passion show and sailed one about 10 feet over the catcher (golfing buddy Andy Van Slyke). Moral of the story, no first pitch today. He'll settle quietly into the stands.

Let's eat...

--- Darnell Wilks talked to Chad Brendel about where some of his inspiration will come from for the dunk contest. It airs tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.

No doubt we see Wilks' go-to windmill slam.  

--- Of course, spring practice continued. Here were some sights and sounds from Day 2. Most notably, UC straps on pads for the first time today. Things should get much more interesting from this point forth.  

--- The man on the inside, Tommy G had this interview with WR coach T.J. Weist. The receiver group is an intersting one and Weist has his hands full developing some talented prospects. Kenbrell Thompkins and D.J. Woods will be the polished vets, but prodding along the 3,4 and 5 will be a key to this team's success.

Weist chats about Kenbrell Thompkins meshing into the playmaking role this year. Really high expectations demanded of KT this year. With the youth surrounding him, the Bearcats can't afford to see Thompkins disappoint.    

--- The UC defense has a nickname. And dog tags.

--- We've heard since the middle of last season how Jones expects TE Travis Kelce to be an impact player. At an athletic 6-6, 250, he's got the body for it. Bill Koch had the story.

--- No real randomness today, as I head to the ballpark. I'll only leave you with the moment everyone does and should remember from last season. I still get chills watching it.   

Tuesday almost felt like a gameday at spring practice with all the media that showed up for Day 1. Of course, we won't see most of them again until the Bearcat Bowl on April 16, but that's for another blog.

Always a good time chatting with the scribe contingent. Congrats out to the News Record Sports Editor Sam Elliott, who helped me out at GoBearcats some last season, on landing a job outside of St. Louis. It's good to know some newspapers are still hiring talented people when all you hear about is them being laid off.

Also, congrats to Bill Koch, who appears close to selling his 39-inch TV that weighs 164 pounds. By selling, I mean tricking someone into picking it up from his house.

Let's eat...

--- I put together this story on senior lineman Alex Hoffman. He'll be the rock on this year's offensive line that's going through yet another rebuild after losing starters Jason Kelce, C.J. Cobb and Sam Griffin.

Hoffman will be a great guy to talk to all year. He's personable, likeable and knowledgeable about the game.

When we were talking about his offseason workout program he said he's been taking part in strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson's jump rope sessions to improve footwork. He said he's not exactly a jump rope star yet, but can get the job done.

My goal is to see all 300 pounds of Alex Hoffman with the youth girls jump rope crew at halftime of a UC hoops game next season.

Hoffman didn't seem as keen on that idea.

--- ESPN's Brian Bennett was in the bubble yesterday and said he'll be visiting Pitt and Notre Dame as well this spring. He posted this video preview before he left and he wrote a blog on his observations from the practice.

He started by talking about the bubble, which I forgot to mention in the Pro Day post. That was my first time in there as well. I can only imagine the recruiting tool this facility will be. Combine the professional practice facilities (or better than professional in this town) along with playing multiple games each year at Paul Brown Stadium and you have two monster draws for top high school players.

--- Despite taking multiple showers, I'm still covered in irony from seeing Marvin Lewis inside a bubble in the city of Cincinnati on Monday.

--- Bill Koch wrote his piece on Zach Collaros. He was the unanimous first-team all-Big East QB last season, but many fans they were critical of his play. Make no mistake, 2010 was a huge adjustment for Collaros. He'd never been under consistent pressure as he was last year and it forced to him to make some tough throws trying to make plays. He's working this year on better decision-making and, in particular, knowing when to throw the ball away and punt rather than make difficult throws into traffic that lead to turnovers.

That said, he's currently the best QB in the Big East (apologies to Geno Smith) and the reason UC can contend for a title.  

--- If there was any quasi-news to come out of the day, it was Butch Jones saying that finding a No. 2 quarterback was a primary concern this spring. Despite Chazz Anderson as the incumbent, he won't be handed the keys. Brendon Kay, Munchie Legaux and a host of other young signal-callers will be in the mix. When UC goes live in pads only Collaros will be untouchable. The rest will be open for contact.

I'd expect the battle to run all the way through training camp.

"You have to prove yourself," Jones said. "Zach had a great offseason and proved himself. We found out the level of football your second and third quarterbacks are going to need to be able to play. You treat them like starting quarterbacks. We put as much pressure and competition on them as much as we can."

 

--- The Coaches Clipboard talks with co-DC Jon Jancek and QB/OC Mike Bajakian after the first practice. Bajakian talks about seven QBs being on the roster and the competition it creates, among other topics.

--- Andrew Force gave out some spring awards with insight into whose made the biggest offseason jumps, added weight, etc.

--- Sights and sounds from Tommy G and his crew. With a guest appearance by M.C. Hammer. Also, an interview with bulky Walter Stewart, who says he's more comfortable at defensive end. 

--- Was pumped to learn yesterday that Darnell Wilks will take part in the College Slam Dunk contest on Thursday. Here's the details.  

DVR Alert: The show will air at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 on Thursday night.

He'll fall into line just behind James White and Melvin Levett as the top dunking Bearcats of all-time.

We'll be seeing plenty of high-rising like this putback dunk against Rutgers.

Wilks has his work cut out for him, apparently, because John Williams of UNC-Asheville, aka "The Masked Dunker" really likes his chances. The field also includes this little guy from Illinois College who received an exemption because of his Facebook campaign.   

--- On to some randomness...

--- There have been days in my life where I wanted this to be a headline about me.

--- Children bring so much into a parent's life. Love, joy, a shield for tasers, excitement, family bond, committment. Wait, one of those doesn't sound right. No, not joy, the one after that.   

--- I like bacon. I like ice cream. I even sometimes like Denny's.

Yet, I'm incredibly nervous about their merging.  

--- Dez Bryant hopes to single-handedly end the lockout.

--- Let's conclude with a glimpse of Darnell Wilks at a dunk contest.    

Here was Wilks rocking the sweat pants at the Deveroes Slam Dunk contest (he's the second guy up). I think showing up in sweats and a beater alone would warrant consideration for the title even before he leaves the ground.  

Women's Basketball outlook for 2011-12

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The Bearcats ended the season with another early exit from the Big East Tournament and a losing season, but all is not lost for the youthful team.

While Cincinnait loses seniors Shareese Ulis and Shelly Bellman, it has an abundance of young talent returning next year. Check out my story on the emergence of several freshman and a Michigan transfer.  

--Here is a complete season recap.The shining moments included a hot start and a Senior Night win against No. 20 Marquette.

--Coming into head coach Jamelle Elliott's first full season with her recruits there were 10 active players on the roster. This number dwindled to seven for the bulk of the conference season after forwards Elese Daniel and Daress McClung suffered early season-ending injuries and guard Chanel Chisholm hurt her ankle on Jan. 10. With those players now healthy and another incoming class Elliott will have a fully capable hand next year.  

--First-year players Kayla Cook and Jeanise Randolph capitalized on their significant playing time to garner Big East all-rookie honors. 

"They have a year of experience so I'm expecting them to start stepping up and being leaders," Elliott said. "To not be as inconsistent as freshman. Once they become sophomores I'm expecting them to be consistent night in and night out."

---Elliott expects players to earn their minutes in preparation for this fall. As she heads into her third season at the helm she said she and the players have to progress from one season to the next to become a winning program.   

"To be honest come practice, preseason next year, everyone is going to have the same opportunity. I'm not the type of coach that says, 'Ok just because you're a senior your going to play this amount of minutes per game.' It's real healthy to have competition in practice whether they are freshman sophomores, juniors or seniors, they are going to earn their minutes based on what they show in practice."



--This will be my last blog post, you can reach me at tickelhm@mail.uc.edu.

Alex Hoffman will be a three-year starter for his senior year and depended upon to help lead the development of a young front five.

 

CINCINNATI - Alex Hoffman never shied away from coaching up his younger teammates. Giving instructions and assisting came natural to him last season as he held a starting role at both guard and tackle.

 

Still, he ceded his leadership role to reigning senior rock Jason Kelce.

 

One year later, surrounded by three new starters, the leadership position is his. Whether Hoffman wants the role or not. Luckily for the Bearcats, he's the ideal candidate.

hoffman.jpeg 

"He's our vocal leader and leader by example," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "Just does everything right, from school, first and foremost, sets an example where freshman are looking up to him. He's just the model Bearcat. He really is, he does everything right. He's the voice."

 

A voice this team desperately needs.

 

Next to Hoffman and Randy Martinez, who earned 23 of 24 possible starts at their positions last season, there will be three new starters manning the offensive front Sept. 1 against Austin Peay.

 

"This year is my turn to come around," Hoffman said. "I have always been the guy to kind of coach guys up well on second team, this year I am going to really get guys to focus on getting the whole unit together and help those young guys develop a little more, because we need them, you know?"

 

Oh, they know. The offensive line endured growing pains consistently protecting Zach Collaros, particularly early last season. UC allowed 33 sacks last year, 96th in the country and only better than Rutgers in the Big East, who led the nation allowing 61 sacks.

 

Hoffman feels the pressure to progress, but believes with his leadership as a three-year starter and continuity of a second year in the system, this unit will handle the pressure.

 

Last year at this point, the same topic about pressure protecting for a talented group of skill players held the line of conversation. Dealing with pressure to perform comes as standard as stretching out the black No. 59 jersey.

 

"We are used to it," Hoffman said. "We have big shoes to fill this year. We struggled last year with sacks and protecting Zach. That is the main focus this year to get our line under control and really focus on protecting Zach and running the ball with (Isaiah) Pead and Darrin (Williams) and all them."

 

How to accomplish that?  Replacing three members of the line while also improving on their individual performances began Tuesday with spring practice No. 1. Hoffman took time between reps to find teachable moments with Evan Davis, Austen Bujnoch or any of a number of young players competing for the open spots. When practice moves form inside the Sheakley Athletic Center bubble to the film room, the teaching continues.

 

"The main key is footwork, eyes, general getting the job done," Hoffman said. "They'll ask me if they did it right and if not I'll coach them up. So, just general stuff they are not really familiar with like certain game situations that will happen."

 

Butch Jones preaches the value of competition at every spot creating champions. It's been mentioned in each of the dozens of media appearances he's made over the past week. Nowhere will that be more evident than the offensive line where there are frontrunners like Andre Cureton, Davis and Bujnoch lead the way, but almost any of the 14 listed on the roster could earn a starting spot.

 

"We got guys that are competing for spots every day," Mahoney said. "From meetings to in practice with attention to detail all those things. It's a great challenge, but I like the mentality of that (competition)."

Happy spring practice! Not sure what that means for you. More than likely it means you will be returning to Nippert Stadium on April 16. We'll provide an onslaught of stories, notes and features over the next few weeks as the Bearcats hit the field for the first time since losing to Pittsburgh in December.

Tommy G, of course, has you hooked up with the videos and sights and sounds at Spring Practice Central. Click it, bookmark it, live it.

The practices are early, so you'll get another brief Breakfast as I head out there. Of course, check back later today for more on what went down in the Sheakley Athletics Center.

Let's eat...

--- Yesterday's Pro Day went off and here was my recap of the day. Most noteworthy performances in my book: Ben Guidugli pushing 28 reps on the bench which would have been tops at the combine for a TE, Jake Rogers crushing a 61-yard punt outside and John Goebel's all-around day of strong numbers.

--- Scott Springer with some video of guys in glorified boxer briefs without shirts running. He also has an interview with a Steelers scout with some good insight.

--- Bill Koch with his overview of some of the storylines as practices begin today. I've touched on a few of the position battles here recently, but from my seat the search for offensive line replacements and the depth at linebacker lead the way.

--- Tim Adams had a conversation with Jason Kelce.  Tommy G did as well and posted the video here.

--- Some randomness...  

--- Can he keep a computer journal that teach us invaluable life lessons, too? 

--- Thank goodness technology didn't advance more in the 90s or we never would have known the Bubble Boy.

--- More desperate plea for pop culture significance? Entorauge still making episodes or Andrew Dice Clay playing a major role in them?

--- Outside of looking sweet, there apparently is another reason to grow out an epic beard: To shove 2,747 toothpicks in it. (h/t Hot Clicks) 

Sidenote: I hope those aren't his kids.

 

PRO DAY MOVING PICTURES

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5,9, 12 and 19 have very little to worry about in terms of videography, but I did bring my Kodak HD video cam to UC's Pro Day for a little test run. I bought the device to use on my regular job (Community Press/Enquirer/Gannett papers covering high school sports) and it's a nice little toy.

So, here you go, starting with Ben Guidugli's 40 from the Sheakley Athletic Complex. Ben benched 225 pounds 28 times on this day (second to C.J. Cobb's 31) and he had the best vertical leap with 34" (better than Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton at 33.5"). In the 40 his best time was his first try (4.84 here) Vidal Hazelton was also out to turn some heads as he wasn't invited to the NFL combine (as Armon Binns and Jason Kelce were). Hazelton had the best 3-cone run at 6.72. His 40 times were 4.63 and 4.62. This is is first run (after a couple of misfires). Finally, I ran into former UC assistant Amos Jones who was speaking with UC's Kerry Coombs and Marvin Lewis of the Bengals. Jones is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their special teams coach but was a great source of information during my radio days with the football Bearcats.  Jones was on the same staff as current Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin here under Rick Minter.  I was also was fortunate to play golf with Amos a couple of times in UC's Letterman Weekend outing.  Jones was paying particular attention to kicker Jake Rogers and receiver Vidal Hazelton.  Here's the rest....

Pro Day musings

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Nothing quite brings out the boring like Pro Day - at least for us media folks. Sure, for the players, there's plenty to prove, months of hard work to show off and impressions to make. Yet, for the most part, even if "something" happens, nothing happens.

 

Some of the eight UC seniors working out had better days than other, but unless you are in the brain or meeting rooms with the 27 teams represented nobody knows who really made an impression that will be parlayed into a move up or down a draft board.

 

That said, with all this standing around, there's plenty of chatting done with current players, former players, coaches and even the contingent of us media stiffs on hand.

 

--- There were a few favorite moments - none including the impromptu 40-yard dash myself and The Enquirer's Joe Reedy posted chasing after what we thought was a departing Vidal Hazelton.

 

First, great talking to OL Jason Kelce, who didn't work out after posting fantastic numbers at the combine. Kelce also spoke with Tommy G, if you'd like to hear his interview here. When discussing the uncertainty of the lockout, Kelce called it "awkward" before joking around about contingency plans.

 

"I haven't talked to me agents yet. I have thought that if there isn't a season maybe I'll do some construction or something to stay busy with my hands."

 

Few prospects endured a more eventful last few months than Kelce. He dealt with appendicitis around his time at the combine and weighed in much lower than his desired weight. He hoped to show up at 295 and show off his quickness while carrying the extra poundage. He ended up at 280 after all was said and done with his medical problems. He's attempting to pack those pounds back on for the three private meetings he has planned with teams over the next month.

 

While his combine numbers were among the best by offensive linemen, he understands an asterisk is next to them because of how light he was in Indy.

 

"The interest has upped (since the combine), it's better," he said. "It would have been up even more had I weighed even heavier."

 

--- Best single number of the day? Ben Guidugli pushed up 28 reps of 220 pounds on the bench. That would have been the best number for a tight end at the combine.

 

This was a big day for Guidugli, who fell off after being a two-year starter entering his senior season as a Sporting News Preseason second team All America.

 

Guidugli looked like a guy in the best shape of his life owned the weight room portion of the proceedings. His 34-inch vertical was tops on the team and darn impressive from a guy weighing in at 234 pounds.

 

Clearly, Guidugli has trained and worked out like a player who feels he has a point to prove. Not unlike during his career, Guidugli wasn't afraid to talk openly about it.

 

"I definitely did (have a point to prove)," Guidugli said. "Three-year starter, no invite to the combine? I definitely have a chip on my shoulder."

 

Guidugli was frustrated with his performance during the drills session in the bubble. Many of the players expressed concern with the turf in the bubble which is so new that is softer than that in Nippert. The temperatures were chilly in the low 40s, so the decision was made to work out inside rather than force the athletes to attempt to stay warm in the cold.

 

Yet, Guidugli thought it might have been a faster track in Nippert, but realizes risking tweaked hamstrings and other side effects to working out in the cold made the move a necessity.

 

"Everybody feels like this turf is slow because its newer and longer," he said. "I don't know, it's not as fast as Nippert's turf. It hasn't been used as much. That's something we can't control, but I would have liked to have been out on The Nip. Everyone wanted to go outside, but with the weather you can't really run when its cold out."

--- Jake Rogers enjoyed a nice day. Not only did he boomed what we gueestimated to be about a 60-yard punt in the air when kicking to Vidal Hazelton outside, but did extremely well on kickoffs and field goals.

 

He was booming kickoffs that were nearly scrapping the top of the bubble and landing in the end zone.

 

Rogers was very accurate from all over the field during the field goal session. Considering his leg strength he showed off, it would be hard to foresee some team not giving him a chance.

 

--- One of the biggest downsides of the lockout for many of the players who participated on Monday, is that there will be no signing of undrafted free agents until the labor situation is settled. That places more emphasis on being among those selected in the seven-round draft. Without being selected, they could be waiting another five or six months to see their stock rise or fall or find out what their next move will be. Far from ideal.

 

--- Ran into Maalik Bomar, who said he is up to 218 pounds. He said he played last year at 206. He's hoping to be at 225 pounds by the time the season comes.

 

That means plenty of trips through the buffet line.

 

"I hate all food right now," he said. "Even stuff that looks great is hard to eat because I am eating so much."

 

--- Even with Bomar's addition of lbs, he's saving all his fat jokes for Walter Stewart, who looks huge.

 

"I call him Pillsbury Doughboy," Bomar said.

 

Stewart put on about 20 pounds since the season ended as part of his transition to the hybrid defensive end position.

 

--- Much of the focus of the day was on Vidal Hazelton. He may have been a little nervous and had some problems with rolling starts and some slipping in the cone drills. His 40-yard dash time was a little low at 4.63 and 4.62 in two attempts.

 

Yet, the time in his cone/acceleration drills were great prior to the slips and once he took to the field running routes, it became apparent why he's such an intriguing prospect. Hazelton looked great breaking in and out of cuts and even made a nice spinning catch a pass behind his back.

 

As I mentioned at the top, it's hard to say how much anybody helped or hurt themselves today, but Hazelton certainly showed off his health and athleticism.

 

"I think it was real important for scouts to see me catch the ball," Hazelton said. "The film (game) isn't there but you can tell talent when you could see it. That was the biggest thing for me here today. All the agility and testing is cool. The biggest thing is to catch the ball, get upfield."

 

He's expecting a busy next month of meeting with teams and workouts.

 

--- As for pure numbers, John Goebel's popped off the page more than anyone else's.

 

Goebel ran workout-low 4.48 40-yard dash with a fantastic 10-foot-6 in the broad jump and 33-inch vertical leap.

 

Headed out to UC Pro Day this morning, so we'll keep the Breakfast brief.

Let's eat...

--- The story everyone will be watching closely this morning is Vidal Hazelton. In talking with Vidal for this story I wrote on Friday he resigned this could be the most important day of his life. Certainly the most critical for his career.

Hazelton's raw ability will land him in a camp somewhere, but if he wants to be drafted, this needs to be a fantastic day for him.

The kid doesn't lack confidence. He feels like his talent deserves early-round consideration, but appears to be coming to terms with the fact his lack of game film at the college level makes him an impossible risk to accept for teams at that level.

Being drafted only takes one team. Somebody should be willing to take on a high risk-reward prospect like Hazelton, but as probably the most unknown quanity in the draft, you never know.

What I do know? I will be rooting for Hazelton, whose been handed a long line of bad luck situations and conquered them with a smile on his face. Good guy who hopefully will enjoy some better luck. Starting today.

--- Tuesday marks the opening of spring practice. I'll be out there as well for that. Butch Jones has been making the rounds of the local media junket.

He was on all three Sunday night talk shows last night.

Most of those conversations go along the same lines of his Q and A with Brian Bennett. It's a two-parter Brian broke down. Here's Part I. And Part II.

--- Jones talked quite a bit about what he says has been a successful offseason to this point. Clearly, he's correct in the classroom, where the football team managed a 2.9 GPA as a whole -- an all-time record for one quarter at the school.

--- More deserved recognition for UC volleyball's Stephanie Niemer.

--- Sophomore soccer player Roger Thompson will be playing for the Canadian National U-20 team. They'll be competing in the World Cup qualifiers.   

--- As for the Final 4 you all predicted in your brackets, I'll only say this one time so not to turn this into an unrequited love session of what-ifs. UConn and Kentucky look like the best two teams in the tournament right now. If you consider the Huskies the hottest team in hoops dating back to the remarkable BE tourney run, look at the seeds of the teams in the Final 4 and weigh how close UC was to beating the Huskies, perhaps we all underestimated how realistic it would have been for UC to still be alive today.

They're not. So we won't. But this team was closer than any of us probably even gave them credit for.

Oh, and stop listening to preseason rankings.

--- This is the first time the Final 4 hasn't contained a 1 or 2 seed and third time it hasn't contained at least one No. 1.

This is the highest number of combined seed totals in the history of the tourney (26), the previous high was 22.

--- Can you give enough glowing compilments to Brad Stevens and Butler at this point. Their back to back runs to the Final 4 may be the most improbable we've witnessed in the tournament. Here's a great piece by Nick Masulo.

--- Eric Angevine recaps the West Region and calls UC-UConn the "Game to Forget." UC fans would probably agree.

--- Some randomness...

--- New York Post ranked the top 150 jokes of the year through the eyes of comedians. I'll go with Dave Attell for now: "Am I watching Jersey Shore or just a really long Olive Garden commercial?"

--- This continues to be great news for me considering I still have a movie I rented from Blockbuster in 2008 at my house.

--- From the land of odd news, here's one of a town in Delaware attempting to take down basketball poles.

The quote from the son of a frustrated mother: "Just woke up, came outside, my mom was on the basketball pole sitting up there, trying to stop them from taking it down basically."    

Pretty standard Saturday, really.

--- Blind support. Winning at all costs philosophy at its finest

Nobody will have more pressure on them at UC's pro day Monday than WR Vidal Hazelton.

 

CINCINNATI - The first opportunity came more than 10 years ago. An athletically gifted 11-year-old covered acres of ground on the youth football fields.

 

His skills deserved attention of the NFL. His scholarship to USC insisted he'd own dozens of chances to prove it.

 

An injury with the Trojans, transfer to Cincinnati, year spent sitting out and another ACL injury during the opener against Fresno State stole all those opportunities from Vidal Hazelton.

 

Despite the raw skills and ability that once made him a can't-miss prospect destined for the first two days of the draft, Hazelton didn't even receive an invite to the NFL Combine for the top pro prospects.

 

"Mind-boggling," he called it, not attempting to hide disenchantment.

 

hazelton.jpg

Now, Hazelton was left with no significant game tape from the past three years, a knee injury hovering like a black cloud over his draft stock and only one chance to keep from being forgotten by those who hold his NFL dream in their hands.

 

For most, a pro day is almost a throwaway workout. Players will be judged, but it falls into a pile of game film, statistics and Senior Bowl practices.

 

Not for Hazelton. He has Monday's pro day. That's it.  

 

Since he was that 11-year-old kid he dreamed of having an opportunity to prove he could play in the NFL. With no other ways to be judged, he says with the stakes placed on this three-hour workout, it's fair to call this the most important day of his life.

 

"Yeah, I would definitely say that," Hazelton said. "It's my dream. Since I was a little kid I always wanted to be a football player so it is my time to showcase and get my opportunity to get that. This is the biggest thing for me."

 

Hazelton says he's 100-percent recovered from the ACL injury that ended his season. He was cleared to play in the final two games in what goes down as the fastest heal from an ACL tear anybody around these parts witnessed. But, he wasn't fully capable of moving. He conquered the physical aspect, but struggled mentally trusting his knee with the same cut that curtailed his season at Fresno.

 

Around the middle of February, he finally felt like the injury was behind him.

 

"It really started clicking the way I wanted it to," he said. "The biggest thing was the confidence part, getting that out of your mind that it happened. I had to trust in that leg like I did before. That is what took the longest for me."

 

He'll take part in every drill and route combination asked of him Monday. Hazelton has nothing to hide. After training much of the offseason in California, his 40-yard dash slots in the high-4.4, low-4.5 range.

 

The more challenging drills for a player coming off a knee injury would be the snap cuts of shuttle runs and other quickness and acceleration measures. Hazelton lacks concern.

 

"That will be the most difficult thing, but my times in that stuff is out the water," he said. "I have always been really good at that stuff."

Those skills are part of what helped him compile 540 yards as a sophomore at USC and even has him in the conversation considering all the strikes already against him.

 

Teams are intrigued, if cautiously. He's heard from a long list including his longtime favorite Atlanta Falcons and current hometown Cincinnati Bengals. They sound the same questions.

 

"The biggest thing with teams is just with the film," he said. "The only thing I really got is a bunch of practice film. Scouts, they come out to practice, they know what I am capable of doing, my ability, so it's not just all on the game film."

 

Indeed, much of it will be on Monday's showing. Hazelton doesn't even ask his agent about the word on the street about his draft status. He could be selected in the late rounds or a college free agent. He may be the biggest unknown quantity at any position in the draft.

 

"It is an unfortunate situation, I know where I should be as far as my talent goes, but whatever happens happens," he said. "I'm not really happy with the grades and stuff I have been getting so I don't really pay attention to it."

 

Monday represents a chance to answer questions and remind scouts that Hazelton at one point was a five-star recruit and No. 1 receiver in his class by Scout.com.

 

But for the kid who spent only a day sulking after his devastating knee injury before hitting rehab with a smile and full head of steam while standing on the sidelines joking with teammates all season, don't expect him to crumble under the pressure. That wouldn't be his style.

 

"People get anxious and scared for pro days and combines," he said. "Me, it doesn't really bother me very much. It's just football for me. It's what I do."

 

If all goes to his plan, he could be doing it for the next 10 years of his life. Earning the opportunity starts now. He doesn't know what scouts will say when they drive off the Clifton campus Monday. He only knows what he wants them to.

 

"I want them to say, that guy competes," Hazelton said. "He's a baller."

 

How do you prove you're a baller without 11 defenders to ball against?

 

"I am just going to have fun," he said. "I am just going go out there and catch the ball like I have been catching it since I was 11 years old."

Every great season enjoys great moments. Trimming this year down to 10 was more difficult than I imagined, but anybody who enjoyed it since Day 1 understands why. Much thanks to Tom Gelehrter, Mo Egger, the good folks at BearcatLair and, obviously, the UC basketball team for helping me put this together. Enjoy the season. Again.

 

Here are Nos. 5-1. I posted 10-6 yesterday. Please feel free to send me emails (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or leave comments on the bottom with any disagreements, snubs or random quotes from Karate Kid II. All are welcome.

 

5 - Selection Show

 

When: March 13, 2011

 

Where: CBS/Montgomery Inn

 

The instant analysis: It was difficult not to look back at how far this team had come. Paul Daugherty had this excellent reflective column.

 

Moment inside the moment: Listening to Mick Cronin stand in the hallway outside the Montgomery Inn banquet room and talk about returning to this moment being like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was pretty memorable.

 

My take: The moment lacked luster because UC extinguished any dramatics of the night during the previous weeks. Still, the excitement and sense of accomplishment in that moment were unparalleled and UC was officially back on the map.  

 

Mo's take: Felt like a coronation.  All those years waking up on Selection Sunday, knowing "Cincinnati" wouldn't appear on the screen.....

 

Highlights: Mick Cronin talking about returning to the NCAA tournament at Montgomery Inn on GoBearcats.com

 

 

4 - NCAA tournament win against Mizzou

 

When: March 17, 2011

 

Where: Washington, D.C.

 

The instant analysis: Monumental. Groundbreaking. Brutally efficient. Pick your phrase, they all applied to the most publicized victory in the Mick Cronin era. Here was Dana O'Neil talking about Mick Cronin, who she said on Twitter always reminds her of a "pocket-sized Jeff Garcia."

 

Moment inside the moment: Yancy Gates pulling up and burying 3-pointer No. 2 just made you realize this was going to be that kind of night for Bearcats. As he would say afterward, "I was hot." Good enough for me, Yancy.  

 

My take: Even winning one game went a long way to disproving the critics. Critics of UC, the Big East, Mick Cronin, you name it. All those who claimed Mizzou would run the Cats ragged were proved wrong. Fitting that their final win of the season and only victory in the NCAA tournament came as Vegas underdogs. Counted out all season, they flipped the script one last time.

 

Fan's take: "Watching the 'Cats in person in DC during the second and third round of the '11 Men's tournament. CHEER CINCINNATI!!!"

 

- Michael Hammond

 

"Watching Cats in D.C. beat Mizzou."

 

- Elizabeth Hess 

  

Rashad vs Mizzou.jpg

Tommy G's take: Loose, yet focused, the Bearcats proved they weren't just happy to be there.  After a slow start, maybe due to nerves, the Bearcats dominated a team ranked in the top-25 all season long.  Everyone picked the Tigers, some called it a bad draw.  UC didn't let it affect them and took care of business is convincing fashion.

Mo's take: You could argue that this was their most well-played NCAA game since beating Georgia Tech in 1996.  I never felt nervous once UC took the lead.Hightlights: 

 

Here are the game highlights off GoBearcats.com.

 

 

And the postgame locker room conversation with Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop and Dion Dixon.

 

 

 

3 - Win at Georgetown

 

When: February 23, 2011

 

Where: Washington, D.C.

 

The instant analysis: The first significant road win against an elite Big East team playing its best basketball. Georgetown went downhill after this game, but had been on fire. Here was my postgame column urging credit where its due.

 

Moment inside the moment: Mick Cronin walks into the locker room after the game and everyone is dancing. He can barely get a word in, so he tells them "nice defensive effort," and moves on. Fantastic scene.

 

Moment inside the moment, Part II: The Bishop bank. Enough said.  

 

My take: The first road win against a ranked team in seven years. Georgetown's worst shooting performance in 15 seasons. Those are accomplishments of elite teams. Others may have felt better, but this was the one that returned UC to the Big East elite conversation. 

 

Mo's take: The signature win of the Cronin era. Just a defensive clinic.

 

Highlights: Here are two minutes of game highlights from Big East Network.

 

 

2 - Xavier victory

 

When: January 6, 2011

 

Where: Fifth Third Arena

 

The instant analysis: Mike DeCourcy wrote about how this was just business for a Bearcats team that was developing a keen focus on Big East play.

 

Moment inside the moment: Yancy Gates hit two fallaway jumpers, the second of which placed him almost squarely in the lap of Nick Lachey - unfortunately just missing Lachey's girlfriend Vanessa Minnilo 

 

My take: It was monumental toward learning how good this team could be. It was monumental toward learning how good Yancy Gates could be. It earned respect on a national level. All that was nice. It finished a distant second to placing the second-worst Crosstown Shootout margin on a Xavier team that had won three years in a row.

 

Fan's take: More than any other game, this one was rated the top moment of the season for UC fans. No matter the achievements, some things will never change. Beating Xavier trumps all:

 

"The blow out of Xavier of course" - Casey Seibert

 

"Favorite moment of the #Bearcats season was def the #Xavier game. Yancy hitting the deep fadeaway jumpers." - Nate Buchanan

 

"Blowout win against Xavier is No. 1," - Neal Slaton

 

Mo's take: There's the obvious, a long overdue win against the Crosstown Rival, but considering what the Muskies would do right after this game (lose one more game til the postseason) and how good Tu Holloway was all season, the effort, especially on defense, was pretty remarkable.  And Yancy Gates channeled Darnell Burton, hitting jumper after jumper.  

 

Tommy G's take: (Placed at No. 2 overall) Another game that may have got UC more credit had they won a close game they "gutted out." However, Xavier proved afterwards they were a good game as they became one of the hottest teams in the country following the loss. This game was prime example of how good this year's UC team could be when they played together and determined. They fed off the energy in the building, Yancy was exactly the player everyone dreamt of and after three years of losing to the Muskies, bragging rights returned to Clifton. 

 

Highlight: Here's the highlight video with plenty of atmosphere, including celebration with the reclamation of the Crosstown trophy.

 

 

 

Game highlights from ESPN with some love for the 15-0 start:

 

 

 

 

1 - Senior Day vs. Georgetown

 

When: March 5, 2011

 

Where: Fifth Third Arena

 

The instant analysis: Everybody was smiling. Especially Mick Cronin. Here was my postgame column about the state of euphoria surrounding the Bearcats.

 

Moment inside the moment: There are too many to mention, but the players circling the arena and exchanging high-5s with all the fans at the game was pretty close to priceless.  

 

My take: You can't write a better script than this. Beating Georgetown by 22, all six seniors playing a major role, Eddie Tyree entering the game, the victory lap around the arena. Yeah, the perfect culmination and celebration of the return of Bearcats basketball to the bigtime. A day nobody close to the program will soon forget.

 

Fan's take: "My favorite moment was during senior night against Georgetown this year. The Bearcats had just started to make a run in the 2nd half and the crowd was pretty amped. I believe the sequence was that Yancy had made two free throws, then got a block on the other end on defense. The Bearcats pushed the ball up the court and SK was in the corner. When he hit that 3 pointer, that was the loudest I had heard The Shoe in a long time. Words can't describe how amazing that moment was. If this program is finally turned around, and things are only going to get better from this point on, I will always look to that 3-pointer as my favorite moment."

 

-- James Freeman

 

"Kilpatrick's fast break 3 versus Georgetown in the corner.  Loudest Shoemaker has been since the comeback versus #2 Villanova game in 2006.  Also, a capstone to a great year re-establishing Cincinnati basketball."

 

-- Dan Palermo

 

Tommy G's take: Truly a storybook ending for Mick's first true recruiting class.  Of the six guys that came in together, four made it to the end together.  One was medically disqualified (Belton) and the other dismissed (Mitchell) but considering the circumstances I think it's pretty remarkable that these four stuck together, never missed considerable time (i.e. medical redshirt) and can say they were part of bringing the Bearcats back to the NCAA Tournament.  Combine that with the dominant win and contributions from all of the scholarship seniors and playing time for Eddie Tyree, you could not have drawn it up any better.  While none of the 6 will be remembered in the record books, they all played an important role in bringing UC basketball back and for one night, everything fell into line as a result of all of their hard work.

 

Mo's take: You couldn't have planned it better. There was the win, what it meant in the context of the season, but the scene afterward stood out. After all those years watching UC play bad games in empty gyms, to see these guys bask in the crowd's response was special. For a day, no one was complaining about what had happened 5-6 years ago, it was just a celebration, that team deserved that crowd, but that crowd deserved that team.

 

Highlight: Postgame celebration thanks to the good folks at BearcatLair.

 

 

 

Game highlights from ESPN:

 

 

Every great season enjoys great moments. Trimming this year down to 10 was more difficult than I imagined, but anybody who enjoyed it since Day 1 understands why. Much thanks to Tom Gelehrter, Mo Egger, the good folks at BearcatLair and, obviously, the UC basketball team for helping me put this together. Enjoy the season. Again.

 

Here are Nos. 10-6. I will post 5-1 tomorrow at noon. Please feel free to send me emails (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or leave comments on the bottom with any disagreements, snubs or random quotes from Karate Kid II. All are welcome.

 

10 - Providence overtime win

 

When: February 19, 2011

 

Where: Providence, R.I., Dunkin Donuts Center

 

The instant analysis: "The last play of regulation was the first possession we've played a 2-3 zone (all season)," Mick Cronin said. "We play it in practice every other day. George Jackson wanted me to play it the whole 2nd half and he might have been right. Right when he suggested it they went on a barrage of 3 pointers so I was scared to go to it. On that last possession I told the guys we're not going to foul and we're not going to lose on a lay up. We're going to make them make a shot here."

 

Moment inside the moment: With the most prolific scorer in the Big East owning an opportunity to cap a wild 16-point comeback, Cronin switched to a zone defense. Brooks was forced to fire a deep 3 and it missed. Twenty-three UC overtime points later, UC was officially on a role that would lead to the NCAA tournament.   

 

My take: Perhaps this belongs on the "memorable moments" list rather than "top moments." The shear swing of emotions from invincibility to terror to relief over the course of a 30-minute period were unparalleled this year.

 

Fan's take: "The most memorable moment of the season for me was driving to Athens as an alumnus (Go Bobcats!) and listening to a weak radio signal carrying the Bearcats vs Friars game. My friends and I got a late start so we drove east on 32 to listen to the game. Listening the whole way, we turned it off once UC got up big in the second half because it was basically inaudible. I checked the score when we got close to Athens and was stunned when I saw it was a close game with three minutes to go. We got to our destination just in time to watch Providence go up one and I remember thinking, "Our season can't go down like this." The three guys I was with were in the same mindset. I was worried that it was going to be a bad night but Mr. Bishop and crew saved our traveling party vicious depression. I remember thinking after that win that anything was possible with this team. I attended the last four or five home games but that game meant a lot to me and the Bearcat Faithful!"

 

-- Jake Baker

 

 

9 - Yancy Gates game-winner at St. John's

 

When: January 22, 2011

 

Where: Queens, NY

 

The instant analysis: Gates bank shot in the post felt like a play that would be the difference between NIT and NCAA at the time. Here was my blog the next day.

 

Moment inside the moment: Few will talk about the eight-point spurt by Cashmere Wright in the second half that put UC up 44-37. It was the beginning of seeing the true headache Wright could cause for opponents and which spearheaded UC's offensive resurgence.

 

My take: In much the same fashion as the Providence win, this felt like one UC stole and ran out the building with. In a season where dramatic finishes were few and far between, Gates' banker was the most dramatic shot at the conclusion of a game all year. Considering the run St. John's went on following that game, it did served as a prominent feather in UC's cap on Selection Sunday. 

 

Mo Egger's take: Yes, there was Gates's play, but I remember it as the Biggie McClain game.  Biggie played meaningful minutes and help keep the Cats afloat.  A win that didn't seem huge at the time, but looked more impressive as the Red Storm started to roll.  Also, might have been the last game where Steve Lavin wore a tie. 

 

 

8 - 34-point win against Dayton

 

When: November 27, 2010

 

Where: US Bank Arena

 

The instant analysis: This was the eye-opener. As I wrote at the time, it allowed Bearcats fans to drop the cautious in front of optimism. Paul Daugherty wrote this column about the depth of this bunch becoming apparent in the win.

 

Moment inside the moment: The reaction of everyone at halftime was priceless: 42-19!? Nobody expected this to be the score. I remember being on a plane back from East Hartford, Conn., with UC football and thinking there was a typo.

 

My take: In the moment's following this game, it was the first time I had the realistic discussion of, "What if this team made the tournament?" Prior, it was hard to imagine. We were still so caught up in the Lance Stephenson-Deonta Vaughn offense factor, we didn't see how this team could score consistently enough against top competition. Then we realized a) they might not need to because of their defense and b) they might be able to anyway.

 

Fan's take: Brian Koehler, Mark Tooley, Matt Buchanan all placed this in their top five.

 

Tom Gelehrter's take: There was so much talk going into this game that it was going to be a great "bench mark" for exactly where the Bearcats where at that point in the season. Then UC comes out flying, Dayton gets exposed and instead of everyone saying "man, UC is pretty good" people reacted with "well UD isn't very good." While he Flyers didn't have a great season, they did make the A-10 championship game and I still think this was a pretty good win for UC.  Had they won by 5 or less points, I feel like they would have got more credit for this win, as twisted as that is.  Because it was a blowout, I feel like not as many people became believers as should have.  I for one, believed this team could be pretty special after watching (and calling) that game.

 

Mo Egger's take: I won three cases of beer from Dayton fans.

 

Highlights: Here's some game highlights from WCPO. 

 

 

Darnell Wilks, Dion Dixon (sporting the towel headdress) and Cashmere Wright talk about the win (h/t BearcatLair)

 

 

 

7 - Marquette bid-clincher

 

When: March 2, 2011

 

Where: Milwaukee, Wis.

 

The instant analysis: This was the one that sealed the deal. It was time to reflect. Here was my column from the next day.

 

Moment inside the moment: When Marquette pulled the game close, UC couldn't find a bucket and Mick Cronin called timeout, on the ensuing possession Cashmere Wright drained a monster 3-pointer. UC never looked back.

 

My take: I had a difficult time ranking this one. It felt more special than No. 7. We talked all season about the journey to 10 Big East wins - heck, we talked about that journey the last two years. When it finally came, it felt like the arrival. Yet, with so many great moments that would follow and many of those at home, it was hard to justify moving it up the rankings.

 

Fan's take: None of the respondents even mentioned Marquette, probably because the next day all anybody could talk about was how it wasn't on TV.

 

Mo Egger's take: Best defensive effort of the season. So many moments in that game....Marquette trucking to the line again and again....UC bouncing back each time. Gates's block, Cash's 3...Bishop's bucket, rebound, assist at the end of the half.

 

Highlights: Here are some game highlights from Marquette University TV and a kid wearing a skinny tie.

 

 

 

6 - Louisville win

 

When: February 16, 2011

 

Where: Fifth Third Arena

 

The instant analysis: So, you're saying there's a chance. That was the sentiment following the impressive Louisville win as the program went from brink of disaster to renewed optimism in 40 minutes. Here was my game night column.

 

Moment inside the moment: As soon as the clock reached zero, Justin Jackson and Sean Kilpatrick headed toward the student section. Jackson jumped in and made it halfway up the stairs where he decided to hang out. Kilpatrick decided not to. "Nah, I would probably get mugged or something," SK said.  

 

My take: This did not get placed higher only because we didn't know at the time if this level of play would continue. At the time, it was a great night and much-needed victory, but not much more than that. Looking back, we view it as the turning point of the best month in the Mick Cronin era. As for best moment, at the time it was great, but not as fulfilling at the time as the following four.

 

Fan's take: "Best moment = A tie between wins over Xavier and Louisville. How could you choose between two fantastic performances against our top 2 rivals."

 

- Brian Tooley

 

Tommy G's take: (Ranked it No. 1) Maybe the biggest win of the year? Just when everyone was ready to turn on the team, run coach out of town and send Yancy to a D-III school for the remainder of his career, the team responded in a HUGE way.  Against a top-20 opponent.  Whatever was said in the team meeting the day after the SJU loss worked.  This team preached the team mentality and stick together in October. Four months later maybe that got away a little bit, but they regrouped and proved everyone wrong. This team was often better after a loss and this game was a prime example. Not sure if it was a "turning point" in the year, but it definitely sent a message.   

 

Highlight: Here were the ESPN highlights.

 

 

One Last Thank You

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This is, of course, the time of year when, except for one team, the season ends in a loss. It's tough to get over the initial sting of disappointment, but it's easier when you can look back at the body of work that led up to the end. For the women's basketball team, Sunday will be the day at the Women's Basketball Banquet when we can pause, look back at the accomplishments, and thank the team, especially the seniors, for what they've done.

Was it the kind of season Coach Jamelle Elliott would have wanted for her second time around? Well, no. Let's face it, she has had enough trials and tribulations to make the biblical Job feel sorry for her. Injuries have been the constant presence, enough so that for much of the middle of the season, Coach Elliott had only seven healthy players taking the court--and I use the word 'healthy' loosely, since one player (Shareese Ulis) has had chronic knee problems and another (Shelly Bellman) has had way to many knee surgeries. (When Shelly played her final home game with a knee brace AND shoulder brace, I told myself I'd never gripe about my toe hurting again)

But that final home game gave the Cats their first win under Elliott over a Top 20-ranked team. The pure emotion that spilled onto that court after that win was something to behold--like a weight had been lifted off the entire team. It should go down as a landmark turnaround for the program. The way the team played Xavier at the Women's Crosstown Shooutout also was a seminal moment, as the Cats showed that teamwork, hustle and belief in themselves can go a long way.

And, the fabulous freshmen are certainly no longer rookies. Pressed into action, they performed admirably and, more importantly, picked up valuable experience in the BIG EAST that will pay off when they're sophomores, juniors and seniors. They already are so much more experienced than many of the other freshmen in the league, and we'll be reaping the benefits in the future.

So join us Sunday to celebrate the season, and look forward with anticipation to the future. It will be a great time to say thanks to Shareese and Shelly, wish them well, and invite them to come back to campus to see the kind of foundation they've set for this program.

I've got a few more posts on the agenda for the next couple days, so hang in there if the Breakfast is a little thin this morning. I'll make it up to you.

Not sure how I feel about his weekend's games. Not that I don't have opinions on who will win, but my interest level definitely dipped after UC's elimination Saturday. That said, I think UConn will continue its roll and represent the Big East all the way to the Final 4.

Who has San Diego State played that's any good this season? BYU? How'd those go? Oh yeah, they got Jimmered. Twice.

Speaking of the Jimmer: Gus Johnson+Jimmer=Must See TV. Watching Florida lose will be an added bonus.

Strictly because I've been riding Wisconsin on the KenPom Oeff train in my brackets, I think the Badgers continue their run to the Final 4 by disposing of Butler. But, considering Wisconsin's style of play and Butler's way of always finding themselves in close games, this delivers the finish of the night. (And a pace of game most resembling a three-legged race at a retirement community) 

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch wrote a story where Mick Cronin talks about building on the momentum of last season. It's a good glimpse into the negotiations between Cronin and Mike Thomas, for those who are into those types of things.

As for attendance, which is mentioned in the story, there's no doubt those numbers will rise next season. This city loves a winner and this city started to fall back in love with UC basketball at the end of the season. Throw in the added anticipation of a possible preseason Top 25 ranking and even more spice livens up the stew. 

What that means monetarily? Not as much as you'd think. If Fifth Third Arena averages a couple thousand more fans every night, obviously, profit will rise, but the Cats won't suddenly be making Louisville hoops money because of a bump in attendance.

I'll leave the economics of college athletics to the professors and administrators, all I can say here is the issue runs deeper than putting more butts in the seats.

--- First Connor Barwin in Nigeria, now Haruki Nakamura doing great things to help Japan. UC should really be proud of their NFL alums.  

--- Plan on watching games this weekend? Want to be educated on the most interesting elements of each team? Read Luke Winn's Power Rankings.

--- The RPI has some serious flaws. I've bashed it, as have so many around college basketball. Here's a look at how this ancient metric affected this year's tournament and will many to come if the committee doesn't see the light.

--- You guys hear me talk about KenPom and his ratings all the time. Come join the revolution after you read this profile on him by the NY Times.

--- Was just pondering how disappointed I would be if my team made it to the Regional Semifinal/Final and I had to visit Newark.

--- Brian Bennett takes a quick glimpse at UC's spring football superlatives. He mentions the question mark at offensive line. Finding the replacements for Jason Kelce, C.J. Cobb and Sam Griffin should be at the top of the wish list over the next three weeks.

--- I would love to see a UC-UK game at US Bank Arena, if only to see what Cal would say about the Bearcats. The guy never holds back. Though, I can't say he's wrong here, just brash.

--- Mick Cronin joked earlier this year about how most of the players he recruits don't know who Oscar Robertson was until they learn on campus. I'm guessing UNC doesn't have that problem with their alum legend. Specifically when he shows up offering his legendary shoe line to wear. 

--- On to some randomness...

--- There are bountiful mustaches out there, you just have to look for them.  

--- Some Reds fans are fretting over some spring training stats. I'm not saying there shouldn't be some concerns over the pitching staff but think about these numbers from last spring:

Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto all hit under .200.

Bronson Arroyo had an ERA of 5.19.

--- This is why I don't trust people who collect swords. If chaos goes down, they have solutions on display.

--- The Top 10 best-selling MLB jerseys list from 2010 doesn't include any Reds, but I have a feeling No. 54 could make this list next season.  

--- In a shocking development, this happened in Florida. How long until we kick this state off into the ocean?    

Finding fresh concepts to write about becomes increasingly difficult when all the action on the court stops. We've been going nonstop between football and basketball since August and these last few days are the first time to sit back and take a breath.

It's kind of nice temporarily, but makes filling the Breakfast space slightly more difficult with no real news to talk about. No worries, though, that all changes next week with the return of football. Not quite as exciting as an NCAA tournament run, but critical for the program all the same.

I'm looking forward to getting out there and seeing where all the players are at with the offseason workout and in particular the improvements from the young defense. Learning anything by watching spring football is sort of like watching a detailed movie you've seen 10 times. You're not as concerned with the plot or big picture, but spotting differences you'd never seen before.

While on the topic -- top five movies I will watch over and over again. 1) The Big Lebowski -- "8-year-olds,dude, 8-year-olds." 2) Forrest Gump - The scene over Jenny's grave stirs emotions every time (don't judge!)  3) Anchorman - "Don't act like you're not impressed" 4) Karate Kid - The soothing sounds of Banarama make it irresistible 5) Ghostbusters - "Let's not forget the nice woman who paid us in advance before she turned into a dog."

Let's eat...

--- Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones and talked about spring football and pro day next week. Good stuff, as always. The most interesting piece of information was that Walter Stewart, who moved around positions last year, but played predominantly at OLB, has put on 35 pounds and will be a full-time defensive end next year.

That makes more than 55 pounds of muscle Stewart put on over the last two seasons when he broke on the scene as a freshman.

His move will be exciting for the defensive line with Derek Wolfe anchoring the middle along with Brandon Mills, who really came along last season. Stewart will adjust to playing at full speed with the extra weight, but once he combines his athleticism with the extra power, he could be a devastating force off the edge.

The question then becomes who will fill in at the linebacker spot that was so thin last season. The coaches will probably spend quite a bit of time analyzing options once spring practice begins. As will we here.

--- The most important aspect of spring ball will be to keep everybody healthy and avoid what's happening at Louisville where 14 players will be forced to miss spring due to injury.

--- Dan Hoard weighed in with a postseason column with some great analysis and information from the basketball side. 

Now that the season is over and Mick Cronin solidified his status at UC, opening up about the pressure surrounding his situation is easier. I liked the honesty of responding to Dan's question if he thought he would lose his job if he didn't make the NCAA and said, "probably."

He said many times during the season and before it that he couldn't think about this season in that manner. The pressure exists every season to win (look at Oklahoma, firing Jeff Capel two seasons after an Elite 8). That said, it's impossible not to understand the ramifications of wins and losses late in the season. We don't talk much about the pressure Cronin likely dealt with internally, but understanding it makes the work done all the more impressive.

--- Cronin also addressed some of the rumors circulating out there. One of them had him as a candidate for the Arkansas job. Also, Mike DeCourcy wrote today that Cronin should be at the top of the list for the N.C. State position.

Here's what Mick told Dan before the UConn game:

"Nobody has contacted me - let's get that on the record. Everybody knows that Cincinnati is my dream job. It's my home and it's where I want to be. All I'm really concerned about it making sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations. (Athletic Director) Mike Thomas is working on that with other people, but that's something he and I will discuss when the season is over.  Everybody knows where I want to be, but I do want to make sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations in the Big East.  We have a lot of people in our league with big budgets, and big arenas that are full, and I'd like to try to win a national championship. We have to continue to improve everything around our program."   

--- Buzz Williams of Marquette ran the media junket yesterday on Scott Van Pelt and PTI among others. I've always like Williams as a coach, but really enjoyed him after hearing him on PTI. He's funny, intelligent, honest and incredibly gracious. You just don't see that combination often. Now, add successful in postseason to the list with this Sweet 16 appearance and list of phenomenal coaches in this conference grows.

--- Not good news up the road at the University of Dayton. First Juwan Staten leaves, now Brandon Spearman.

--- I enjoy watching VCU as much as anybody and truly appreciate their efficiency in disposing of Georgetown and Purdue. But calling them the third best team remaining in the tournament is poppycock.

--- On to some randomness...

--- This makes me feel old. "Juicy" to this day is one of the greatest hip hop songs.

--- I don't care if Ron Artest scores three points with two rebounds, he should be your postgame interview. Every. Time.     

--- Alex Trebek calls the highlights of Stanford-Oregon. Before you know it, Watson will be the head coach of the Cardinal.

--- Curtis Granderson attempts to pick out his at-bat music. Finding out the new walkups for the Reds is one of my favorite parts of Opening Day.

I'm a little surprised Granderson passed on the Step By Step theme song. That's one catchy tune.

--- Why do I feel like this list could be renamed "The 2011 Fall Season of Celebrity Apprentice"? 

--- For my fellow fans of both Community and Funny or Die. Here you go

--- If you have an elaborate Dolly Parton tattoo, we probably aren't meant to be together.  

--- BearcatsBlog spotted a Dion Dixon highlight video. Some good stuff from his breakout year. Watching the score on those UD highlights just reminds me of the absurdity of that beatdown. 

    

Off The Hot Seat, But Not Sitting Still

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Before the season began, it was widely speculated that Cincinnati needed to make the NCAA Tournament or Mick Cronin would be fired. 

 

Moments before the Bearcats played what turned out to be their final game of a phenomenal season; I asked Mick if he expected to lose his job if UC hadn't made the tourney.

 

"Probably," he said.

 

Cronin suit.jpg 

Thankfully, that's no longer an issue.  Five years of methodically rebuilding the program without cutting corners has not only enhanced Coach Cronin's job security, but even resulted in a published report last week that Mick was one of the leading candidates to replace John Pelphrey at Arkansas.

 

"Nobody has contacted me - let's get that on the record," Coach Cronin said.  "Everybody knows that Cincinnati is my dream job.  It's my home and it's where I want to be.  All I'm really concerned about it making sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations.  (Athletic Director) Mike Thomas is working on that with other people, but that's something he and I will discuss when the season is over.  Everybody knows where I want to be, but I do want to make sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations in the Big East.  We have a lot of people in our league with big budgets, and big arenas that are full, and I'd like to try to win a national championship.  We have to continue to improve everything around our program."

 

As the Enquirer's Bill Koch reported last week, preliminary talks are underway between Mike Thomas and Coach Cronin's agent about a contract extension.  But Mick's immediate priority is to add at least one big man to a recruiting class that is currently rated 22nd in the country by ESPNU.  Consider the following tweet that Coach Cronin sent to his Twitter followers on the morning after the UConn loss:

 

Just touched down in Cincinnati. Now its time for the staff and me to hit the recruiting trail. Guys will get the week off for spring break.

 

UC has already signed five players for next year including three that are ranked in the Rivals Top 150 (Jeremiah Davis #123, Shaquille Thomas #132, Jermaine Sanders #134).  A 26-9 season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament figures to help future recruiting efforts.    

 

"The hardest thing in recruiting is to get kids to believe in something that they can't see," Coach Cronin said.  "The difference for us now is our recruits can see it.  We don't have to sell a dream or a vision.  We can pop in a tape and show them a team with 26 wins and a team that's won more games five straight years, a coaching staff that's helped players improve each year, that's graduated their players, stood by their players in tough times.  So now it's easier from a recruiting standpoint."

 

I don't know about you, but I'm already excited about next year's team - especially after Yancy Gates publically stated that he will be back for his senior season.  Yes, we all remember similar statements from Lance Stephenson at this time last year, but Coach Cronin sounds confident that Gates will not change his mind. 

 

"His father and I talk all of the time about the situation and it's always been the plan for him to play all four years," Mick told me.  "So many college players are a little bit older because they go to prep school or redshirt, but Yancy is still young.  I think his family recognizes that and Yancy deserves credit because he understands it too.  It's always been his intention to play four years at Cincinnati."

 

Yancy finished his junior year averaging roughly 12 points and 7 rebounds, but in the final 10 games of the year (after getting booed at home vs. St. John's), those averages rose to 15 points and 7.9 rebounds.  Coach Cronin downplays the role he played in Yancy's turnaround.

 

"You have to give credit to the player when he plays more consistently and matures," Mick said.  "In college basketball, I think coaches are given too much credit for everything that goes well.  I give Yancy all the credit.  I think he's realized that when he plays well and has the right attitude and energy, he has a great impact on our team.  He's looked up to by his teammates and you can see the difference that he's made." 

 

Assuming that Yancy returns, perhaps the biggest off-season concern will be the Cashmere Wright's troublesome left knee.  The sophomore guard told me after Saturday's game that he'll have another surgical procedure next week after returning from spring break.

 

"He's been beat up a little bit down the stretch and that's the nature of his knee injury," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "It's nothing major, but he's going to have to have it cleaned out a little bit.  You could see at times that he was hurting.  In the huddles he was biting on a towel because he was in pain."

 

Next year the Bearcats will have their top four scorers back, along with their leader in rebounding, assists, blocked shots, and steals.  That sounds like a NCAA Tournament team - led by a coach who won't be on the hot seat. 

 

"But I'll probably still feel that way next year," Coach Cronin said with a laugh.  "The life of a coach is a funny existence.  I got a trial by fire as a young coach at Murray State.  I went to the NCAA Tournament my first year, but my second year we did not.  Before my third year, I was shopping at Kroger and a guy wished me well.  He said, 'I hope you do well because I would like you to stick around.'  I said, 'What do you mean?'  He said, 'You have to go the tournament this year.  You can't miss it two years in a row.'  So I understood really early as a coach that you had better win.  That's just part of our business."

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Thanks to all those who sent in responses whether on Facebook, Twitter or to my email regarding the best moment of this UC hoops season. (Specifics in yesterday's Breakfast) They were very much appreciated and if you didn't send a response and would still like to be included in the Top 10 moments of the UC hoops season post, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) or email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com).

Let's eat...

--- Scott Springer added some perspective looking back while also looking forward with his post about the Bearcats season ending. He points out that only eight other teams since the move to Fifth Third Arena have won 26 games in a season. I keep forgetting how good that 2002 team was with 31 victories.

--- Wayne Box Miller talks about the laying of the foundation for UC basketball.

--- The full-on Big East assault is underway. Jason Lisk looks at the disappointing showing in historical perspective.

Here were his findings when looking at the worst conference performance in comparison to expected win total:

Here are the previous worst total conference performances below seed since 1985:

  1. Big East, 2010, 14.1 expected wins, 8-8 tourney record
  2. Big Eight, 1990, 8.1 expected wins, 2-4 tourney record
  3. Big Ten, 2006, 8.8 expected wins, 3-6 tourney record
  4. Big Eight, 1992, 9.3 expected wins, 4-5 tourney record
  5. Big Ten, 1993, 6.3 expected wins, 1-6 tourney record
  6. Pac-10, 1999, 5.9 expected wins, 1-4 tourney record
  7. Pac-10, 2000, 8.8 expected wins, 4-4 tourney record
  8. Big XII, 2001, 7.8 expected wins, 3-6 tourney record

--- Is the conference fundamentally broken? Is nothing wrong? Will Rick Pitino continue to eye-stab Charles Barkley on set as Chuck kills the Big East?  

Everyone has an answer. Everyone has a theory. But nobody really knows why the past two years have been such a struggle for the league in the tournament.

And to think that you can take a conference of teams with so many different personalties and lump them all under one broad brush is ignorant. What made Notre Dame lose had very little to do with what made St. John's or Syracuse lose.

--- Oh, and please move Barkley back to TNT. The End.

--- As another reminder, UC Pro Day on Monday and spring football kicks up next week. Make sure you check back here for all the details on what's going on down at Nippert and in the bubble. Spring Game will be April 16.  

--- On to some randomness...

--- The newspaper business may be spiraling down the toilet, but there will always be one saving grace

--- In any good movie, you need to sneak the title in somewhere. Here's 80 characters doing so.

--- Advil sales were through the roof in the Cincinnati area this morning due to all the Bengals fans beating their head against a wall last night.

--- Sumo wrestler and marathon in the same sentence and it doesn't involving a porkchop-eating contest.

--- The obligatory Facebook birthday wall posts say more about you than you know.

--- Who knew Shea Hillenbrand was such a bad guy?   

--- Give it six of these! And wash it down with this! Our next national nightmare.

--- Don't propose on ChatRoutlette. Don't. I am starting to hate the Internet.

Concrete Poured, Foundation Built

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When building subdivisions they always say phase I complete; Phase II underway. I would think the construction terminology fits the UC basketball team perfectly. The concrete was being poured and people were asking what are you building? It doesn't look like a program. That's not the way the last one was built. That's taking too long....all right already.

We have come to realize that Mick and his coaching staff have built a solid foundation and it does look like a quality program and one that can return to the NCAA tournament less than every 5-6 years. The exposure on TV via the Big East tournament and playing two rounds in the NCAA will help recruiting and reconnect some lost fans (you maybe?).

It did feel good to see UC's name called and even better to see them on all the brackets and game board in the studio. To see them respond to the pressure of Missouri's defense, and have solid success, erased even more haters from the inner circle who proclaimed allegiance to the University when convenient. To see them battle UConn and a sizzling hot Kemba Walker, thanks to Rashad Bishop playing his last game in the classic black uniform, was further proof that the concrete has hardened. What is showed was the typical Jekyll and Hyde team we saw at times this season didn't show up in the tournament.

I don't know if you're convinced that UC basketball is back but you have to admit that was one giant step in the right direction. Now if you take one giant step toward campus, it might be like it was; or even better...yes even better. Mick made it public that the fans were the difference once they showed up and got involved. So there's confirmation that you can make a difference with your presence in the building night in and night out.

With that I say congratulations UC Bearcat basketball; some of us actually think you had a successful season and believe the concrete has hardened. Now use that foundation to build a house that will stand the test of time and return UC back to the glory days when teams didn't want to play you and the fans were always behind you. Just put a couple of big picture windows in so the haters have a good view.

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

Tough to figure out where to start this morning. Can't imagine a whole of Bearcats fans have much interest in rehashing the Connecticut game. Though, that will happen. If you didn't have an opportunity or were stuck in the fetal position all day from basketball overdose, here's my column reflecting on the season and placing the loss to in proper perspective.

I will be doing some award giving and other retrospective things this week. So, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) and let me know what you think and I will put some of your emails into the blog post:

What was the most memorable moment of the season for you?

I want to hear the personal story of why it meant so much to you. Was it because of a player giving an autograph to your child after the game or personal connection to a player or something much simpler or maybe Justin Jackson landed on your lap in the third row. Again.

Look forward to hearing your responses and, as always, thanks so much for reading during the season. I hope you still keep checking back to the breakfast, because pro day and spring football kick up next week and there will be plenty other offseason features worth taking in to keep you informed about all things UC athletics -- plus, beard jokes.

Let's eat...

--- Here were the the highlights of the UConn game. Also, the postgame press conference with Rashad Bishop and Mick Cronin.

--- Dan and Chuck talk about UConn and look forward to next season.

--- A Bearcats appreciation thread sprung up at BearcatsNews. Hop on.

--- Chad Brendel says thank you to the seniors who leave an enduring footprint on this program. Cosign.

--- Bill Koch moves the story forward to looking where the Bearcats are at headed into next season.

Obviously, the team is in great position. They will again have experience and talent, but should be more consistent offensively next year. Consider by offensive rating, four of the the top six scorers will be back. Also, each of the top four as far as possessions used offensively.

Between SK, Gates and Dixon, it would be easy to envision each averaging 13-16 points a game with 10 and 5 coming from Cash. Think about how much of a leap this team made offensively from last year. If any similar jump occurs again...look out.    

--- Mo Egger with a great read on why this team was one of his favorites. In case you have trouble focusing when you hit the link, his piece is below the video of Kate Upton.

--- BearcatsBlog with a quick recap and screenshot that will stick with most of us when we think about this game.

--- The final Mick Cronin radio show will be tonight at 8 p.m. at the original Montgomery Inn. Tommy G and Chuck will be there and I'm sure a huge crowd to say thanks to the coach would be appreciated. Of course, you could just show up and eat the best ribs ever made. Either way, big win for you.

--- Jeff Eisenberg takes on the Big East disappointment talk. As does the New York Times. Bottom line, tough to argue with the numbers: 2 of 11 teams in Sweet 16 with both of those beating a Big East team to get in. 

However, that doesn't mean the league didn't deserve 11 teams. Who was the biggest question mark going in? Marquette? Right. All year the contention was the depth of the Big East was remarkable, not necessarily the top end talent. I'm shocked by the Notre Dame result, but outside of that most teams played the way they had been playing the final few weeks of the season.

Andy Glockner at SI, via Lance McAlister had this list of Big East records vs non league BCS teams during the regular season:

Record vs BCS teams in nonleague play
Big East 29-16 (.644)
Big 12: 25-20 (.555)
ACC: 24-27 (.470)
Big 10: 17-20 (.459)
Pac 10: 12-19 (.387)
SEC: 19-24 (.441) 

This topic of discussion needs to come up when the conference meets this offseason. Some study and numbers need to be looked at regarding the way they do business here after two consecutive disappointing tournaments for the conference. (Not that anything will change, but the discussion needs to be had)

--- Mike DeCourcy backs up the Big East, as well.

--- Random opinion: Ohio State and UConn are on bullet trains from an epic collision. What Kemba is doing compared to what the OSU offense has been doing will be a sight to see.  

--- On to some randomness...

--- Gus and Jimmer -- together. The best connection since Peaches met Herb.

--- This first photo of the new Wonder Woman costume makes me want to find myself in immediate peril.

--- Knowing somebody owns a foosball table worth more than most Americans make in a single year makes me reconsider the benefits of capitalism.

--- Anthony Robles won the NCAA national wrestling title at 127 pounds with one leg. What did you do this weekend? 

--- I'm excited about Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary, particulary the involvement of Mane and Tail. Here's the trailer:

      

From any angle, the Cincinnati men's basketball team provided a winning season far beyond the 26-9 record.

 

CINCINNATI -- Snap analysis in the fresh moments immediately following the defeat to UConn would lament rebounding woes and foul trouble, missed shots and missed opportunities, Kemba Walker and, well, more Kemba Walker. The loss stung those attached the program, without doubt. Likely will for a while.

 

On the scoreboard, the score read 69-58. The Bearcats were losers. By every other scale imaginable, the Bearcats were winners. In a runaway.

 

It begs the question: Why does the college basketball program exist? Outside of the same reason 99 percent of things in this country exist - money - the purpose runs so much deeper.  

 

What matters to you?

 

Does the program exist to establish school pride?

 

Just ask the fans who lined the gym floor at the conclusion of Senior Night in Fifth Third Arena as the Bearcats made a victory lap trading high-5s with fans after delivering the worst loss in the last six years of Georgetown basketball. Ask the thousands who filled up the Twitter timelines and Facebook status bars with #GoBearcats hashtags.

 

Does the program exist to aid the development and careers of student athletes?

 

Take a look at Dion Dixon, who annoyed the janitors all summer for access to the gym and saw it pay dividends as the most improved player on the team. Imagine the vindication for a player who changed the local and national conversation surrounding himself from one unfortunate turnover to averaging 13.7 points a game over the most publicized month of UC basketball in five years.

 

Does the program exist to teach life lessons and grow up as men?

 

Watch the tears stream from the eyes of Yancy Gates during the final seconds Saturday and immediately end the conversation about Gates as a kid who needs to care more. See the adversity of being scrutinized in his own arena then turning inside the locker room and allowing his band of brothers to lift him back up - and vice versa. Those tears could have been handwritten thank-you notes to his teammates and delivered the same message. The most public local basketball figure in decades on the UC campus faced adversity very publicly this season and emerged as the basketball player so many critics questioned if he ever could be.

 

Does the program exist to bring excitement to the fan base?

 

Did you hug Justin Jackson when he ran into the student section after a season-swinging victory against Louisville? How exhausted were your vocal chords in the moments following the 66-46 drubbing of Xavier? How high did you jump off the ground when Gates' bank shot buried St. John's in Queens? Did you need to replace the edge of your seat after the Bearcats bounced Missouri by 15 points for their first NCAA tournament game in five years?

 

Does the program exist to widen the exposure of the university?

 

Cincinnati graced the front pages of web sites, newspapers and saw their name come across one of the most watched programs of the year. Twelve times the Bearcats were on national television somewhere on the ESPN family of networks or owning the primetime stage in the NCAA tournament.

 

Does the program exist to win? Five consecutive seasons with more wins than the previous, 26 victories, 11 Big East wins and five victories against teams ranked in the Top 25 in the RPI at season's end. Zero losses to a team not in the NCAA field. Charlie Sheen said it better than I can.

 

Does the program exist to test a player's will?

 

There was talk midway through the season that Cashmere Wright could need to be shut down for a week in order to help him heal through nagging knee and shoulder injuries. Not only did Wright not miss a game, he provided the most impressive hustle plays of the season and led the team in steals.

 

Does the program exist to churn out quality individuals who will be positive members of society?

 

In the era of non-compliance, allegations and suspensions, name how many Bearcats were at the center of an investigation or how many found themselves in trouble with the law? There are none. When's the last time anybody mentioned UC basketball and academic issues in the same sentence?

 

When you're done asking yourself which of the above questions are relevant to you, then ask yourself if the Bearcats delivered on the investment. The answer is yes. No question.

 

Whether AD Mike Thomas or Joe Bearcat Fan, no matter what lens you view the University of Cincinnati men's basketball program through, it could only be recognized as a success. You don't need a scoreboard to know that.  

TWO AND THROUGH NOT ALL THAT BAD

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The way these things work is that a day later, the happenings of the previous night aren't all that bad.

Unless, of course, you're a Pitt fan and you're still completely dumbfounded by the fouls and/or whistles in the Butler game.  Sorry Pitt, UC fans will pity no one when it comes to unfortunate endings to games or seasons.

Back to the Bearcats, let's face it, losing in round two is nothing new around here and 32 teams met the same ending this past weekend.  Moving on takes great talent, good fortune and a favorable match-up.  To have all of those things in March is rare.

The seeding committee has as much to do with a team's fate as any. Then, there's lady luck.

Show of hands that had Richmond in the Sweet 16 this year and beating Morehead State to do it?  From last year, no truth-telling soul had Butler in the national championship.

It's quirks and the luck of the draw.

Truth be told, UC's 1992 Final Four run was full of these things.  They get the semi-cakewalk in round one against Delaware, then draw Michigan State (but this time on a favorable floor in Dayton).  After beating the Spartans, UC by rights should have had Kansas.  But, the late Don Haskins and Texas-El Paso pulled the upset, so UC gets the Miners in the Sweet 16 and beats them.  That led them to Memphis in the Elite Eight, a team they had owned all year and owned again.

Then, it was the Fab Five of Michigan in the Metrodome.  Using their paid players (very talented, but very paid) Michigan advances by four and the run was over.

Nothing can be taken for granted and nothing is easy.

So, in light of that, the fact that Mick Cronin took a team that was knocked out of the NIT to seven more wins then last year AND the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years is remarkable.

When you lose a senior scorer in Deonta Vaughn and another to the NBA (who should have stayed) in Lance Stephenson, the mathematicians say you should be trending down if anything.

Fortunately, math whizzes only fiddle with Sagarins and RPIs and don't coach basketball.

Armed only with a redshirt who witnessed 2010's 19-16 (Sean Kilpatrick) UC didn't bat an eye and got out to a great start (15-0) before finishing 26-9.

Granted, all nine losses were against Big East competition, but the Bearcats won 12 games against league opponents (counting the tournament games).  12-9 in a league that sent 11 to "The Dance" is more than respectable.

As good as some of the past teams have been here, they never played in this cannibalistic league.

Not many teams that have played at Fifth Third Arena have finished with 26 wins at season's end. The number is eight (2002-31 wins,2000-29,1992-29,1996-28,1999-27, 1998-27 ,1993-27 and 1997-26). To add further perspective and include some older teams, this year's squad won one game less than the 1961 national champions, the 1963 NCAA runners-up, and the 1993 Elite Eight group.

Do they strike you as that talented?

As candid and polite as I can be...no.

I appreciate what the departing seniors did, but anyone following basketball closely will tell you these weren't players that you would automatically tag as future NCAA tournament stars.  I respect them tremendously, but the talent that Mick Cronin attracted early on and the talent he'll attract from this point isn't even comparable.

Some may take my OPINION as offensive, but I'm just trying to be as truthful as possible.

That's exactly why no one should be terribly downtrodden over a second round NCAA tournament departure. Coach Cronin did a great job with what he had to work with and got the Bearcats back in the conversation.

Let's face it, if your games aren't on ESPN, if you're not ranked and if you're not in THE TOURNAMENT, you barely exist in the eyes of recruits.

Now, UC matters because Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery have talked about them.

When I say, "On to better players".  That's what I mean.

God bless Rashad Bishop.  He was kicked off the team and came back and played some of the best defense a Bearcat's ever played. In the season-ending loss to UConn, Bishop played like a guy that knew it was his last game.
bishop.jpg
Rashad Bishop hoisting a jumper vs. UConn
(Courtesy Cincinnati Enquirer/Gary Landers)

The rest had their moments. Larry Davis hit the occasional big shot, Biggie McClain got in the way and gave Gates a blow. Darnell Wilks and Ibrahima Thomas were often the same player.
When they weren't in foul trouble, they could give added reach and dimensions to the team.

They were soldiers, they did their time and naturally, everyone appreciates it.

But, let's face facts. Better players will be coming through.

Plus, Cronin returns Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson (who will be a thrill to watch in a couple years), JaQuon Parker and Kelvin Gaines (redshirt). The incoming recruits will add to this core and things will build from here.

As disappointing as it is to exit a tournament, it's even more disappointing to not even be in the discussion or be relevant.

Welcome back to relevancy UC (and a tip of the C-Paw hat to Coach Cronin)!

Is It Saturday Night at 9:40 Yet?

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Yancy Gates made one three-point basket as a freshman and did not hit a single trey last year.

 

Of the two he made during the regular season this year, one was a desperation bank shot just before the halftime buzzer in the home finale against Georgetown.

 

So what does he do in the NCAA Tournament?  Knock down both of his three-point attempts with Reggie Miller-like swishes in the Bearcats 78-63 win over Missouri.

 

Welcome to March Madness.

 

"Coach (George) Jackson told me, 'If you're comfortable - just shoot it.  Don't worry about it,'" Yancy said.  "My man never put his hand up, so I just let it go."

 

Gates vs Mizzou.jpg 

Alright, we'll admit it - that was lucky.  But the Bearcats victory was anything but a matter of good fortune.

 

Given three days to prepare for the so-called "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball," the Bearcats had little trouble with Missouri's swarming defense.  Cincinnati only turned the ball over 11 times against a team that forces an average of 18 turnovers a game.  That prevented Missouri from getting a slew of easy buckets in transition, and allowed the Bearcats to play most of the game at their pace.

 

"We did a good job of simulating their scrambling and gambling defense at practice by playing 5-on-6 or 5-on-7," Coach Cronin told me.  "The guys got used to securing the basketball and not over-dribbling.  Fortunately, we had some time to prepare.  The way to slow a team like that down is to score on them.  If they have to take the ball out of the basket, they have to deal with your 5-on-5 defense."

 

Missouri wound up with just 63 points.  That's four more than Cincinnati averages on defense, but it was 18 fewer than the Tigers average on offense.  The Bearcats even forced a 35-second shot clock violation - only the third committed by Mizzou all season.

 

"Their low point total was accomplished as much on the offensive end as the defensive end," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "They thrive on stealing the ball and laying it in.  They have a hard time scoring a high number if you don't turn the ball over and for most of the game we did a great job against the press."

 

While Gates was the obvious star with 18 points (7-8 FG) and 11 rebounds, Cincinnati also got a heroic performance from point guard Cashmere Wright.  His surgically-repaired left knee is clearly giving him trouble, and the sophomore could be seen wincing in pain throughout the game.  But Wright stayed on the court for 32 minutes and finished with 11 points, 7 assists, and only 3 turnovers.

 

"Cash came in focused," Yancy Gates said.  "His knee has been bothering him and he's been getting treatment to try to keep the pain to a minimum.  The way he came out and showed toughness when we needed him to handle the ball - our point guard really stepped up for us.  He only made three turnovers and that was big."

 

"I was concerned on Monday because he had a rough day at practice," Coach Cronin said.  "His knee has been giving him trouble over the last month of the season.  We don't talk about it a lot, but it's probably something that he'll have to get fixed after the season.  He's had it drained a few times this year, but fortunately over the last few days, he's been better."

 

The win over Missouri came six years to the day after Cincinnati's last NCAA tournament victory - a 76-64 win over Iowa in 2005.  After spending five years out of the tournament, the Bearcats are in no hurry to go home.

 

"You don't realize how much you miss it," Coach Cronin told me.  "I was spoiled as an assistant and in my first few years as a head coach.  You don't realize how hard it is to get here.  I never had to go through a rebuilding project quite like I have at Cincinnati and I never plan on doing it again.  You realize what a privilege it is to be a part of the tournament and how exciting it is.  You don't realize how much you miss something until you get a taste of it again."

 

Up next, a rematch against the UConn Huskies who beat the Bearcats 67-59 a little less than three weeks ago at Fifth Third Arena.  Cincinnati held Kemba Walker to 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the game, but his teammates hit 9-of-15 three point shots (60%).

 

"I had the scouting report for that game and I look back on it and I'm going to take some of the blame because we emphasized stopping Kemba Walker so hard that maybe we didn't emphasize enough that you can't let their young guys have wide-open shots," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "We'll approach the game a little bit differently this time around and make sure that our guys know that we have to get to their perimeter guys a little bit tougher.  We can't give them rhythm shots.  Their freshman are playing like veteran guys now.  They've played in the Big East and they know what they're doing.  We have to have a more solid effort against their younger guys and still duplicate what we did against Kemba." 

 

Saturday night at 9:40 can't get here soon enough.

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Should we be surprised?

Should we be surprised that a team that's showed up to play for every big game the last month did so again against Missouri?

Should we be surprised that the team that shut down even the most potent of offenses with consistency all year did so again against the high-powered Tigers? Should we be surprised they were held to their third-lowest point total of the year?

Should we be surprised the team discounted and disrespected all season proved wrong the oddsmakers who placed them as a 1-point underdog to the 11 seed?

Should we be surprised that Yancy Gates, who has played like an NBA prospect since the St. John's game, did so again on Thursday. Should we be surpised that the guy now averaging 16.4 and 8.4 over the last eight games went for 18 and 11? Should we be surprised he was dropping 3-pointers with ease? OK, yeah, we really should be surprised on that last one.

Should we be surprised that Dion Dixon, whose proven to love the big stage thrived in it Thursday? Should we be surprised he attacked the basket with purpose and found a way to post 16 points despite going 0 for 3 from deep?

Should we be surprised Sean Kilpatrck, whose played like a veteran all season despite his redshirt freshman status wasn't overwhelmed -- rather ignited -- by the NCAA tournament to the tune of 10 big points?

At what point do we stop being surprised? If you've been following closely, you shouldn't have been surprised at all. The spotlight may have been brighter, the stakes may have been higher, but UC performed the same way it has over the last month of the season.

High-5, dance and enjoy, but we probably shouldn't act surprised.

Let's eat...

--- Dan and Chuck with the postgame analysis from DC. All the insight and analysis you need.

--- Here's the locker room reaction thanks to Tommy G. He talks with Yancy, Cash, Rashad and Dion.

Love Yancy talking about hitting two 3-pointers: "I was hot."

--- Did you miss the game? First off, what's wrong with you? Second, here are the highlights.

--- Game photos from The Enquirer.

--- Cashmere Wright was going to be the key to the game Thursday and he came up huge. Hitting his early runner and 3-pointer really kept him in the game and didn't let him play discouraged, which occassionally can happen.

His line of 11 points, 6 assists and 3 turnovers might not get him on One Shining Moment, but probably was the most pertinent stat line to UC's victory of any in the box score. 

--- There are a limited number of tickets available for Saturday's game. Here's the info.  

--- Dana O'Neil -- which you already know if you read this blog is the best in the business -- writes about the job of Mick Cronin. I've said it many times before and will say it again, the guy put together one of the best coaching jobs you'll see this season. He did again Thursday.

--- Andy Glockner says it's time to start taking the Bearcats serious. I guess the first 25 wins, 11 in Big East, two blowouts of Georgetown, domination of Xavier, dismantling of Louisville and zero bad losses weren't enough.

--- Postgame react from Bearcats Blog, including some more love for his best friend Dion Dixon.

--- Hope UC enjoyed its voyage out of the Big East. Welcome back. Next stop: UConn, 9:40 p.m., Saturday night, TBS. Bill Koch's blog looks forward to the Huskies.

The Cats put out an uninspired performance in the last game against UConn and the Huskies shot the ball uncharacteristically well from downtown (10 of 19). Should those laws of averages even out, it would be foolish to expect anything but another Big East grinder down to the wire.

--- The updated Saturday schedule.

--- What an incredible afternoon session yesterday. I feel bad for all you folks stuck in your offices.

I think I tweeted "Onions!" about three different times. None more fitting than getting the actual instant classic Onions! call from Bill Raftery on the Morehead State game winner. 

--- Mascot reactions are priceless.

--- On to some randomness...

--- From our regular"Why does this always happen in Florida" file, try to make sure people aren't sleeping in the backseat if you steal a car.    

--- Facebook Flash Mob! 

--- In maybe the biggest upset of the century, Jimmy Fallon's talk show has actually been pretty funny. He broke out his Bob Dylan impression and sang the Charles in Charge theme song last night. Strong to quite strong.

--- How do you cap off the blog post first NCAA tourney win in six years. Of course, One Shining Moment week continues.

Some days you wake up and know today is going to be a good day. If you can't be happy about perfect weather conditions, the excitement of St. Patrick's Day and return of the Bearcats to the NCAA tournament you need to do some soul searching.

Win, lose or draw tonight, this season, in particular the last month, has been one of the most enjoyable rides to witness since I started covering sports professionally eight years ago. There's nothing like seeing players and staff enjoy success like this for the first time.

As I was watching Yancy Gates, Ibrahima Thomas and Darnell Wilks sit in front of the media at the Verizon Center presser yesterday, I couldn't help but think back to so many press conferences in the Fifth Third Arena media room where it would be Bill Koch, Chad Brendel from Bearcat Lair, myself and Rufus from Fox19. That would be it. Now, they worked their way up to a room packed with national media wanting to hear their story. Well deserved, even if the Gates-Cronin relationship story has officially reached overkill mode.

Let's eat...

--- People will play up the experience element when comparing UC and Missouri since the Tigers have won at least one game in the tournament each of the past two years, including an Elite Eight run two years ago. The Columbia Tribune points out Missouri will be the last team to view that as an advantage. When they made their deep tournament run they only had one player, a senior walk-on, who'd ever played in an NCAA tourney game.

--- Dan Hoard and Tommy G with some game breakdown and the search for a dancing Chuck Machock from the Verizon Center. Good stuff on GoBearcats.com.

--- Dan mentions during his piece what I wrote about yesterday afternoon, that was Cashmere Wright as the most important player on the floor for UC tonight.

Missouri's goal will be to turn the Bearcats over and much of that will fall on Wright's shoulders. Wright's shown he will be one of the better point guards in UC history by the time he leaves here with his play this season, but its come with some ups and downs. An up tonight should equal victory for UC.  

--- If you missed a special edition of Bearcats Sports Weekly yesterday, I recommend watching it online. Great line from Biggie thanks to interviewer Larry Davis -- who hopefully doesn't take my job upon graduation -- on going to the NCAA tournament: "I've been through hell now I'm going to heaven."

--- Random nugget: Every team UC lost to this season is in the NCAA tournament.

--- WLWT talks about UC coming out of the shadow of Bob Huggins. Hopefully we can now put this storyline to rest.

--- Geoge Vogel with some great behind-the-scenes video from UC's locker room session with the media yesterday including Sean Kilpatrick doing some imitations and Cashmere Wright so happy he could barely put it into words. No doubt, the Cats are loose.

--- Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Bog called it one the most boisterous locker rooms he's seen at an NCAA tournament. Here's LD and Cash doing their Mick Cronin impressions.

--- Some more info on the Tigers frenetic pressure.

--- There wasn't a ton of question about this in my mind, but Yancy Gates assured Bill Koch that he will be returning for his senior season.

--- Mike DeCourcy made an appearance on Bearcats Sports Weekly and also wrote this piece on the rebuilding of the program. The standard fantastic stuff from Mike.

--- With UC back in the NCAA tournament they now join the large contigent of power conferences attempting to maintain and thrive while turning over personnel and coaches. Great piece from SI.

--- Today's tournament viewing guide! Hide your kids, hide your wife.

--- Watch the tournament, '>don't get in trouble by your boss. Win-win.  

--- As for today's randomness, there is no reason to think about anything but the NCAA tournament. So, of course, and once again, One Shining Moment. Because they make me happy.     

Wright in the middle

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The Bearcats ability to weather the storm of the "Fastest 40 minutes in basketball" and UC's first NCAA appearance since 2005 will begin with the play of Cashmere Wright.  

 

CINCINNATI - When Cashmere Wright first learned about the personality of the Bearcats first-round opponent, Missouri, a smile served as a screen for his words. The fun-loving redshirt sophomore rarely goes more than a few minutes off the court without a grin, but this one was different.

 

This wasn't the product of a joke or laugh, this stemmed from excitement and swagger.

 

 

Wright.jpg

No matter the matchup or makeup of the opponent, if you asked Wright for snap analysis before every game this year, his solution would be to push the tempo. That's his game. That's his strength.

 

The only way the pace against the Tigers could increase would be for the starters to strap on skates.

 

"That is how I want to play anyway," said Wright, averaging 8.9 points and 3.8 assists per game. "I think that fits my style."

 

As the saying goes: Be careful what you ask for.

 

The NCAA tournament is traditionally defined by guard play. Maneuvering past Missouri's "Fastest 40 minutes in basketball" reads as Chapter 1 in that book.

 

The Tigers live and die by creating turnovers and hassling ball-handlers. On Thursday in particular, as Wright goes, so go the Bearcats.

 

"Your point guard play against Missouri is always huge," Mick Cronin said. "It always starts with the guy who has the ball most for you, Cashmere Wright for us."

 

Cronin knew the emergence of his point guard would determine his fate. He's been pounding that message since the team prepared for a trip to Canada in August. Like many bold claims and predictions made in those near vacant press conferences in the Fifth Third Arena media room, the Wright proclamation couldn't have been more correct.

 

As he addressed a crowded room of national media at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., seven months later, Wright's importance was no longer a secret.

 

"My message to Cashmere Wright and all our primary ball-handlers, the worst thing you can do is try to be a hero and over-dribble," Cronin said. "You have to make sure you are strong with the ball, but the easiest way to deal with it is pass it. When you are a guard and you have great quickness at times you want to take it all on your self."

 

Rick Pitino told Cronin during his days as an assistant when in the NBA, his favorite person to press was Isiah Thomas. Even as a great point guard, Thomas would take the pressure personal and try to take it on.

 

Those are the advanced lessons Wright must prove he's mastered during this season of growth. Fitting this game comes only a week removed from finals week at UC, because this will be the biggest exam in the education of this polished point guard.

 

At times this season, Wright played like one of the best in the Big East. With 20 points against Louisville and 11 points, 11 assists against Providence he set the coils for the Bearcats springboard. His 15 points and five assists paced the NCAA bid-clinching victory against Marquette.

 

Other nights, however, an inability to find his flow deflated the team. Wright broached that topic following his disappointing game against UConn, realizing his energy (or lacktherof) filters to his teammates.

 

For Cronin, figuring out how to bottle the Louisvilles and avoid the UConns were part of the maturation process.

 

"For him its just consistency, mental and physical toughness, being able to show up every night at your best," Cronin said. "He's a younger player. His first year really playing these kind of minutes with this kind of responsibility at our level. I think at times his talent has shown and he has shown great toughness. I think at other times he's a little worn down and not used to having to show up every night. But that is to be expected."

 

Exactly what to expect Thursday night represents the latest unknown in Wright's breakout season. Nobody knows the answer. We do know, however, Wright can't wait for the opportunity. And that's reason for everyone else to join him in smiling.

The Bearcats took off and landed without a problem and are stationed in Washington, D.C. They'll go through a 40-minute open practice/shootaround at the Verizon Center and meet with the media around 4:30 p.m.

No word on if Helen Thomas will be using her free time to interrogate the coaches from the front row of the pressers. (What? Political humor doesn't play well here?)

Then, of course, Thursday will feel like the longest day ever as UC waits through a day of basketball for the late game to take on Missouri.

Let's eat... 

--- I've been thinking recently about a concept I've been hearing a ton of this year. It's something I've realized but never truly put into statistical form. It's the concept that good offense beats good defense in the NCAA tournament.

Mike DeCourcy stomps hard on this philosophy and, per usual, truth exists per his point. The last three champs have been either 1 or 2 in the country in offensive efficiency. More importantly here, the UC game would serve as the epitome of good offense vs. good defense.

The Tigers are 9th in the country averaging 81.4 points per game and 13th in assists per game, averging 16.5. Add in all five starters in double figures and you have a well-oiled offensive machine.

UC, of course, led the Big East in points allowed per game.

In the standard statisical analysis and overuse of KenPom you've all come to expect here in The Breakfast, I thought I'd take a look at the top 10 teams in terms of Offensive efficiency vs the top 10 teams in defensive efficiency in the NCAA tournament the past two years and see how they performed. .

To take seeding into account, I included the number of wins over higher seeded teams in the upset category. (Same seed received a half point) I also included the lower loss for games lost to a lower seed, even if it was only by one spot.  

Here you go:

2010:

OFFENSIVE RATING 

Seed/Team    OffErank    Record   Upsets   LowerLoss    

1 Duke             1               6-0           1          0

1 Kansas          2              1-1            0          1

3 Baylor           3               3-1           0           0

8 Cal                4               1-1           0          0

4 Maryland       5                1-1          0           1

6 Notre Dame   6                0-1          0           1

2 Ohio St.        7                2-1          0           1

1 Syracuse      8                2-1          0           1

3 GTown          9                0-1         0            1

7 BYU             10               1-1         0           0

TOTALS                     17-9 (65%)     1         6 

DEFENSIVE RATING 

Seed/Team    DefERank    Record   Upsets   LowerLoss    

9 Florida St.      1               0-1          0           0

4 Purdue           3               2-1          0           0

1 Duke             4               6-0          0           0

5 Butler            5               5-1         2 1/2       0

1 Kentucky       6              3-1           0           1

5 Temple          7              0-1           0           1

1 Kansas          8              1-1           0           1

11 Old Dom.     10             1-1          1            0

6 Tennessee     11             3-1          1            0

10 GTech          12             1-1          1           0

TOTALS                      22-9 (71%)   5 1/2       3 

Observations:

--- This 2010 Tennessee team continues to pop up and draw comparisons to the 2011 Bearcats. Offensively, the Vols spread the ball around and utilized a number of contributors. They played well down the stretch but were bounced in an embarrassing defeat against a hot Kentucky team in the SEC tournament. Defensively was their calling card. 

They went on to the Elite 8 with an upset against Ohio St. and lost by one point to Michigan State.

Sound familiar?

UC spreads the ball around with nearly identical offensive and defensive efficiency numbers and was playing well until running into a buzzsaw in the conference tournament.

I'm not saying UC will make the same type of run, but it is far from unprecedented.

--- So much for good offense beating good defense. Four different teams who entered with top 10 defensive ratings beat higher seeds and it served as the backbone for Butler's magical run. ODU, Tennessee and Georgia Tech all beat teams with at least three seeds difference.

--- Not only did the top defenses pull more upsets, they also were far better at avoiding losses to lower seeded teams. There were twice as many lower-seeded losses among the offensive powers in comparison to the defensive powers.

--- At the end of the day, it's hard to argue with the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency winning the tournament, but what likely gets lost in that statistic is Duke was No. 4 in defense. Any coincidence the 4 and 5 best defensive teams played for the title? Likely not.

--- As for avoiding the opening-round loss, which would particularly apply in the Bearcats case, the results were almost inconclusive. Georgetown's loss to Ohio was among the biggest upsets in last year's tourney but Temple falling as the 5 seed and defensive-oriented team calls it even.

Yet, if you are looking to predict a 6-11 matchup of great offense and great defense, well, ODU-Notre Dame would be just that. With Old Dominion holding off ND, 51-50.

--- Let's take a look at 2009, a year dominated by chalk prevailing more than any other in recent memory.      

2009

OFFENSIVE RATING 

Seed/Team    OffErank    Record   Upsets   LowerLoss 

1 UNC                1               6-0           0            0

1 Pitt                  2               3-1           0           1

6 UCLA              3               1-1           0            0

6 Ariz. St.          4                1-1          0            0

4 Gonzaga          5               2-1          0            0

2 Oklahoma        6               3-1          0            0

12 Arizona          7               2-1          1            0

3 Missouri           8 (13D)     3-1           1            0

6 Marquette        9               1-1           0           0

2 Duke               10              2-1          0           1

TOTALS                     25-9 (74%)        2           2 

DEFENSIVE RATING 

Seed/Team    DefERank    Record   Upsets   LowerLoss 

2 Memphis            1               2-1           0          1

1 Louisville            2               3-1           0          1

1 UConn                3              4-1           0           1

5 Illinois                4              0-1            0          1

5 Purdue               5              2-1           1           0

3 Kansas              7              2-1            0          1

14 S.F. Austin      8              0-1            0           0

4 Washington       9              1-1            0           1

2 Michigan St.      10             5-1           2            0

4 Xavier                11            2-1            0            0

TOTALS                     21-10 (67%)        3            6 

Off TWO-YEAR TOTAL     42-18           3             8  (Avg seed: 3.9)

Def TWO-YEAR TOTAL    43-19          8 1/2         9  (Avg seed: 5)  

Observations:

--- Obviously, 2009 was a better year for the offenses with those going 10-0 in the first round, but yet again a top 10 defense made its way into the title game against a team with a top 10 offense.

--- You can point to the six losses to teams with lower seeds, however, three of those came against Michigan St. Sparty ran through UConn, U of L and Kansas that year. So, those numbers aren't near as lopsided as it would seem.

--- Also, Missouri was responsible for three of the wins for the offensive side, but they were no slouch defensively, with the 13th best efficiency rating.

--- On the whole defenses over the past two seasons endured less losses to lower ranked seeds (if you discount the Spartans wins) and pulled more upsets of higher ranked teams. They had an nearly even record despite averaging more than a full seed less in the brackets.

At the very least, these statistics discount the concept that good offense beats good defense in the NCAA tournament, it at the most shows defense can and will predicate victories.

--- For those of you looking to apply some of these figures to this year's bracket, here is your link to the top 10 teams in adjusted defense in for this season. Also, Luke Winn of SI did some standard superb breakdown in these areas regarding this year's tournament teams.  

--- Moving on, the big stage seems to suit Dion Dixon just fine. Since the stakes kicked up in late February, Dixon has been on a tear and re-established himself as the team's most consistent perimeter scorer.

Since Feb. 19 against Providence, Dixon is averaging 14.6 points a game. He's hit 16 of 36 3-pointers in that span (44 percent).

He's been the gym rat who refused to slow down his work ethic ever since last season ended against Dayton. That continued throughout this year -- whether he was hitting or going through a slump as he did in the middle of the Big East season.

The combination of hard work and love of the big moment created his latest surge.

"I'm loving the big stage," Dixon said with a smile. "I just want to play aggressive. For games, I will be jumped up. I just have been locked in. Shooting and making big plays."

 

He'll be even more important as a primary ballhandler on Thursday against Missouri's scrambling press.

 

--- Tommy G and Chuck check in from DC.

--- According to the Columbia Tribune, the Tigers say they are not going to quit heading into the tournament. Good to know. In related news, The Paul Dehner Jr. Press-Gazette is reporting President Barack Obama plans to run for re-election in 2012 (It's a political humor bonanza!)

--- Bill Koch poses the question if UC will combat Missouri's pressure defense with some of its own? Would that be playing directly into the hands of a Tigers team hoping to turn Thursday into a track meet?

--- Chad Brendel explores the topic as well, saying that offense is the best defense against the Tigers.

--- Can Mizzou make stops? The Kansas City Star says that may be the question of the night.

--- CBSsports makes a case for the 11 seeds providing the upsets this weekend with some Mizzou analysis

--- Do you want more statistical analysis? Just can't get enough? Here's a fantastic piece from Nate Silver of the New York Times on the wacky world of seeding translating to success. It shows favorably to the sixth seed and as unfavorably as possible to the 8-9. Very, very interesting read.

--- Digest and analyze all those statistics then beat your head against a wall when you take into consideration how much luck has to do with this tournament.

--- You want a sign that blogs are taking over the media world. Georgetown blog Casual Hoya had this excellent Q and A with President Bill Clinton.

--- These greatest moments in NCAA tournament history Lego-ized are phenomenal. My favorite is the sign in the crowd of the Michigan-UNC game that reads "That's All Right, This Won't Count Anyway"

--- Listen to Mo Egger (that statement can and will find people in significant trouble). Seriously, nobody cares how the outcome of this game affects your bracket.  

--- On to some randomness...  

--- Happiness is overrated, apparently. Can we call this the Lewis Black Thesis?

--- A PSA about the incredible power of the beautiful woman.

--- I would be remiss without a tribute to Nate Dogg, who passed away last night. The guy sang the hook on one of the great hip hop songs of all time and had a long list of other incredible hooks as well.             

People continue to ask me to help them with their brackets. First of all, no, I won't. It's not because I don't want to see you succeed and talk trash to the jerk in the cubicle next to you who has been bragging about his college basketball knowledge since he watched his first game in February. Or he could be one of these seven people in every office pool.  

It's that you don't want my help and I don't want that pressure. My mother beats me in my bracket selection every year. If we conducted a contest on almost any other area of knowledge she would be expected to wipe the floor with me, but hoops isn't her deal, it's mine. It means little. That's what makes March so great, logic and perspective make upsets difficult to predict.

Plus, if I succeed at picking a winning bracket, people laugh and say, 'Yeah, well, that's your job, you should be the best.' If I fail, people assume I am terrible at my job.

If I sent you out to a coin-flipping contest and if you lost, all your friends would assume you are a terrible accountant, would you participate? Would you help others learn about flipping coins?

Probably not, so please don't ask. If you need me, I'll be at the bottom of my cousins office pool.

Let's eat...

--- The team flies to DC today. Tommy G, Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock will be bringing you updates every day at GoBearcats.com, so make sure to keep checking back. I'll be holding down the fort here, but still posting the Breakfast every morning.  

--- Bill Koch wrote the definitive piece on the anatomy of the rebuilding process at UC. Most of this information is known, but seeing it all compiled again reminds you of how difficult this journey has been.

Bill touches on what I think is constantly overlooked in this entire progress and that is the exponential improvement in the classroom and off the court by the program. That was a big part of the deal when Cronin arrived and he tackled the problem promptly.

(Knocking on wood vigorously) When is the last time you heard of a UC player in trouble off the court?

--- Mizzou coach Mike Anderson is fighting to nip distractions in the bud about his possible departure to the vacated Arkansas position.

--- The Tigers fast pace can give unaccustomed teams trouble, this from the KC Star.  

--- Pat Forde is a Missouri alum, but he doesn't think his alma mater will make it out of the first round. That must be tough for the fan base to take. You can bet if Nipsey Russell were alive today, he wouldn't be picking against his Bearcats.

--- Tom Rinaldi must have left his string quartet in the dust of his limo as he breaks out an entertaining piece on The Bracket.  

--- Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger says the committee made a blunder allowing the two possible second-round matchups between Big East schools (Cuse-Marquette being the other).

He suggested moving UC to Temple's No. 7 seed in the West. Personally, I think a possible first-round game with Penn State and second-rounder against San Diego State would have been a significant upgrade despite being downgraded. Yet, we all need to move on.

--- Not to look past this year, but ESPN put together a nice feature looking at what all the teams in the tournament lose this offseason and what they gain with recruits. UC is in great shape to be right back in the NCAA tournament next year when you combine the top four scorers returning along with a class that has some immediate contributors with Shaquille Thomas and Jermaine Sanders heading that list.

--- Former Bearcats standout Haruki Nakamura had many family and friends affected by the tragedy in Japan and wrote an open letter addressing them yesterday. Tough stuff to swallow and sending a donation through the Red Cross would be one of the easiest things you could do today.

--- On the topic of proud UC alumni, Connor Barwin took advantage of his spring break from classes at UC to take a trip to Nigeria with a group of NFL players headed by Amobi Okoye. You couldn't ask for a better representative of the institution than Connor.

--- Brian Bennett has been ranking the 25 best players of the 2010 football season by performance and impact. Armon Binns deservedly came in at No. 5.

Also, in news that I should have linked to you earlier, he had Isaiah Pead at No. 18 and Zach Collaros at No. 7.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Can you fire Gilbert Gottfried for being insensitive? Isn't that like firing John Goodman for being overweight? It's kind of his thing.

Sidenote: Gottfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac duck. That position will be hard to fill when only EVERYONE IN AMERICA insists on imitating that stupid thing.

--- Did you really need to conduct a report to find out people are getting their news online?

--- Bengals fans rarely are afforded opportunities to point and laugh at Steelers fans. So, take advantage.

--- A new Beastie Boys album on the way in May. Yes, please.  

--- Got to respect this site that compiled all the One Shining Moments from the last 15 years.

Here's the 2002 version featuring Drew Gooden pre-duck tail and a Dan Dickau sighting!

 

Selection Sunday was pretty low key for the Bearcats. They packed the banquet room at Montgomery Inn and watched the seeding unfold. For me, a catered dinner at Montgomery Inn might have rivaled my excitement over seeing the Selection Show.

At the end of the day, UC ended up about where it expected. They're playing the first round on the East Coast as a No.6 seed. Perhaps surprised to see a talented team like Missouri lining up across from them, but there were far bigger surprises on Sunday other than the Tigers drop (they were ranked No. 22 in the AP poll on Feb. 28).

Bottom line: The path is set. It's not brutal, in fact, its pretty familiar with UConn in the same pod.

Let's eat...

--- It will be the late game, around 9:45 p.m., on Thursday night on TNT with Tim Brando/Mike Gminski on the call.

If you are looking for a list of all the game times and announcer assignments, here you go. To answer your question: Gus Johnson will be in Cleveland.

--- If you want to see more Bearcats reaction from the draw and destination here are interviews with Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop and Mick Cronin.  

Thanks to Tommy G for putting all those together.  

--- As for Missouri, it's a pretty unfamiliar opponent for the Bearcats -- in that the two programs have never played before.

The closest connection would be the Tigers coach Mike Anderson, who Bill Koch mentioned in his blog that Cats fans will remember from his UAB days. He was a Nolan Richardson "40 minutes of hell" disciple.

Mizzou spent the majority of the year ranked in the Top 20 and didn't fall out of the poll until the first poll of March, interestingly enough, when the Cats jumped back in. They have lost four of their last five games. Three of those four came against teams that finished the year ranked in the Top 25 (Kansas State, Kansas and Texas A&M) also with a nine-point loss at Nebraska. They were 8-8 in the Big 12.

The Tigers have five players who average double-digit points: Marcus Denmon 17.1, Laurence Bowers 11.6, Ricardo Ratliffe 10.5, Kim English 10.2, Michael Dixon 10.2.

Very similiar to UC, Mizzou averages nine players with double digit minutes a game.  

--- English, the Tigers point guard, made a comment that he thought his team quit after their conference tournament loss to Texas A&M, but this story in the Kansas City Star says the Tigers are still together. But clearly their string of losses started to take a taxing toll.

--- In a fact that Mick Cronin will assuredly be telling his team, the folks in Vegas have 11th seed Mizzou as a 1-point favorite over the Cats.

--- The wizard Ken Pomeroy has the percentages play out with a UC win with 57 percent probability.

--- As for the statistic to watch, Missouri is the third-lowest ranked team in the tournament in offensive rebounds allowed by a percentage. The only teams lower are last team in VCU and 16-seed UNC-Asheville.

The Tigers allow 36.1 percent of defensive rebound opportunities to go to the opponent. They were dead last in the Big 12 in that category during conference play.

By comparison, UC is 10th in the country in offensive rebound percentage. That creates a pretty major mismatch of strength vs weakness.

--- As far as who Mizzou compares to in the Big East, Cronin couldn't come up with anybody. Their fast-paced, up-and-down style might draw some comparisons to Louisville, but that's probably as close as it gets.

"I don't think there is anybody in the Big East that simulates their style," Cronin said. "I don't know if we have played anybody that likes to run up and down the way they do."

  

--- Last year Missouri made the tournament and beat Clemson in the first round before losing to West Virginia in the second.

They made it to the Elite 8 two years ago before losing by seven to UConn.

English and Denmon were the only two contributors on this year's team that played more than double digit minutes during the Tigers deep run in '09.  Of course, all three of their leading scorers last year are still on the team.

Experience in the NCAA tournament will clearly be in Missouri's favor, but Cronin believes that living through the ringer of having to win games for their tournament life in the Big East will make a differnece to close the gap.

"We had to win games and made sure we stayed where we were at,' Cronin said. "We had a lot of pressure on us to perform in late February and first week of March. Hopefully this will really help."

Playing big games in the Big East and stepping on the grand stage of the NCAA tournament are two different animals, though.

Dealing with the tournament mentality was a point of emphasis last week at the Big East tournament.

"The enormity of the situation is definitely different if you win, you move on, lose going home. Something I was trying to work on with our guys was their mentality last week. Just be aggressive, stay aggressive. You can't stop...when you have a 10-point lead you can't stop playing -- especially against Missouri."

Perhaps the most encouraging bit of information on that front would be the way this team has played in what would be considered its biggest games to this point.

"Look at games where our back was against the wall, I would say we are 3-0. Louisville at home, Georgetown at home and Marquette on the road," Cronin said. "If you thought our back was on the wall with the NCAA tournament, these guys have responded."

--- Missouri makes their money creating turnovers with the press and not committing turnovers. Hello, Cashmere Wright, step right up.

"That's how I want to play anyway, so I think that fits my style," Wright said.

--- Dan Hoard gives his view on the trip to DC and draw of Mizzou.   

--- Chad Brendel with a nice story on Yancy Gates being motivated by a return to the NCAA tournament.

--- Mike DeCourcy gives some bracket advice and discusses a little bit about the importance of offensive efficiency. No game tests the theory of good offense vs good defense quite like UC-Mizzou.

--- Do you like stats that have zero real value to you? So do I. Here are the advancement probabilities for each team from the New York Times.

--- The Big East got its 11 teams in the tournament, but now the pressure is on the conference to perform there. Remember, the BE was the biggest disappointment last year with only two of eight teams advancing to the second weekend.

--- There will be a media availability this afternoon, so keep an eye out for plenty more as the Bearcats fly out to DC on Tuesday.           

Upon hearing of their draw as the No. 6 seed on Sunday, the excitement of the moment set the tone for a week that will be all business for the Bearcats.

 

CINCINNATI - The last time the University of Cincinnati had a week off was back in early February before a game against Pittsburgh.

 

In the blur of the Big East blender there were rarely moments to reflect. Over the last three days, there have been no flights, no gameplans, no practices.

 

For Mick Cronin, the reprieve allowed time to think. He transformed Cincinnati from gutted to glory. Sunday, after 6 p.m., while sitting with his team the Montgomery Inn, the journey would be complete.

 

"I have thought about it," Cronin said. "It's a long grind. You feel like you've climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro."

 

Kilimajaro stands 19,238 feet and the scenic route takes approximately six or seven days to trek. Some said the Bearcats uphill climb could take 10 years. It was done in half that. Regardless of the time frame, the view from the top was glorious.

 

"You take a lot of pride in it," Cronin said. "You do something a lot of people say you weren't going to be able to do. Maybe not that Mick Cronin couldn't' do, but nobody would be able to do it."

 

As of Sunday night, it was done. But the moment the name Cincinnati flipped over on the CBS selection show, the time for reflection ended. Suddenly, the time off gave way to the most pressure packed week of work this program experienced in Cronin's era.

 

Sean Kilpatrick said he felt the excitement when he showed up to find out his team's fate, but when he finally saw the Bearcats name he wasn't dancing or putting on a wild celebration.

 

"I played it cool because there is still a lot of basketball to be played," Kilpatrick said.

 

Cronin said Missouri could be the only team he hasn't seen play this season. They are also a team who was ranked No. 22 in the country Feb. 28. They slipped back to an 11-seed after losing four of their last five.

 

Parity has been the catchphrase of the college basketball season and this 6-11 matchup defines that. Missouri's RPI is 37. UC sits one spot ahead at 36. The Bearcats own five wins over Top 50 RPI teams. Missouri has four with a classic overtime loss to Georgetown.

 

Very little separates the two teams, so when Cronin saw his draw for Washington D.C., he couldn't contemplated one initial thought.

 

"I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe Missouri is an 11,'" he said.

 

So it begins. While so much was built around making Sunday the destination for these Bearcats, those expectations changed as the season progressed. Cronin and his team's focus now shifts from returning to the tournament to making waves there.

 

The time for reflection ended Sunday night. Everything this team played for over the past five months gave way to one undeniable and fulfilling truth.  

 

"We just love to be in the tournament and we have a chance," Cashmere Wright said. "That's the only thing that matters to me."

Washington DC Here We Come!

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There's one bad thing about covering the NCAA Tournament - it actually makes it difficult to follow the NCAA Tournament.  Between attending practices, news conferences, and doing your job, you wind up missing a lot of action going on in the other regions.

 

But I'm obviously not complaining.  After five long years as a tournament-watching couch potato, it is a huge thrill to be back on the Bearcat beat for March Madness.

 

Mick Cronin has obviously been there before, including two appearances in his three years at Murray State, but he's justifiably proud to be returning as the head coach of his Alma mater.

 

"There's a huge feeling of satisfaction to not just be in the tournament, but to be solidly in the tournament," Mick told reporters on Sunday night.  "For the last week we've known we're in, and you want to get the program to the point where you know you're in the tournament, it's just a matter of what your seed is going to be.  We have a bit of an older group, so hopefully we'll have enough maturity to handle it well."

 

Cincinnati (25-8) earned a #6 seed and opens tournament play on Thursday in Washington, DC vs. #11 Missouri (23-10).  The Tigers, under former UAB coach Mike Anderson, feature a frenetic full-court pressing style of play and rank 2nd in the nation in steals (9.8) and 9th in scoring (81.4).  Their team slogan is "the fastest 40 minutes in basketball."

 

"I have not seen Missouri play - it's probably the only team in the country I haven't seen play all year," Coach Cronin said.  "The second part of Big Monday, I'm driving home from my radio show at the Montgomery Inn and putting Samantha to bed.  I haven't seen the Big 12 in the second half of the doubleheader all year, so I have a lot of Missouri tape to watch."

 

I watched Missouri play Georgetown on TV in November - a game that saw the Tigers blow a late lead in regulation by missing key free throws down the stretch.  Georgetown's Chris Wright hit a 3-point buzzer beater to force overtime, and the Hoyas went on to win 111-102. 

 

Mizzou rebounded from that loss to win nine straight, and at one point had a 14-1 record.  But since then, the Tigers are 9-9 and have dropped four of their last five games.  Missouri is one of only four teams in the country to have five players averaging double figures in scoring, but the Tigers are not a great rebounding team as they finished the season with fewer rebounds than their opponents.

 

The Bearcats will get to work on preparing for the Missouri game on Monday afternoon.  On Sunday night, they were allowed to savor the accomplishment of getting the program back to the Big Dance.   

 

"I wanted the guys to enjoy the moment," Coach Cronin said.  "I feel really good for the seniors.  I felt really bad for Deonta Vaughn last year.  But for this group of guys - our first real recruiting class - to be able to go out knowing that they've been a part of rebuilding a storied program with great tradition is a source of great pride for them.  They should take a lot of pride in what they've done."

 

It's great to be back isn't it?

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

BEARCAT BRACKETOLOGY

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Well, let's get down to business with this Bearcat Bracketology. 

First off, does UC offer a degree in bracketology?

If they did, I'm thinking that might become the latest "stylish" major, much like sports administration or broadcasting (for attractive young women aspiring to be the next girl on the sidelines that get's to say, "Back to you guys!")

One day Joe Lunardi is just another guy from the east purporting to know basketball and repeating the word "TOUR-nament". Next thing you know, the St. Joseph's color commentator is a household name.

Such is the "World Wide Leader".

Lacking my B.S. in Bracketology (but not lacking in b.s.) let's take a look at UC's potential tournament run....

Game #1: it's UC against Missouri in Washington D.C. Let's see, UC's fared well against Georgetown this season and Mick Cronin should be familiar with coach Mike Anderson's style from Anderson's UAB days. Bearcats show the folks from the "Show Me" state the door.,

Game #2:  Connecticut beats Bucknell, setting up Cronin and Jim Calhoun again to trade barbs over Kemba Walker. The Huskies made an incredible five for five run in the Big East tournament. The break in between the Bucknell win will throw them off and UC wins (as they should have at Fifth Third Arena).

Game #3:  UC goes to Anaheim again for the Sweet 16.  I was there last time when the Bearcats had Stanford on the ropes, but couldn't hang on to advance.  This time they face San Diego State who assumably would have an advantage in California. The Aztecs are coached by Steve Fisher.  Cronin starts telling the guys how Fisher coached the Fab Five from Michigan who were illegally recruited and had their records wiped away.  However, they beat UC in the Final Four and ESPN made a special about them.  Bearcats exact revenge on Steve Fisher in the name Terry Nelson.

Game #4: The Elite Eight naturally includes Duke, much to the delight of Dick "Duke" Vitale who has now predicted a Blue Devil blowout of the Bearcats. However, Mick Cronin keeps replaying Ryan Fletcher's "touchdown" pass to Kenyon Martin who redirects it to Melvin Levett for the slam and the win in Alaska.  Duke goes cold like the Eskimos and the Bearcats are going to Houston.

Game #5: Also reaching Houston is Syracuse who has beaten Ohio State.  In an act of frustration, the Buckeyes were told they couldn't play UC when the Bearcats had a competitive team, so OSU gives a half-hearted effort and falls to the Orange.  Thad Matta was so distracted after finding out Connor Barwin wouldn't be guarding his big men this time around, that he couldn't focus on the Syracuse game plan.  Meantime, Jim Boeheim (in an act that will be questioned from here on out at the local Dinosaur Barbecue) decides to scrap the vaunted 'Cuse zone to play UC man-to-man.  Bearcats run the floor and crush the Orange to make the title game.

Game #6: In the other semi, Kansas gets by Pitt as the Panthers are completely taken back by coach Jamie Dixon's decision to get a crewcut prior to the semi.  Bill Self and the Jayhawks taunt Dixon and the Panthers and at the end, the "Rock Chalk Crewcut" chant is started.  However, Mick Cronin has reminded UC of how Bill Self's Tulsa squad knocked the Bearcats out in round two a number of years back.  It was a cheap win as that was the year Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the conference tournament.  In honor of the B.A.Y.B. tattoo,
Yancy Gates puts on a performance reminiscent of K-Mart against DePaul from years ago.
Gates can't miss against Kansas, UC wins the title, and thousands of fans who booed Gates at home rush out to Dick's to buy #34 jerseys for their children that have been hurriedly thrown on the shelves.

Got all that?

O.K., snap out of it now and take your bracket in to work tomorrow.
mad men old woman.jpg
(Courtesy AMC's "Mad Men")


Find the most unconnected, quiet, kind older woman on staff and hand it to her.  Have her fill it out and give her five bucks for her trouble.

It'll be worth it as she probably has a better chance of knowing who wins than you or any other fan.

There ARE no experts this time of year.

Know anyone that had Butler in the final?



6 Seeds Of Satisfaction

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It is now official; The University of Cincinnati is once again dancing in March and Mick Cronin should be somewhere saying under his breath "How you like me now!" Fresh from years of being berated and questioned; attacked and admonished, he can now smoke a cigar and plan to play basketball at the highest level outside the Big East.

With a number 6 ranking in the tournament seedings UC actually got some respect from the idiot committee. I don't think anyone understands the logic or lack thereof as to why some of the teams like UAB get in, but I digress and get back to the celebration of Bearcat basketball's return to March Madness. Their first game is against the Big 12's Missouri Tigers which means by buddy Billy Price and I will be rooting against each other in good nature. He wishes well for UC but as a Mizzou grad and supporter I do understand. Thank goodness for us Arkansas reportedly has said they're going after Mizzou coach Mike Anderson; lets hope its a distraction to our advantage.

UC also has the benefits in sight that come standard with the tournament and are available to UC for the taking; play well and several high profile players will sign to become the missing pieces. Win 2 games and become a sweet 16 darling. Become Butler of last year or George Mason of a few years ago and the merchandise revenue goes through the roof. Yes there are a lot of things that March Madness brings but the most important thing it brings, that this program has been sorely lacking, is respect. After hearing their name on the selection show, respect has extended the seal of approval to University of Cincinnati. I couldn't agree more. Congratulations University of Cincinnati; Mick Cronin, Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis. 4 years ago the mountain top wasn't visible but today neither is the valley. 

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

My Second -- and Unfortunately Last -- Top 10 List

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Anyone get a license plate number?

 

Yikes.  The Bearcats looked like they got flattened on Thursday night by a speeding New York taxi trying to beat a red light.  I'm just happy that the 89-51 loss to Notre Dame didn't end their season. 

 

The sun came up this morning and I am looking forward to Selection Sunday.

 

I was hoping to do a Big East Tournament Top 10 list for four straight days, but no such luck.  Here's the final edition for 2011:

 

1.  25 instead of 38.  The 38-point margin of defeat was the second-largest in Big East Tournament history (Syracuse beat Boston College by 41 in 1999), but the number I'm choosing to focus on is Cincinnati's win total going into the NCAA Tournament.  A 25-8 record including five victories over RPI Top 25 teams - by an average margin of 13 points - is a tremendous accomplishment. 

 

2.  Selection Sunday.  I always look forward to filling out my bracket (only to lose to the cleaning lady in the office pool), but I don't know that I've ever been more excited about watching the selection show.  Even after the Notre Dame rout, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has UC listed as 24th overall on his s-curve which would make Cincinnati the final #6 seed.  Whether they're a 6 or 7 seed, at least we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bearcats are in.

 

3.  Broadway Smashed.  While the Bearcats had a great team outing to a soul food restaurant in Harlem on Tuesday night, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey took his squad to see the Broadway show "Jersey Boys."

 

"I wanted them to see the best actors and chemistry and how a group plays off of each other because I believe that's what they've done this year," Brey told reporters after the win over UC.  "We were like 'Jersey Boys' tonight.  We were all doing our thing."

 

I'm fairly certain that the Bearcats did not attend a special preview of the ill-fated Broadway production of Spider-Man.

 

4.  Defensive Disaster.  So how did the Big East's top-ranked defense allow 89 points to a team that only scored 66 points against UC in South Bend in January?

 

"In every meeting that we had, Coach Cronin told them that we had to be the aggressor in this game, but they got us back on our heels and we just never recovered from it," assistant coach Larry Davis told us on the radio post-game show.  "They came out and shot a high percentage from three point range early in the game.  We switched to zone and as soon as we did they banged two or three 3-pointers in.  It just got discouraging at that point.  Our guys didn't throw in the towel, but you could see that their body language dropped.  They didn't have that 'pop' and quit doing the things that normally makes us a really good defensive team."

 

"I didn't think we were capable of playing 'D' as bad as we did tonight, but they made a lot of shots - a lot of shots - especially early," Yancy Gates said.  "Coming out of the press, they did a good job of getting us to collapse and kicking it out, but they came out ready to play."

 

5.  No Serious Injuries.  As rotten as Bearcat fans felt last night, it pales in comparison to what St. John's fans are experiencing after learning that senior D.J. Kennedy will miss the NCAA Tournament after tearing his ACL in Thursday's loss to Syracuse.  The son of former Bearcat Puffy Kennedy (still UC's all-time leader in steals) is one of the most versatile players in the Big East, and you can't help but feel sick for a kid who has endured three tough seasons only to miss out on his first trip to March Madness.

 

"I've wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament since I picked up a basketball in grade school, and this is a real blow," said Kennedy in the New York Post.

 

6.  Déjà vu.  Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism following the loss to Notre Dame is Bearcats ability to rebound from their lowest moments this season.  Lose at home to St. John's? ... bounce back with consecutive wins over Louisville, Providence, and Georgetown.  Lose at home to UConn? ... answer with a road win at Marquette.

 

"We have shown the ability to bounce back, and I know that Coach Cronin will get them prepared," coach Larry Davis told me.  "We'll put this one in the rearview mirror and move forward.  There's no choice.  We've got to."

 

7.  Yancy Gates.  It was not a great offensive performance as Yancy went 4-for-10 from the floor, but I thought he was the one Bearcat who stuck to the game plan and never stopped fighting against Notre Dame.  Yancy finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists.  Over his last eight games, Gates is averaging 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.

 

"He's played really hard now for eight games in a row and has tried to lead the team," Coach Davis said.  "He was the one guy in the huddles who just kept saying to the guys, 'Come on man - keep playing.'  That's a good sign of his maturity because under adversity tonight he just kept playing."

 

8.  Cashmere Wright.  Simply put, the Bearcats will struggle to advance in the NCAA Tourney if Wright does not play well, because they do not have a true back-up point guard.  Cashmere had 2 points and 2 assists in 16 minutes against Notre Dame and did not do a great job on the defensive end.  If he plays like he did against Louisville (20 points) and Providence (11 points, 11 assists), the Bearcats can play with anybody. 

 

9.  Positive Publicity.  There's a huge headline in Friday's New York Post that reads, "Cincy's New York Accent."  The story is about Cincinnati's recent success at recruiting in New York and includes this paragraph:

 

"It started with Lance," Coach Cronin said, referring to former Lincoln High School star Lance Stephenson, who chose Cincy over St. John's.  "He was such a highly regarded player, and for him to come here and then to go the NBA, Lance did all that but we get the credit."


You can read the entire story here.

10.  Moving On.  As painful as the Notre Dame game was, we'll barely remember it if Cincinnati wins two games next week and advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 10 years.  That season (2000-01), the Bearcats were a 5th seed after losing to Charlotte in the Conference USA Tournament - a game that saw the 'Cats get destroyed on the boards 45 to 29. 

 

"The one thing about the NCAA Tournament is that everybody is 0-0 when you get there," Coach Davis said.  "Once you get in, anybody can get beat and anybody can advance.  We'll rest and give them a couple of days off to clear their minds and rest their bodies a little bit.  Rashad's toe is a little injured and Cashmere's got sore knees, so we've got guys that are banged up a little bit.  Come Monday, we'll get back in the gym.  We'll know who are opponent is, we'll prepare, and we'll be ready to rock-n-roll on Thursday or Friday."

 

"It's my feeling in March in tournament play, you've got to be aggressive," Coach Cronin told me.  "You can't worry about losing, you need to throw the first punch and try to get the other team on their heels.  You can't think about what's at stake and 'If we lose we're going home.'  Scared money never wins, so you've got to stay aggressive."

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Normally, I try to keep things pretty light here with a steady stream of jokes, sports chatter, funny videos, etc. But on a day like today its hard to. No, not at all because of UC's 89-51 loss last night to Notre Dame, rather, we should all have woken up with this morning after seeing some of the wild images from the Japan earthquake and tsunami with some persepective of how little that game actually meant.

Some of the video you've all likely seen by now is incredible. You almost feel guilty for being the slightest bit down about the results of a basketball game. Thoughts and prayers certainly go out to everyone affected.

But, let's attempt to move on...

--- Not much you can say about last night's loss to Notre Dame. The Irish played extremely well, executed their offense to perfection and UC was overwhelmed defensively. The game was essentially over with about 12 minutes left.

Here is some of the rehash from Mick Cronin, Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon in the short postgame presser.

"We were at our worst they were at their best," Cronin said. "We got taken to the woodshed."

That about says it.

--- Dan and Chuck talk about the loss. The topic of Gates playing another strong game, not only on the court (12 points, 9 rebounds) but as the positive voice in the huddle trying to bring the team back was encouraging.  

--- Was there any tangible effect? Joey Brackets still has UC as a 6 seed. Jerry Palm kept them as a 5.

Yes, 89-51 will be the final image placed into the brains of the selection committee but they are trained to view an overall body of work. Five Top 25 RPI wins, 25 wins overall and 12 in the Big East speak much louder than one horrific night at MSG. The lack of movement in the seeding reflect that. They may slip back a bit, but not much.

Not one even marginally respected bracket on the Interwebs has UC below an 8 seed right now.  

--- The bigger question isn't how the committee will respond, rather how the Bearcats will. Bill Koch broached the topic in his blog

--- So, how does an embarrassing loss in the final game of the season translate to the tournament? At all? 

Let's take a look at examples from 2010:

Tennessee: No better example exists than this. UT lost by 29 points to Kentucky in the SEC tournament semifinals. They went on to the Elite 8 and lost by one point to Michigan State.

Michigan State: Was upset by .500 in the Big 10 Minnesota in the first game of the Big 10 tournament and went on to the Final 4.

2009:

Michigan State: Gave up the second-most points of the season in an 82-70 loss to a middle of the road Ohio State team in the quarters of the Big 10 tourney. They ended up in the national title game.

Villanova: The Wildcats were soundly beaten, 69-55, by a good Louisville team in the BE tourney semifinals and went on to the Final 4.

Oklahoma: Was upset by a middle of the pack Oklahoma State team in the quarters of the Big XII tourney and went on to the Elite 8, losing to eventual national champ North Carolina.

2008:

Louisville: Was upset in the Big East opener by a middle of the pack Pitt team, but went on to the Elite 8.

There are a myriad of teams that advanced to the Sweet 16 or pulled an upset in the first round after suffering bad defeats or upsets in the conference tournament in recent years. A bad taste in the mouth doesn't at all predict failure in the Big Dance.

--- The Irish weren't lacking motivation. Turns out Kemba Walker's ankle-breaking embarrassment of Gary McGhee jumpstarted their engines. This from Brian Hamilton at the Chicago Tribune.  

--- Remember a brighter time. When birds were chirping, the sun was shining and all was cheery with UC basketball. You know, 18 hours ago? Dan Hoard had this Top 10 list from NYC before the ND game.

It's crazy if anybody lets one game wipe out what has been a fantastic run for the Cats.

--- Mick Cronin said he thought it would be better for his team going into the NCAA tournament like this rather than winning the Big East tournament because it plays better with an edge. He thought they lost their edge with the easy win against USF.

This team has responded to losses well this year, particularly of late. Maybe their best games of the season were agianst Louisville and Marquette, the two games following tough defeats.

--- Did we see a national championship contender last night at MSG? The Irish looked like a squad that deserves a No.1 and will be a favorite to reach the Final 4. 

--- Maybe its just the Kenyon Martin relapse in me, but hearing St. John's would drop two or three seed lines because of the D.J. Kennedy injury makes me sick. (It's about body of work not potential to win, people.) But nowhere near as sick as I am for a senior who was about to play in his first NCAA tournament.

--- As for yesterday's predictions, well, they went about as well as the final 2:40 of my Ohio Bobcats MAC quarterfinal last night. (Ironically, I started watching on ESPN3 with them up nine with 2:40 left. They lost in OT. I continue to bring down the reputation of that university)

I managed to get the Syracuse pick correct, but Kemba and the fightin Pitinos kept me from an above .500 day.

I'm now 6-4 on the tournament.  

Here is tonight's schedule:

7 p.m.: No. 9 UConn vs No. 4 Syracuse

9:30 p.m.: No. 2 Notre Dame vs No. 3 Louisville

And the picks...

UConn: The Huskies run has the feel of one of those special ones in the BE tournament. And how fitting would it be if in the year of greater depth than the conference has experienced a No. 9 seed was in the final? Makes perfect sense to me. 

Notre Dame: How do you pick against a team that moves the ball and shoots like Notre Dame is right now. Just a matchup nightmare for every team.

With no blog post coming tomorrow morning, I'll go ahead and go on the record with the Irish winning the whole thing. Anybody who reads this blog shouldn't need an explanation for why.    

--- Some randomness...

--- Somewhere there is a mother who is proud that just because her son's friend jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, doesn't mean he had to do the same.

Of course, near her, there is another mother who believes her son is an idiot.

--- I've made little secret on here that I enjoy watching the Jersey Shore, but anybody who thought The Situation would be a great standup comic probably needs to spend less time in the tanning booth.

--- Are you addicted to your smartphone? Welcome to the nerdery version of "This is Your Life"   

--- Kemba Walker's move on Gary McGhee will forever go down in Big East tournament history. Not sure how McGhee was allowed to stay on that assignment, but it is one of the nastiest game-winners you'll see.

I could watch it over and over. Of course, Sportscenter assured that happened. 

My First Top Ten List From New York

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David Letterman has this week off, so there's no chance of having another show revolve around my man Chuck Machock this year while I'm in New York for the Big East Tournament. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this).

 

But as I did last year, I'll blatantly rip-off an idea from the Late Show and do a daily Top 10 list as long as the Bearcats are alive in the Big East Tourney.

 

1.  Yancy Gates.  Not a bad start to the postseason huh?  Yancy scored a career-high 25 points in UC's 87-61 win over USF on Wednesday, and is averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in his last seven games.  But stats don't tell the whole story.  His ability to prevent the opposition from getting easy baskets is a huge reason why Cincinnati is holding opponents to 58 points a game.

 

"He's been the difference in our defense," Coach Cronin told me after the USF game.  "Instead of being a liability as a younger player, he's the strength of our defense as a veteran.  Every time this team huddles up, he's the one speaking up and telling the guys to stay focused on defense.  He knows that if we continue to defend, we can continue to win and have a great run in March."

 

2. Aaron Pryor.  Prior to Wednesday's game, Coach Cronin brought up "The Hawk" in the locker room to motivate the players.  The Hall of Fame boxer from Cincinnati was famous for aggressively racing across the ring as soon as the bell sounded and throwing the first punch.  That's the attacking style that Mick wants his Bearcats to emulate in the postseason.  If you've never seen Pryor in action, here's a tribute video.  

 

3.  Amy Ruth's.  Coach Cronin is not overly superstitious (nice sneakers Lavin), but after winning two games in last year's Big East Tournament, the Bearcats did return to the same restaurant that they went to before their first game last year.  It's a soul food joint in Harlem named Amy Ruth's, and the broadcast crew tagged along this year for fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, yams, mac-n-cheese, cornbread, peach cobbler, and banana pudding.  As I write this, it's been nearly 48 hours since the feast - and I'm still stuffed.

 

4.  The ESPN crew of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, and Bill Raftery.  I understand they said some nice things about Chuck and yours truly during last night's telecast (thanks!), but that is not why I consider the trio to be the best broadcast crew in any sport.  In my opinion, nobody combines information and entertainment better than Sean, Jay, and Raf.  Plus, whenever Raftery does a UC game, the first thing he asks me is, "What is Chuck's streak up to?"  It's at 260 and counting.

 

5.  Big East Tourney Exposure.  I didn't think of it at the time, but being the #7 seed in this event, provides an unbelievable opportunity for national exposure as the Bearcats could conceivably play a prime time game on ESPN for four straight nights.

 

"It's huge," Coach Cronin said.  "That's why getting in the 7 o'clock game is so big from a recruiting standpoint.  Staying alive and staying on national TV is so big for our program.  Obviously, we recruit the New York area very, very hard, so the Big East Tournament is a big sell.  Staying alive and doing well in it is even more important."

 

6.  Jermaine Sanders.  Speaking of recruiting the New York area, the future Bearcat from Rice H.S. in Harlem was recently named one of four finalists for "Mr. Basketball" in New York State.  If Jermaine wins, it would mean Cincinnati would have signed the recipient of that honor for the second time in three years (Lance Stephenson).  Sanders earned some publicity today in the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

 

7.  No Assumptions.  You probably expected Cincinnati's first round opponent to be Villanova - I know I did - but if you're wondering if the coaching staff had prepared for a game against the Wildcats only to have to adjust at the last minute when USF pulled off the first round upset, the answer is no.

 

"I won the battle on that one," Mick told me.  "My staff wanted me to start watching film of Villanova on Sunday and I refused.  I told them I would wait to see who wins.  I don't need a lot of sleep before the game because I'm too nervous, so I waited to see who won and didn't waste time."

 

8.  Tommy G.  It's great to have Tommy Gelehrter with us in New York to provide extensive video content on gobearcats.com.  I hope you'll check out our daily reports that are prominently displayed on the home page.

 

9.  Beware the Double Bye.  This is the third year that the top four regular season finishers in the Big East received a double bye into the quarterfinals.  In 2009, two of the four lost.  Last year, three of the four lost.  This year, top-seeded Pittsburgh lost.  That's six out of the first nine folks.  Furthermore, the #2 seed has lost in each of the last two years.  The Bearcats will try to make it 3-for-3 against second-seeded Notre Dame.

 

10.  Attack the Irish.  In Cincinnati's regular season meeting at Notre Dame, the Irish built a 33-19 halftime lead and went on to beat UC 66-58.  Cincinnati held Big East MVP Ben Hansbrough to a 1-for-8 shooting performance from the field, but the coaching staff says that the 'Cats can do a better overall job defensively in the rematch.

 

"I think up there, we played a little too passively defensively," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "Our idea was to stay between them and the basket without fouling.  When they start dribble-driving and you help a lot, they kick it out and get wide open threes.  We feel like we have to go after them a little bit.  They're going to beat us off the dribble occasionally, but we have to get in 'em a little bit and make it tough.  Don't let them get in a rhythm where they can run their offense easily.  If we can do that, I think we'll have a better chance."

 

In the now-trademarked words of Jets linebacker Bart Scott:  "Can't wait!" 

 

Our pre-game radio coverage on 700 WLW starts at 6:30 and we'll have post-game video coverage on GoBearcats.com.

 

Go 'Cats!

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

UC was built to win games like last night. At least, the rebuilt version of UC is.  

No, not because of the advantage of a guy like Yancy Gates going for a career high 25 points or USF's history of losing.

When Mick Cronin built this team and dedicated it to depth and defense, you rarely lose to teams you are supposed to beat. As long as the effort is there -- and it has been for six of the last seven now -- that will be enough. With this many players who can put up points, the percentage chance you endure a night going ice cold from the floor and open the door to an upset are remarkablly slim.

Almost certainly, somebody will be hitting shots. And even if they don't, the depth and fresh energy level of the defense can be enough to pull the Bearcats through.

It is no fluke UC doesn't own a loss outside the Top 35 RPI this year. It is no fluke they are now 8-0 against the bottom five seeds of this tournament with five wins by double digits.

It's how they are built.

Let's eat...

--- Lots of postgame interviews to sift through. That is the beauty of the BE tournament's media bonanza. We will start off with the GoBearcats.com video express:

Here is UC's postgame presser with Cronin, Gates and Dion Dixon.

Here are Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock talking about the USF game and looking ahead to ND.  

Here are the game highlights in case you missed it.

--- The no-respect card comes to a head tonight against Notre Dame. UC's lack of it and search for it have been the driving force behind the program all season. Gates, Dixon and Cronin all continued to admit as much Wednesday after the game.

The Chicago Tribune documented it here.

Notre Dame has won 9 of 10 and is in the conversation with Duke and North Carolina for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A win against ND at 7 p.m. on ESPN in the quarters of the Big East tournament would turn some heads -- including those of the selection committee.

A win Thursday would be worth at least one seed line.

--- Prime example of no-respect from the media. ESPN New York giving UC the "Thanks for playing" tag and ranked them below 13-17 Seton Hall for chances they could win the tourney.  

--- You know we here at the Breakfast love excellent nuggets and here's one for you courtesy Amanda Balionis (via Tommy G): All eight teams playing today have at least 20 wins.

--- Also, UC posted its highest regulation point total of Big East play with 87 points. They scored 93 with the OT period against Providence.

--- Thanks to Dan Hoard for pointing out this story on UC recruit Jermaine Sanders in the New York Post.  

--- Notre Dame is trying to recreate its tournament victory at the Old Spice Classic, according to Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune.   

--- The New York Post went with the standard story about Gates thriving after his suspension.

--- I missed this in yesterday's Breakfast, but Bill Koch had a nice piece with Cronin talking about attendance and the difference supporting the program in the seats can make.

--- The Jim Calhoun comments were mentioned here yesterday. Cronin responded with a comment of his own when asked about it.  

--- As for the St. John's-Rutgers mess, you can find plenty of opinions on it -- including the head of NCAA officials calling it unacceptable -- so I won't offer another one here.

I will only say this: Mike Rice is a great coach and class act and showed why throughout the whole process.

In his postgame he said that the officials of the game have an impeccable record.

You know how high of a road you have to take to say Tim Higgins and Jim Burr have impeccable records?

Snoop Dogg thinks that's really high.

--- The combo of Sean McDonough, Twitter's-own Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery doing these games makes it so much easier to watch on TV. Chuck Machock's streak of games without an ejection even entered the conversation of Wednesday's blowout.

But the Raftery explosions far and away make my day. Matt Norlander posted a 60-second best of Raftery experience worth listening to.

We even got some "Gather the puppies!" during last night's UC broadcast.

--- March is the month of Gus. Here's an interview with him, cackle-free, unfortunately.

--- A perfect day of predictions for me last night from the Big East tournament. Happy with picking the Marquette upset, though, I probably didn't deserve to be correct with the St. John's pick. So, now 5-2 thus far with Villanova's choke job really wearing on my record.

Let's move on, here is today's schedule

All games on ESPN/ESPN3D

Noon: No. 9 UConn vs No. 1 Pitt

2 p.m.: No. 5 St. John's vs No. 4 Syracuse

7 p.m.: No. 7 Cincinnati vs No. 2 Notre Dame

9 p.m.: No. 11 Marquette vs. No. 3 Louisville

Predictions:

First prediction is that his will be far and away the best day of basketball the Big East experienced all year. I'll say no game is decided by more than seven points with at least two by one possession.

Pittsburgh: The top defensive teams in the league have done a great job of taking away Kemba Walker all season. Here are his point totals: WVU 22 (8 of 23 shooting), UC 16, Syracuse 8, U of L 16. Even though he posted 31 in the first meeting against Pitt, Walker needed 27 shots to do it and only made 10.  

I think Pitt keeps Walker from being the primary factor and wins by the largest margin of the day at MSG.

Syracuse: St. John's played tight in its opener against Rutgers. Maybe some of the pressure of having the tourney at the Garden got to them and they aren't letting it rip. Who knows, but there won't be much pressure affecting the Cuse who are favorites here every year and playing well of late. Buzzer-beater type finish.  

Again, no prediction on UC games from me for conflict of interest.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are rolling and feeling as confident as they have in a while after the win against WVU. U of L struggled away from home all season and I think they come out sluggish with Marquette in rythym from its third game in three days.    

On to some randomness...

--- I have friends who have been trying to argue this point for years.  

--- A 60-year old man slugged University of Minnesota mascot Goldy the Gopher twice in the face at a gymnastics meet. (All the aggression and testosterone of gymnastics must have overflowed into the crowd) I personally love this quote from a bystander in the story.

"It was just two people fighting, but if one of them is dressed up as a 7-foot gopher, then it's pretty amusing."

--- DVR alert: Zach Galifianakis hosts SNL Saturday night. The promo reel is strong to quite strong.

--- If you are a Reds fan and don't visit Jamie Ramsey's Better Off Red blog, that's a you problem, not a Jamie problem. The blog was ranked No. 1 MLB pro blog for February.

Sidenote: Great tweet from Jamie this morning regarding the rise of the Ohio River -- Your attention please. If you parked your car on the public landing, it's now in Louisville 

--- Jeff Pearlman set out to find the Worst Song/Video Combo Ever. The top five list is truly fantastic/atrocious, including a Joey Lawrence sighting. But the No. 1 is to videos what Tim Higgins is to officiating.

The End of the Road

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CINCINNATI - In the midst of a perpetual losing streak, she refused to let her last home game end with another defeat.

Senior Shareese Ulis of the Cincinnati women's basketball team dialed up a career-best six 3-pointers on Senior Night and blocked the game-tying 3 with 11 seconds remaining for a thee-point win over Marquette on Feb 28.

With the victory Ulis left her mark on the program putting an end to a program-worst 13 consecutive losses.

Two years ago it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Ulis would don the red and black. After playing two years in Texas at Trinity Valley Community College, she decided she wanted to play for former Bearcat coach J. Kelley Hall. That's when things got complicated.

"Right in the middle of my recruiting, I had committed to UC," Ulis said. "Then I found out a couple days before I was supposed to sign that Coach J. Kelley Hall was fired."

Hall left Cincinnati with a 26-33 and 3-26 in the Big East during his three-year tenure.

The guard found herself in a limbo until May 5, 2009 when Jamelle Elliott was named head coach at UC. Elliott was an assistant Connecticut where she had won of six national titles.

"I didn't know who the coach was going to be and I kind of panicked, I didn't know what I was going to do or if I was going to be accepted to another school or not," Ulis said. "Then I found that [Elliott] was coming from UConn. I thought what great opportunity it would be to play under someone with so much experience and so many championships."

The two developed a bond that was crucial during a rebuilding phase for Cincinnati. Ulis was instrumental in Elliott's inaugural two years with the school starting every game and averaging 12.6 points. 

"[Ulis] brings a lot to the table as a leader and obviously as a player," Elliott said. "[Ulis] has made my first two years as a coach a lot easier. Just by having her on the floor, having her in the locker room."

The 5-foot-7 guard appreciated much her coach pushed her to maximize her potential.

"[Elliott] never allows you to take a day off," Ulis said. "Every second, every minute she is demanding the best out of you. She makes you do what exactly it is she wants. She will not accept anything less than your best."

The transition from the ranks of junior college to Division I was smooth for the senior but a clear change in the dynamics of the game.

"Coming into the Big East I had one role, playing point guard," Ulis said. "At Trinity Valley I played the one and the two sometimes the three."       

Prior to the Toledo native's last game at Fifth Third Arena, her fiancé walked her to midcourt as they honored her accomplishments. It was a surreal moment for the senior.

"After the ceremony I realized it was my last game at UC," Ulis said. "I don't think it was to point where I was going to cry. "It was said because I'm going to leave behind the relationships I built with [my teammates]. I was only here two years, I've grown to have a strong connection with everyone on the team."

Ulis finished No. 7 on the all-time school list for 3-pointers with 117, including one in 31-straight games to close out her career. None of them standout to Ulis more than the one she hit Feb. 13, 2010 with her team trailing by three. 

"When we played Syracuse and I hit the 3," Ulis said. "Coach Elliott came running from the other side of the bench with her hands up and then she gave me a huge hug at the end."

Ulis hit the shot with four seconds remaining to force overtime before winning the game.

In celebration of her 22nd birthday, which was the day before Senior Night, on Feb. 27, she spent time her family and fiancé to make sure she was well rested.

Ulis plans to earn a degree in Sociology after completing summer classes. She said she is considering being a graduate assistant after finishing school.

"I think I'll miss the staff at UC," Ulis said. "Everybody in the athletic building has helped me stay on track with my classes and make sure I'm taking the right classes I need to be in."

 

 

 


And they're off.

Not shockingly, the first day of the Big East tournament resembled nearly every night of the regular season: overtimes, buzzer-beaters, upsets.

Most notably, USF overcoming a 16-point deficit to send Villanova spiraling even deeper into the abyss that has become their season. Make it five losses in a row for the Wildcats who missed the front end of two one-and-ones that would have made the lead two possessions. That came after they made their first 20 free throws of the game. Wow.

Mick Cronin and UC were likely pulling for the Wildcats because beating Nova would have brought more respect than a victory against USF. Plus, Cronin talked about the most difficult thing to do in this tournament is beat a team you are "supposed" to beat.

In the big picture, it won't mean much for UC. They've done a great job this season of beating the team's they were supposed to, whether home or away.

The Bearcats were 7-0 this year against the teams seeded 11 or lower in the tournament. Four of those came by double digits.

Let's eat...

--- In the first matchup against USF, Sean Kilpatrick had one of those nights Kilpatrick tends to have. He poured in 18 points on 4 of 5 shooting from behind the arc.

Matching up with USF's size will be the key for UC tonight. In the first game, they were ineffective on the offensive boards, only grabbing six of 28 possible rebounds -- well below the season average.

"They played us tough (at Fifth Third), but it is hard to remember back that far," Cronin said.

--- Prior to the win against Villanova, USF had lost five of its previous six games -- four of those were by double figures.

--- Augustus Gilchrist has turned into the beast USF expected him to be all season. Over the past five games, the 6-foot-10 center is averaging 20.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.

--- Shaun Noriega led the Bulls with 22 points last night and made 6 of 12 shots from 3-point range. In his last seven games, he's draining 44 percent of his triples. UC needs to keep close tabs on Noriega all night.

--- Bill Koch caught up with Stan Heath last night and the USF coach gave him some lovely quotes about playing Cincinnati.

--- Tommy G and Dan Hoard with a report from New York City in the afternoon of the Bearcats arrival. If DH looks like he lost a few pounds, it's because he got off at the wrong subway stop and put in a little extra exercise time.

--- Ken Pomeroy's log5 of the Big East tournament gives UC a 5.8% chance of winning the tournament and 14.5 percent chance of making it to the final.

--- Rush the Court's BE tournament diary with some great details from the opening day including the ruthless nature of Providence fans.

--- Mike DeCourcy doesn't think any Big East team will reach the Final 4. I'd make a strong argument for Notre Dame.

--- There will be about a million of these lists in the next week, but that doesn't mean it's not still nice being on one for UC. Jon Rothstein of CBSsports.com lists them as one of five sleepers to watch in the NCAA tournament.  

--- Jim Boeheim thinks the double-bye system needs to go.

--- Today's schedule:  

Wednesday, March 9 - Second Round (ESPN/ESPN 3D)
Noon:
No. 8 Georgetown (21-9) vs. No. 9 Connecticut
2 p.m.: No. 5 St. John's (20-10) vs. No. 13 Rutgers
7 p.m.: No. 7 Cincinnati (24-7) vs. No. 15 USF
9 p.m.: No. 6 West Virginia (20-10) vs. No. 11 Marquette

--- My predictions from Day 1 were a mixed bag. I went 2-2, hitting on UConn and Marquette, but missing on Seton Hall and Villanova.

Day 2, I predict will not go much better. Yes, I'm predicting bad predictions. My feeling is the more you know the less you know in this conference. I probably know too much for my own good.

Winners:

UConn: I think this is the game where Kemba goes off. Without Chris Wright, Georgetown won't have any answer.

St. John's: Continue to love how hard Mike Rice has his team playing, but St. John's first game in the Garden for the tournament they run into a buzzsaw

Marquette: West Virginia has been on a nice roll lately, but Marquette feels it has much more to play for right now and they spring the minor upset.  

--- On to some randomness...

--- Please, please, please tell me the KC Royals mascot Sluggerrr shows up in court in full costume.

--- ESPN the Magazine is publishing a "Fiction Issue." Insert your own ESPN-related joke here.

--- Speaking of fiction, The Onion with yet another great story.

--- Tamale!!!

--- In case you didn't get that reference

For a brief moment I forgot how fantastic Championship Week is -- then I turned on the final 10 minutes of VCU-ODU last night. There's no duplicating the desperation of a team like Virginia Commonwealth who must win to deliver its dream.

They came back from 18 down in the second half to cut the lead to one point. The intensity from the players was only matched by the roars from their crowd filling one half of the gym.

You just won't find that spirit anywhere except college basketball.

This will be a fun week.

Let's eat...

--- Obviously, some disappointment yesterday over Rashad Bishop's snub as Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Syracuse center Rick Jackson won the award.

Jackson led the league in blocks and rebounding. Traditionally, those stats have been hard to overcome. I wrote about the numbers behind that award earlier this year.

"Over the past 10 years, the award went to a center seven times. Owning the paint and leading the conference in blocks almost always equals a DPOY. Three times it went to a guard. Jerel McNeal in 2007 set Marquette's all-time record for steals in a career. In 2001 and 2002 John Linehan went back-to-back nearly setting the NCAA single-season steals record in the process."  

Without numbers, it requires the coaches voting for the award to put too much time into it. Just doesn't happen. A guy like Bishop who guards and shuts down great players as he did has no real measuring stick statistic to base it on.

"Nobody on our team seems to warrant consideration for our accomplishments," Cronin said. "That's the problem with 16 teams, though. You can't honor everybody."

Cronin went on to compliment Jackson on working himself into a top tier player during his four seasons, just admitting being disappointed for his guy Bishop.

--- Bishop's snub played perfectly into the theme of the media session, though.

UC was ranked No. 25 in the AP poll on Monday and still all the way back at No. 29 in the Coaches Poll.

Cronin pointed out seven teams ahead of them in the AP poll have worse records. When a team like Georgetown at 22-9 and who UC beat up twice in the last two weeks is three spots ahead at No. 22 it's tough to phathom.

"That sucks," Biggie McClain said.

Or a team like Kansas State, who is 22-9 and ranked at No. 19. They've been hot lately, as have the Bearcats, but still only have two wins against teams ranked in the Top 25 of the RPI. UC has five.

Gary Parrish had this to say about the Coaches Poll:

Coaches poll: I doubted and discounted Cincinnati much of this season and applauded those who were with me. But at some point it's impossible to ignore the Bearcats' resume, and we reached that point over the past week when Cincinnati won at Marquette and then beat Georgetown. Yes, the win over Georgetown is a win over the Hoyas sans Chris Wright. But it's still a win that pushed the Bearcats to 24-7 and allowed them to finish sixth in a Big East conference that has seven members ranked in the latest coaches poll.

The problem?

Cincinnati isn't one of the seven.

Which is crazy considering the Bearcats have five top-25 RPI wins and zero losses outside of the top 35 of the RPI. Not to pick on Utah State, but the Aggies have zero top-25 RPI wins and a loss to Idaho (129th in the RPI), and they're ranked 17th in the coaches poll that doesn't rank UC at all. Again, that's crazy. And you'll see just how crazy next Sunday when the Bearcats get a better seed than Utah State in the NCAA tournament despite being ranked much lower in the coaches poll.
 

But, that's the beauty of college basketball. None of that really matters. It will all play itslef out on the court the next few weeks.  

--- For the most part, Mick Cronin has played the disrespect card as a motivator all year and it meant little else. For the first time he showed some concern about a tangible effect it could have on UC's seed.

I wrote about all of his comments in yesterday's post here.

--- Bill Koch wrote about UC's defense carrying their way through the Big East tournament. UC ranks tops in the league in average points against overall and second just in Big East games (Pittsburgh).  

If you look at KenPom's defensive efficiency rating, UC ranks 10th in the country and only one decimal point behind Louisville for tops in the Big East.

--- Ballin' is a Habit previews the Big East tournament and calls Notre Dame the favorite. He placed UC into the deep sleeper category. The fact he has St. John's as the sleeper playing at MSG where they have been impossible to beat this year is saying something about the league or proves BIAH is missing the point.

The Dagger previews as well and points toward a likely St. John's-Syracuse battle of New York as the turning point.  

I asked Darnell and Biggie who was the favorite during yesterday's session and after saying themselves, I made them pick another team and they started running down the list of Pitt, St. John's and Notre Dame and it just proved how wide open this tourney will be.

Here's today's schedule:

Tuesday, March 8 - First Round (ESPN2/ESPN 3D)
Noon:
No. 9 Connecticut (21-9) vs. No. 16 DePaul (7-23)
2 p.m.: No. 12 Seton Hall (13-17) vs. No. 13 Rutgers (14-16)
Tuesday, March 8 - First Round (ESPNU/ESPN 3D)
7 p.m.:
No. 10 Villanova (21-10) vs. No. 15 USF (9-22)
9 p.m.: No. 11 Marquette (18-13) vs. No. 14 Providence (15-16)

--- I don't predict UC games on here because it ends up as a lose-lose proposition for me. But I'll go ahead and pick the rest of the games in the tournament and see how I do. (Until I miss all the games on the first day and this bit will be instantly canceled)

Winners: UConn -- With Cleveland Melvin, I would have thought about it; without, no chance.

Seton Hall -- I like Rutgers, but Seton Hall has been on fire of late, hitting 24 of 39 3-pointers.

Villanova -- I would say nobody is playing worse than Nova right now, except USF.

Marquette -- First to 100 points wins. You know when the last time Providence won away from home? Nov. 24 vs. Wyoming on a neutral floor.

It should be a pretty chalk day for the opener, but all heck will break loose after that.

--- The folks at Syracuse's Magician blog break out the flow chart for the Big East tournament.

--- Behind the scenes of the routines of teams during the week in NY.  

--- Jim Calhoun is upset about Kemba Walker not being unanimous first team All Big East and some of Cronin's comments about Walker's recruitment to UC (taken out of context, Cronin was not upset) are brought up by the Huskies coach.

--- Checking in real quick with football, Brian Bennett decided to give UC's workout routine a try. He paid for it. But a great story came out of it in the process.

Sidenote: Kenbrell Thompkins, who came to UC at 180 posted on his Twitter account this week he is up over 200 pounds now.

--- Catching up with Gino Guidugli.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Tom Zbikowski wants to fight Chad Ochocinco. I have a feeling Marvin Lewis wouldn't have a problem with that offseason activity.

--- Tom Brady may or may not be responsible for breaking the Internet today.   

---  There are buzzer beaters and then there is this...

How would you like to be the ref of this game? You can't whistle the kid for traveling, can you?

The Bearcats have nothing to lose and everything to gain this week. Those were the words of Mick Cronin at Tuesday's media availability.

 

The desperate mindset of last year's run in the Garden doesn't apply to the 2011 version with a berth in the NCAA tournament secure.

 

So, what do the Bearcats have to gain? Plenty, they say. And as has been the case all season, this team will continue to play for respect it feels has gone unpaid.

 

"In our situation with our continued lack of respect nationally," Cronin began, point out seven teams were ranked ahead of No. 25 UC in Monday's AP poll, "we need to try to send a message to the selection committee that we deserve the seed that some other people I am fearful may get that we may have a better record than. We may have even have beaten them."

 

The latest example of the lack of respect in Cronin's eyes was Rashad Bishop being passed over for Big East Defensive Player of the Year in favor of Rick Jackson. The coach has been petitioning for Bishop since the middle of Big East play, but saw the league's leading shot-blocker and rebounder take the award.

 

"Not surprising," Cronin said. "It's happened all year to us. There are certain teams in our league that get more media coverage and hype than other teams. We are gaining respect. That's another reason for us to continue to play with a chip on our shoulder. Nobody on our team seems to warrant consideration for our accomplishments. That's the problem with 16 teams, though. You can't honor everybody. That being said we will try to use that as motivation."

 

If motivation morphs into results, the Bearcats NCAA tournament seed could take a significant jump. Cronin thought with a great week at Madison Square Garden, UC could play its way to as high as a No. 3 seed. Most projections currently have them around the 6/7 line.

 

Opportunities will arise to add to the five Top 25 RPI wins currently on the Bearcats resume. Coincidentally, the way the bracket lines up, most of those come against teams UC lost to on the road early in the season.

 

They open against the winner of USF-Villanova at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. If they win, they would play No. 2 seed Notre Dame Thursday evening.

 

During most interviews players will say they don't care who they play. Darnell Wilks and Biggie McClain followed suit, Monday. Though, once the conversation turned to the teams they would most like to play, well, there was little secret.

 

"Villanova, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh," McClain said.  

 

"The ones we lost to," Wilks interjected.

 

The current streak of five wins in six games makes them believe the outcome would differ from those that occurred as UC struggled too find its way over the first half of the Big East season.

 

Revenge would be only part of the reason it might be advantageous to match up against Villanova. Perception and pressure would be another.

 

"The hardest thing in this tournament is to play a team that you are supposed to beat," Cronin said, referring to USF, 3-15 in Big East play. "Now, instead of just going up there and letting it rip. Like last year, our toughest game was Rutgers. It's just a lot of pressure, oh man, you can't lose this game. There is a lot of pressure on the favorites. You play Villanova, you win you win, you lose you lose, you get ready for the NCAA tournament."

Good Win Good Bye

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UC has finally made a statement worthy of a doubters surrender. They swept Georgetown en route to an impressive Big East regular season record earning them a first round bye. The 24 overall wins and 11 wins in the Big East ended the excuses that were as frequent as a businessman at a Las Vegas brothel...allegedly.

The Bearcats displayed tough defense and big plays when they needed it to solidify their invitation to the NCAA tournament after a long drought. No one can say they backed in; no one can say they conference is weak; and not one person can say if,  if or if; They deserve to go because they won 11 games in the toughest hoop conference in America, period. They got a first round bye as a result of the league performance while teams like Villanova (whom many of you thought were better) have to start playing right away. 

So lets enjoy Big East tournament with a team that returned the University of Cincinnati basketball program back to its rightful place of residence: The NCAA tournament. Here's to a return engagement next year.

It's Getting Better All The Time
I also want to pay respect to UC women's coach Jamelle Elliott, who I think has this program heading in the right direction. Lets face it, when you come into a league with UConn and Rutgers and everyone else has been recruiting to get on par with them, you're fighting up hill in the most challenging of ways. I know at times its hard for her, but I think as she continues to recruit top flight players; the kind who won't be scared of the competition and who will buy into her Gino, Jr. philosophy of take no prisoners basketball, you will see success.

She doesn't get the support she was used to at UConn as a player and coach but she will before its all said and done. Coach Elliott we are watching; we are impressed and we believe. We may not say it enough but I'm saying it now. I think you will create a program with talent and wins sooner than later. You were more competitive this year and got some much needed wins and now its just adding and padding the win total. 

Keep working hard and the next time I write about a UC team getting in the NCAA tournament after a long absence, I most certainly feel like it will be you and your young ladies.

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

In the words of Will Ferrell: That. Just. Happened.

Saturday served as a celebration of the official revivial of Bearcats basketball and hopefully reminded everyone how rewarding supporting the program can be. As Mick Cronin said after the game: "This is what it's supposed to be like."

A ton of blood, sweat and frequent flyer miles went into rebuilding the program back to what occurred on Saturday, but it seemed to feel worth it on a Senior Day that couldn't have been more perfect for the home team.

I asked Rashad Bishop if the day could have been any better for him and what beating Georgetown by 22 points to close out his home career means. His loss for words and ear to ear grin told the story.

"I don't know, it's big," he said. "I don't even know what to tell you about that one."

Sometimes not knowing what to say says it all.

But for the Bearcats, depsite winning five of six, four in a row on the road and adding three victories against ranked opponents, none of that matters anymore. 24-7, 11-7 is in the books, now they're 0-0.

UC plays Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the winner of Villanova-USF as the No. 7 seed.

People have been asking me what I think their chances are in New York this week and my response has been the same: They aren't favored to win it and probably aren't even in the conversation, but they have as good a chance as anybody right now. The depth of the league has this tournament as wide open as it has ever been and few teams are playing as well right now as UC.

Let's eat...

--- So, since you know I love letting history predict the future, I did a little research to see what being hot entering the Big East tournament meant in relation to success in it.

Over the past five years, I took the two teams to make it to the championship game and listed their seed and record in the five games leading up to the trip to NYC. The first team listed each year was the champion.

11UC               7          11-7        4-1      3  

Year/Team   Seed   Record  Last 5   Wins v Top25

10WVU            3         13-5       4-1         2      

10GTown          8         10-8       2-3         0

09Louisville       1         16-2       5-0         1      

09Cuse             6         11-7       4-1        1

08Pitt               7          10-8      3-2         0     

08GT                1          15-3      5-0         2

07GT                1          13-3      4-1         1

07Pitt               3          12-4      3-2          0

06Cuse             9          7-9       2-3          0 

06Pitt               6          10-6      2-3          0

What does this mean?

***It doesn't appear a hot run entering the Big East tournament predicates a quality run in it. In fact, if you look at the five long-shot seeds to make runs to the championship, only 2009 Syracuse could you really see coming with their 4-1 mark entering the tourney. Three of the five had below .500 records in their five games leading up to to the tourney.

***As far as the notion that UC has as good a chance as anybody to advance to the title game, 09Cuse and 08Pitt serve as perfect examples. In fact, the situation for UC is nearly identical to the Syracuse run and Pittsburgh took the 7 seed all the way to the title.

***Each of the last three years -- and four of the last five -- a team slotted 6 or lower has been in the BE title game. Each of those four years that team had the same or worse winning percentage in conference play as UC.

***To say UC doesn't have a real chance to compete in the championship would be ignoring all the statistical evidence.  

--- Another tidbit to remember about the Big East tourney, the double bye system has not been kind since league adopted it two years ago and caused coaches to fight for its elimination.

Last year, only West Virginia, which hit the De'Sean Butler banker at the buzzer against UC, survived its first game. Three of the four teams in the semis were single-bye holders.

In 2009, two of four were single-bye holders.

--- Recent history of the No. 7 seed:

Year/Team  Record   Result

10ND          10-8         W vs No.10 SH, W vs. No. 2 Pitt, L vs No. 3 WVU

09WVU       10-8         W vs No. 10 ND, W vs No. 2 Pitt, L vs No. 7 Cuse (OT)

08Pitt          10-8        W vs No. 10 UC, W vs No. 2 UL (OT), W vs No. 6 Marq, W vs 1GT

07WVU        9-7         W vs No. 10 SH, L vs No. 2 UL

07SHall        9-7         L vs No. 10 Rutgers

--- Dan Hoard wrote about Mick Cronin's perfect day being the day he wins the Big East championship in New York City then eats dinner with friends and family after. It may be time to at least put in the back of his mind what his restaurant of choice would be.

--- With UC playing the winner of Nova-USF, it should be noted how awful of a two weeks it has been for the Wildcats. And now second-leading scorer Corey Stokes may not play in the tournament with a hamstring injury.

They've lost six of eight and one of the wins was in OT against DePaul.

--- Sean Kilpatrick made the Big East All-Rookie Team. He has the highest offensive rating of any player on the Bearcats and highest percentage of possessions used on offense.

He finished the regular season averaging 9.9 points in 20.4 minutes, tops on the team.

--- Not one UC player was among the All Big East teams. It says something about the depth and chemistry it took to build to 11-7.

ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM
Kemba Walker, Connecticut, G, Jr., 6-1, 172, Bronx, N.Y.
Austin Freeman, Georgetown, G, Sr., 6-3.5, 227, Mitchellville, Md.
*Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame, G, Sr., 6-3, 206, Poplar  Bluff, Mo.
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh, G, Jr., 6-2, 190, Scotch Plains, N.J.
Marshon Brooks, Providence, G-F, Sr., 6-5, 200, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Dwight Hardy, St. John's, G, Sr., 6-2, 195, Bronx, N.Y.
 
ALL-BIG EAST SECOND TEAM
Preston Knowles, Louisville, G, 6-1, 190, Winchester, Ky.
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette, G, Jr., 6-2, 215, Raleigh, N.C.
Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh, G, Sr., 6-4, 210, Philadelphia, Pa.
Rick Jackson, Syracuse, F, Sr., 6-9, 240, Philadelphia, Pa.
Corey Fisher, Villanova, G, Sr., 6-1, 200, Bronx, N.Y.
 
ALL-BIG EAST THIRD TEAM
Chris Wright, Georgetown, G, Sr., 6-1, 208, Washington, D.C.
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame, F, Sr., 6-8, 235, Unionville, Ct.
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, G, Sr., 6-5, 188, Bronx, N.Y.
Kris Joseph, Syracuse, F, Jr., 6-7, 207, Montreal, Quebec
Corey Stokes, Villanova, G, Sr., 6-5, 220, Bayonne, N.J.
 
BIG EAST HONORABLE MENTION
Peyton Siva, Louisville, G, So., 5-11, 180, Seattle, Wash.
Jimmy Butler, Marquette, F, Sr., 6-7, 220, Tomball, Texas
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse, G, So., 6-2, 190, Philadelphia, Pa.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia, F, Jr., 6-8, 255, Mount Vernon, N.Y.
 
BIG EAST ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati, G, Fr., 6-4, 215, White Plains, N.Y
.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, G-F, 6-5, 185, Norcross, Ga.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, G, Fr., 6-0, 170, Randolph, Mass.
*Cleveland Melvin, DePaul, F, Fr., 6-8, 210, Baltimore, Md.
Brandon Young, DePaul, G, Fr., 6-3, 175, Washington, D.C.
Gilvydas Biruta, Rutgers, F, Fr., 6-8, 230, Jonava, Lithuania
*denotes unanimous selection 

--- The respect of the Top 25 polls is finally starting to come around. Even Gary Parrish, who hasn't been a UC believer all season (pretty sure this is the first time he's ranked them) placed them at No. 19 in his poll.

--- Of course, some just refuse to give any credit. Jeff Goodman really must have it out for the Cats. He still ranked Villanova, of a 21-10 record, 9-9 in the Big East and losers of 6 of 8, ahead of UC. Hmmm..... 

--- Most NCAA brackets right now have UC on the 6/7 line with some as low as 4 and high as 10.

--- For those of you unhappy with the TV situation, know that UC's success should warrant a more prominent slate on ESPN's family next season. But don't go thinking a Big East TV Network could ride off the power of the college hoops season.

--- Lance McAlister broke down the numbers behind the process of the rebuild:

The process
UC year by year under Mick
Season: Record............RPI/SOS
2006-07: 11-19/2-14.....174/47
2007-08: 13-19/8-10.....118/11
2008-09: 18-14/8-10.....84/44
2009-10: 19-16/7-11.....65/9
2010-11: 24-7/11-7........32/78

--- BearcatLair had video from the celebration at the conclusion of the UC win on Saturday.    

Just The Beginning For The Bearcats

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Describe the perfect day?

 

"I wake up in a hotel in New York City and prepare to play in the Big East Tournament championship game.  Win the game and have dinner afterwards at some great restaurant in New York with friends and family.  That would be...that's going to be a great day."

 

--Mick Cronin in my first in-depth interview with him after becoming Cincinnati's head coach in 2006.

 

Senior Day represents an ending.  But this season, for the first time in years, it feels like the UC Bearcats are just getting started.

 

On Wednesday night they'll take the court at Madison Square Garden as a legitimate candidate to do some damage in the Big East Tournament.  Four days later, they'll watch the NCAA Selection Show knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that "Cincinnati" will be on the bracket.

 

"I thought we left a couple of wins on the table during the regular season, but the fortunate thing about college basketball vs. college football is that it really doesn't matter - it's all about March," head coach Mick Cronin told me after Sunday's 69-47 win over #17 Georgetown.  "I don't believe in just making the tournament - what's the point if you're not going to win games?  That doesn't make sense to me.  And having a team that hasn't been in it, I'm really trying to hammer that home with our guys so that when we're in the tournament, we're not just happy to be there."

 

After being picked to finish 12th in the Big East Preseason poll, UC wound up in a tie for 6th place with West Virginia.  That earned the Bearcats a first round bye in the Big East Tourney and Cincinnati will face the winner of Tuesday's Villanova/USF game on Wednesday at 7:00pm.  If the Bearcats win, they would face Notre Dame on Thursday night at 7:00pm.

 

After having the 31st-most votes in last week's AP Poll, there's a chance that Cincinnati will be a Top 25 team going into the post-season, but Coach Cronin says he likes things just the way they are.

 

"We prefer to stay unranked," Mick said.  "There are three teams that are ranked in the Top 25 (#16 UConn, #17 Georgetown, #19 Villanova) that we finished ahead of in the conference.  I can keep telling our team that the voters are disrespecting us.  We're going to go to New York and try to play for the championship and at the same time try to earn a higher seed for the NCAA Tournament.  That's been our goal all year.

 

"People say that 'Mick should shut-up' or 'Coach Cronin is whining.'    Well, we've been disrespected all year and it does matter.  It's kept us off ESPN and off the highlight shows and that stuff affects recruiting.  The reason why I comment on it is that it also affects my players.  These kids have hopes and dreams and they deserve to be talked about like the other Big East teams that are having good years.  And they deserve to be talked about as individuals when they have good games.  So I'm going to fight for my team and my players.  If people want to take shots at me, they can have at it.  The only opinion that I care about belongs to a little 4-year-old girl named Samantha Jean."

 

The Bearcats will enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the Big East, as they closed the regular season by winning six of their last eight, including four on the road.  When the 'Cats struggled down the stretch in recent seasons, Coach Cronin frequently cited their lack of Big East experience.  Appropriately, he attributes this year's strong regular season finish to the fact that he has veterans.

 

"You cannot understate the importance of having upperclassman that know how to practice, how to approach game preparation, and what it takes to win at this level," Coach Cronin said.  "That is by far the hardest thing I've had to deal with in the rebuilding process - getting guys to adhere to a standard of excellence.  And get it to a point where it can be continued by the groups behind them.  This year it's been different.  What we went through last year really helped us this year.  Our guys knew that we lost a lot of close games or we could have been in the NCAA Tournament last year.  I didn't have to give the same speeches and beat my head against the wall nearly as much.  Hopefully, going forward we won't have to deal with that anymore because the winning ways are established and that way we operate on a daily basis is established." 

 

As the 7th seed, the Bearcats are obviously still a long-shot to win the Big East Tournament.  But Coach Cronin sounds confident that his team is going to play well in New York. 

 

"I know we sold our tickets out and have a lot of fans coming and we're going to do our best to keep you spending your money in the Big Apple," Mick told me.  "We know it's not cheap there, but hopefully you saved and we'll keep you around up there."

 

Who knows?  Perhaps it will end with the perfect day.

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Reason to smile

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With five wins in six games and a 22-point drubbing of No. 17 Georgetown in the pocket, Cincinnati enters the Big East tournament one of the hottest teams in the conference.

 

CINCINNATI - Mick Cronin couldn't help but smile.

 

Rarely does the Bearcats leader lose an intense scowl or pause furious calculation of tactics on the sideline.

 

But, as Sean Kilpatrick's 3-pointer from the wing dropped in the middle of a 26-8 Bearcats run to close out the 17th-ranked team in the nation, Fifth Third Arena exploded.

 

Cronin smiled. And applauded. It's difficult not to these days. 

 

There may be teams playing better basketball than the University of Cincinnati right now, but not many.

 

During a Senior Day lovefest there was no hiding the realization of what's occurred in this arena over the last five months. A team off the radar and picked 12th in the conference preseason bullied its way to a third victory against a Top 25 team in the last two weeks. It blew out the storied Georgetown Hoyas by 22 points on the final day of the regular season to complete a stretch of five wins in six games.

 

Cronin loves what this team has become right now. Judging by the near deafening response of 12,197 around him, the fan base approves as well.

 

Kilpatrick jumped on top of the scorers table following the win and celebrated in front of his student section. A line of UC players paraded around the court for a victory lap with the fan base.

 

Scenes like the one Saturday haven't been commonplace on this campus for a long time. Why not enjoy the ride?

 

"When you are coaching at a big-time place in the Big East with the tradition that we have, Final 4s and national championships," Cronin said, "that's how it should be."

 

Even if asked how they thought Saturday should be before the game, it would be hard to imagine Cronin, any of his six seniors or the most optimistic of staff members writing a more fulfilling script.

 

Yancy Gates of the 50 percent free throw shooting midway through conference play knocked down all 10 of his shots from the line. The entire Bearcats team of 65 percent free throw shooting on the season made 20 in a row at one point.

 

Larry Davis, whose struggled throughout Big East play with his 3-point shot, delivered a momentum shifting triple from the corner that Cronin called the "biggest shot of the game."

 

Darnell Wilks, of the freakish athletic ability, used it constructively to leap over Georgetown defenders for a key offensive putback.

 

Rashad Bishop, whose footprint on the program will be stamped as the defensive stopper making the plays not seen in the stat sheet, took over the game during the decisive final stretch despite never scoring a point. His defense of Georgetown's lone offensive creator, Austin Freeman, played a role in his 7 of 23 shooting and the Hoyas second consecutive game shooting 32 percent from the field against the Bearcats.

 

Senior walk-on Eddie Tyree was able to take the court to a fan base chanting his name for almost two minutes at the conclusion of the blowout.

 

The team built on depth saw nine players score a bucket and nobody contribute more than four.

 

Depth and defense struck again.

 

"This is the perfect time to find what you do best to help yourself win," Gates said. "For us, that's defense."

 

Because of this run, anticipation of the postseason -- which UC will kick off Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in New York -- reached a level unseen around these parts in years. It shook the foundation of the arena Saturday.

 

"Early in the Big East we were a little shell-shocked with the games we had to play," Cronin said. "I don't think we had the confidence to win those games. Our guys are really confident. You got to believe in your talent. My goal with this team is to get them to believe in themselves. You are seeing it now. They are really starting to believe in what they are capable of."

 

For Cronin and the Bearcats, that's a development worth smiling about.

Too High of a Mountain to Climb

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For the second time this season No. 22 West Virginia blanketed Cincinnati's half-court offense.  

 

The Mountaineers ended UC's season with a 66-41 win Friday in the first round of the Big East Championship in front of 8,177 at XL Center. 

 

WVU contested nearly every shot as the Bearcats went 32.6 percent from the field. The Mountaineers cashed in 22 UC miscues for 27 points. Guard Liz Repella had four of the team's 10 steals and contributed 15 points and seven rebounds.

 

"What can I say?" coach Jamelle Elliott said. "West Virginia is a very, very, very, good defensive team. When we were coming in to the game, we knew we had to find ways to score, not even just to score, but just to get shots off against their stifling man-to-man defense and we didn't do a good job of that."

 

WVU center Asya Bussie led all scorers with 16 on 5-7 shooting.  

 

Guard Bjonee Reaves paced UC with a team-best 11 points in 39 minutes of play.

 

UC faced a double-digit deficient at the 12:36 mark 20-10, before five-straight from Reaves triggered a 7-0 run. 

 

WVU answered with a seven-consecutive points for another double-figure lead, one that it would not relinquish the rest of the night.

 

For a large part of the opening half UC kept the score close due to a 33-30 edge on the glass for the game.  

 

"We got the lead and we were defending pretty well," WVU coach Mike Carey said. "We just weren't rebounding very well. When we started rebounding better, we were able to stretch the lead."

 

The Mountaineers took a 37-23 advantage into the break after a 17-6 run.

 

"Towards the end of the first half, we allowed them to go on a little run and then obviously we weren't able to recover,' Elliott said.

 

With the loss UC dropped to 0-18 when trailing at the half. 

 

The first basket of the closing period didn't come for either team for nearly five minutes.

 

With 13:22 remaining freshman Tiffany Turner UC scored UC's first field goal.

 

A 3-pointer from senior Shelly Bellman with 9:58 to play gave them their second field goal of the second stanza to spark a 14-4 spurt. 

 

Guards Bellman and Chanel Chisholm knocked down back-to-back long balls to trim the WVU lead to 14 with 6:28 left, after it had reached 24.

 

The Bearcats got no closer the rest of the way.

 

"We get tired in the second half; that is the bottom line," Elliott said. "Playing seven players, eventually against that type of defense we just wear down."

 

Elliott said she will stay in Hartford, Conn., a couple days to watch the tournament and pick up some tips for the upcoming season. UC will get much needed rest this offseason, after dressing seven healthy players for the majority of the year.

 

Veterans Shareese Ulis and Bellman participated in their last contest as Bearcats.

 

"Obviously I am happy for my two seniors Ulis and Bellman who were able to play in this game," Elliott said. "They both had nagging injuries all year long." 

September Can't Arrive Soon Enough For Butch Jones

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A few weeks ago while serving as the keynote speaker at the annual Elder stag, Butch Jones received a standing ovation when he got up to speak.

 

"That's the first standing ovation in history for a 4-and-8 football coach," Jones said to a big laugh.

 

Butch Jones.jpg 

But the warm reception was no joke to the Bearcats' second year coach.

 

"That meant more to me than you could believe," Jones told me.  "People understand the work that it takes and the support has been overwhelming.  I've enjoyed every speaking engagement, and I've felt very welcomed.  It makes you feel good and it energizes you and makes you want to win that much more for the people here."

 

While it's been a tumultuous off-season in the Big East with coaching changes at Pitt and UConn, and a bizarre coach-in-waiting plan at West Virginia, the Bearcats were able to maintain continuity from top to bottom.

 

"Four individuals from our full-time coaching staff were offered positions at other institutions - some would doubled or tripled their salaries - and we managed to keep our coaching staff intact," Jones said.  "That's a tribute to loyalty, I think it's a tribute to the vision of where we're going, and I think it's their belief in our kids.  It tells you that you're doing things right and it's all about surrounding yourself with the right people and it just proves to me more and more that we have the right people here."

 

After going 27-13 and winning two MAC championships in three years at Central Michigan, Coach Jones endured a difficult first season at Cincinnati.  But when he met with his players two days after the season-ending loss to Pitt, he immediately turned their focus toward next year and had every reference to the 2010 season removed from the walls of the Lindner Center.

 

"(Next season) can't get here soon enough," Jones said.  "I already have training camp mapped out and planned.  Our motto is 'Be a Champion.'  Before you can have a championship football team, the team has to be comprised of champions.  It's how you go to class, it's where you sit, it's how you train, it's your focus - that's been our sole purpose.  It's been a great off-season to date and we're looking forward to spring football."

 

Spring practice officially begins on March 28th, but the Bearcats began rigorous early morning training sessions at the start of January in the new indoor practice bubble.

 

"Last year from January to the middle of March, we weren't able to get outside and run, throw, and do our mental toughness and physical toughness training," Jones said.  "It's the first place that I've even been in coaching where we weren't able to do skill development.  This year it's been unbelievable.  The bubble is first-class and we've been able to work with our kids at 7:00 am workouts.  It's already made a monumental difference for us.  They're excited that they can work on their skills year-round in 68 degree temperatures.  We've really been able to see great growth and development because of it."

 

The season begins with a September 1st home game against Austin Peay, followed nine days later by a difficult road test at Tennessee.  The Big East schedule is highlighted by two home games that will be played at Paul Brown Stadium against regional rivals Louisville and West Virginia.  Those games not only give UC an opportunity for added revenue, but Coach Jones says they are great for recruiting.

 

"To be able to walk into a young man's house and say, 'You're going to play in an NFL stadium in downtown Cincinnati' is big," Jones said.  "And now we're able to show them that on their official visits.

 

"We're excited about it and I think it's an opportunity to continue to grow the program on a national stage by competing in a great NFL venue like Paul Brown Stadium.  But we need to step up and this is where I need our fans.  We have to make Paul Brown Stadium a great home field advantage.  It's our job to put a product on the field that they want to come and watch, and we need to make it a great game day environment like it was for the Oklahoma game." 

 

Bearcat Nation responded to a similar challenge by traveling in huge numbers to the Orange and Sugar Bowls.  Coach Jones is determined to give you a similar travel opportunity this year.    

 

"We had too much of a break during the holidays this year," Jones told me.  "On New Year's Eve I was in contact with our team saying, 'Hey - I hope you enjoyed the holidays with your family but this isn't what's expected here.'" 

 

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've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the picture of me with the handsome lad (proudly wearing his Zach Collaros jersey in this week's photo).

 

Sam at Fifth Third Arena 2011.JPG

Seniors built backbone

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The group of six seniors who will be honored on Saturday may not have provided the flashy statistics during Cincinnati's rise the past four years, but provided the foundation the NCAA tournament berth was built on.

 

CINCINNATI - As a transfer from Oklahoma State two years ago, Ibrahima Thomas never experienced the first two full seasons like his fellow seniors.

 

But, as Thomas listened to Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis carry on Wednesday with the realization they unofficially clinched their first berth in the NCAA tournament, he couldn't help feel like he understood.

 

"The things they told me they went through their freshman year, I don't think I would have done it," he said. "These guys wake up at five in the morning as freshmen. They would come out in the game, play hard and still lose. That type of stuff will break your heart as a basketball player, as an athlete. It's like showing up to work knowing that you are not going to get paid."

 

For the past four years Bishop, Davis, Darnell Wilks, Biggie McClain, Eddie Tyree and soon joined by Thomas, fought the good, thankless fight.

 

Grueling practices. Offseason workouts. Repeated losses. Lack of playing time. Frustrated fan base.

 

They weren't recruited with the allure of a trophy case full of Big East championships, Hall of Fame coach or daily showcase on Big Monday -- all the prized desires of the nation's top high school players.

 

"They had to sign on to a vision," Mick Cronin said. "Because when they signed it was a bleak time for Cincinnati basketball. All those guys took a leap of faith and then they had to grind it out."

 

For this group, the situation fit as nicely as the black and red Adidas jersey on gameday.   

 

These were not blue-chip, can't-miss recruits. They were a class first cultivated when 80 of the top 100 players in the country were already committed, when UC lived at the bottom of the Big East ladder with no guarantees they could reach the first rung to even begin climbing up.

 

These were the overlooked, the underrated.

 

In order to withstand the uphill climb, Cronin needed resilient soldiers. That's exactly what he found despite the pickings being slim at the time. As the team increased its win total and postseason status every season, the fight in this class made the difference.

 

Every player who will stand on the court during pregame ceremonies endured moments where it was unclear if they'd reach Senior Day.

 

McClain considered a transfer prior to this season, but refused to give and provided a spark  while in games and even bigger lift in practices.  

 

Point to the tenacious defense of a guy like Davis who never relented this season, one year after a down season offensively and lack of playing time would have made it easy to walk away.

 

Look at the maturation of Bishop, who last year was shown the door, pushed into the hallway and asked to make a decision. He didn't just chose to return, he dedicated himself to making sure nobody who allowed his return would regret the decision.

 

"What I liked about Larry and Rashad, they weren't into bells and whistles," Cronin said. "I knew I would have to have some guys that had the underdog mentality with a chip on their shoulder because we were going to have to go through being underestimated together. Those two kids are big-time fighters."

 

The steady improvement and versatility of Wilks allowed for some of the most incredible highlights in the Big East all season. Thomas' growth into a strong rebounder and effective finisher around the rim made him indispensable in multiple wins late in the year. Even Tyree earned praise for his relentless attitude every day in practice.

 

Finding a core group that would come to play every day with a workmanlike attitude sounds like a cliché out of every coach's playbook. But, in the mind of Cronin, such a manta wasn't only a luxury, rather the key.

 

"The common denominator, to me, the guys that failed in rebuilding (programs) were the guys that panicked and said 'We don't have enough talent' and pulled the plug on certain guys. My belief was we just had to get these guys to the junior and senior class. You are never going to win until you get older guys. Even though some of these guys just play a role for our team, it's an important role. Without them, we'd still be spinning our wheels. They are the backbone of our team."

 

The backbone grew stronger during the 35-point loss to Connecticut, three straight defeats against Xavier and the heartbreaking string of events that concluded last year's final month.

 

"We struggled," McClain said. "We struggled bad."

 

On Saturday against Georgetown, a group that began its journey on the same court against NKU four years ago will celebrate the home conclusion. Yet, because of their perseverance and effort, it will celebrate much more than that. It will celebrate a group of players that grew closer together during the process and built a bond that bludgeoned its way to a season not many outside of the home locker room saw coming.

 

"They built the program," Cronin said.

 

This group of seniors perfectly reflects so many pockets of the city it represents. These are the factory workers. These are the guys with lunch pales and overtime stubs. These are the guys who don't quit because the job isn't finished yet.

 

Even the toughest blue-collar folks aren't beyond showing emotion. McClain jokingly bet on Wilks and Bishop breaking down during Saturday's ceremonies. Thomas pinned McClain as the first one to show tears.

 

For Thomas, who only joined this crew on the court two years ago, he understands where the emotion will come from. This isn't about mom grasping the arm or ovations from the fans. This will be about this group of guys who worked without thanks or glory for the hopes of earning a common goal; for the hopes of giving a gift to each other.

 

"Coach, he asked me if it's tough for me to leave," Thomas said. "It's not that, it's the fact I am leaving these guys. I have talked to my mom, for her to come here. She said 'I don't want to be here.'

 

"I said, 'Why not?'

 

"She said, 'Because they are your real family. If something happened there, they are the first one there. So, I want you to walk with them.' So I will walk out with these guys because they have done everything for me. That's probably where my break down will come."

Definitely an entertaining media session with Mick Cronin, Ibrahima Thomas and Biggie McClain on Thursday. It's pretty obvious the team is riding high following Wednesday night's tourney-clincher.

How do you know Charlie Sheen has taken over the universe? When his comment shows up unsolicited in Cronin's press conference.

Here was Cronin when discussing his team's success: "You are going to lose if you don't come out ready to play. You got to have your tiger blood."

For Sheen, it's just another day of winning.

That wasn't the only entertaining or enlightening tidbits to come out of the press conference. Cronin also took a shot at the national writers and pundits talking about how nobody believed him when he said this team would be improved.

"I saw it all last spring, I told everybody this summer and nobody wanted to listen. None of the national guys wanted to listen they all said I was just trying to publicize my team. But I told every one of those guys we were going to be better. They took shots at me. Mick Cronin says the Bearcats are going to be better but they lost their two leading scorers, I don't know how he could say that. They all wrote the same thing. So, none of them wanted to talk about us all year because it would make them look bad because they are all the ones who said we weren't going to win. They were all the ones who picked us 12th.

"They can't admit they were wrong when I told them all, you want to make yourself look good? We are going to win this year. We are going to have a good team this year. Why? Because I am a coach and you're a writer. That's why. Because I know what I'm talking about. Because I got kids with character and they are ready to win. They went through a tough time last year and this team is ready to turn the corner. I can see it."

That salvo went out against all writers except Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, who Cronin went on to laud his work for a few minutes when it was pointed out DeCourcy has been backing UC since the summer.

"He's one of the smart pundits of national basketball because he actually takes time. He does his job he talks to college coaches, goes to practice and gets in the background. He's probably the most underrated analyst because he puts his time in."

I'd absolutely agree with Cronin on the DeCourcy analysis. Obviously, his local ties make it easier, but there isn't one other national writer who I saw at a practice or game this season. He was at both, multiple times.

Speaking of DeCourcy, he had this to say to Lance McAlister's radio show on 700WLW last night:

"The job Mick Cronin has done at UC might be the most underrated in the last 10 years of college basketball. If the fans are not going to recognize and appreciate that then maybe UC should go D-2" 

But the point of the session wasn't completely about the ineptitude of the writers, rather the importance of the six seniors that will be honored on Saturday before the game against Georgetown.

Barring a significant disruption, I should have a story up later today on those guys. I'm excited about it, too. Some great stuff from Biggie, Thomas and Mick.

Let's eat...

--- I'll serve up some extras from Biggie and Ibrahima before the story runs.

Biggie was talking about the rebuilding of the program and tossed out this nugget:

"Coaching changes happen all the time," McClain said. "People say that Bob Huggins left so they are going to suck for the rest of eternity until the school is over with. It's not like that."

--- Cronin talked about the ultimate motivating factor that was revealed to him yesterday, which was if UC loses to Georgetown there's a strong possiblity it would be the nine seed and play at noon on Tuesday.

He's already lamneted how difficult it is to get this team up to play at noon, stating after the noon-game loss to UConn: I don't think it's legal to give out Ambien."

Cronin continued Thursday: "I can't explain to you how much that is going to motivate our guys to win. When I tell our team that if we lose we are going to play noon on Tuesday we might have guys diving in the fifth row on the first play of the game."

Thomas validated Cronin's contention.

"The only problem with the noon game is, in high school you wake up at 11:15, hop in the van, go play," he said. "The noon game you have to wake up at 7 or 8 so you can eat pregame and actually have to go through the film, so that means from 8 or 7 you have to be awake till noon?

"Usually you have a game at 8 or 9 you can have a nap," McClain interjected.

 

"I am not looking forward to it," Thomas said. "That's great motivation. I don't know what they are thinking about right now in that locker room, but right now, Georgetown is in trouble."

 

After hearing those comments all I could think about was how much I miss college. Where the strongest motivator wasn't money nor reputation nor advancement. Rather, naps.

--- Senior Day festivities will occur before the game Saturday. If you want to be there to honor the six guys, you will want to be in your seats by 1:30 p.m.

--- Friend of the blog, enemy of the BMV, Mo Egger with a great read on honoring Rashad Bishop Saturday:

"Rashad will not leave UC as a star. His number won't be retired, he's not among the school leaders in much other than games played, he'll never be included in any conversation about former Bearcat greats, and he's made his share of cringe-worthy mistakes while at UC.

He's also played in 124 games, and counting. In that 124, he's spent time guarding players at nearly every positions, the list of players he's been asked to check could make up a who's who of quality Big East players these four years. His defensive excellence may or may not go rewarded when the league hands out its hardware, but it shouldn't go unrecognized by fans of this program. He's been asked to bring the ball up, bang underneath, make outside shots, post-up, rebound...nearly everything you could ask a guy to do.

But more than anything, he's been a part of the rebuilding, he's been a part of the solution. He's been a program guy, a building block, and after last year's season-ending a suspension, a case study in redemption.

Wednesday night, he took the floor at less than 100% and he wasn't great against Marquette....yet he still had a starring role in maybe the game's most important sequence...at the end of the first half he made a three to extend the Bearcat lead to four, grabbed an defensive board, then assisted on an SK jumper to give UC a six point lead at the half. It wasn't what we talked about the next day, but it was huge nonetheless.

And so have Rashad's contributions to this basketball program. I want bigger and better things for this team down the road, and if we get them, this will be the team we think of as the unit that started it all. And when we do, I'll think of what #22 meant to them before I think of anyone else."

--- We will find out if Bishop wins BE Defensive Player of the Year when all the conference awards are announced Monday.

--- The Big East said there are 22 different scenarios for how the tournament seeds will play out depending on the outcome of games this weekend. So, how about we just wait until Saturday to figure it all out. Bottom line, though, UC wins it earns a first-round bye.

--- Villanova and Georgetown could be playing on the first day of the Big East tournament. There's a sentence I couldnt' have imagined writing three weeks ago.

--- I wrote here yesterday that, along with UC, only Pitt and Georgetown have won four consecutive conference road games this year. St. John's went for No. 4 last night and Seton Hall beat them down. To be fair, the Johnnies attempted to do some beating down of their own as Justin Burrell got tossed for a hard foul during a wild game.

--- While UC will be motivated by nap time, Georgetown is seeking revenge for the home loss a week and half ago. This from the Washington Examiner.

--- Before the Georgetown game there is an event that features free Taco Bell. May God have mercy on our souls.

--- On to some randomness... 

--- Really looking forward to this HBO documentary on Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels.

--- Luke Winn's Power Rankings are must-read for hoopsheads.

--- Tip for your NCAA Tourney bracket: Love Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin.   

--- I didn't know it was officially illegal to drive 35 miles with your wife on the hood of your car, but that makes sense. I'd probably do a double take on my morning commute.

--- Hockey fights with little concern for the opponent's well-being.

--- Kings of Leon's "The Immortals" will be the theme of the NCAA tournament on CBS and Turner Sports. And this tournament keeps getting better.

Definitely an entertaining media session with Mick Cronin, Ibrahima Thomas and Biggie McClain on Thursday. It's pretty obvious the team is riding high following Wednesday night's tourney-clincher.

How do you know Charlie Sheen has taken over the universe? When his comment shows up unsolicited in Cronin's press conference.

Here was Cronin when discussing his team's success: "You are going to lose if you don't come out ready to play. You got to have your tiger blood."

For Sheen, it's just another day of winning.

That wasn't the only entertaining or enlightening tidbits to come out of the press conference. Cronin also took a shot at the national writers and pundits talking about how nobody believed him when he said this team would be improved.

"I saw it all last spring, I told everybody this summer and nobody wanted to listen. None of the national guys wanted to listen they all said I was just trying to publicize my team. But I told every one of those guys we were going to be better. They took shots at me. Mick Cronin says the Bearcats are going to be better but they lost their two leading scorers, I don't know how he could say that. They all wrote the same thing. So, none of them wanted to talk about us all year because it would make them look bad because they are all the ones who said we weren't going to win. They were all the ones who picked us 12th.

"They can't admit they were wrong when I told them all, you want to make yourself look good? We are going to win this year. We are going to have a good team this year. Why? Because I am a coach and you're a writer. That's why. Because I know what I'm talking about. Because I got kids with character and they are ready to win. They went through a tough time last year and this team is ready to turn the corner. I can see it."

That salvo went out against all writers except Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, who Cronin went on to laud his work for a few minutes when it was pointed out DeCourcy has been backing UC since the summer.

"He's one of the smart pundits of national basketball because he actually takes time. He does his job he talks to college coaches, goes to practice and gets in the background. He's probably the most underrated analyst because he puts his time in."

I'd absolutely agree with Cronin on the DeCourcy analysis. Obviously, his local ties make it easier, but there isn't one other national writer who I saw at a practice or game this season. He was at both, multiple times.

Speaking of DeCourcy, he had this to say to Lance McAlister's radio show on 700WLW last night:

"The job Mick Cronin has done at UC might be the most underrated in the last 10 years of college basketball. If the fans are not going to recognize and appreciate that then maybe UC should go D-2" 

But the point of the session wasn't completely about the ineptitude of the writers, rather the importance of the six seniors that will be honored on Saturday before the game against Georgetown.

Barring a significant disruption, I should have a story up later today on those guys. I'm excited about it, too. Some great stuff from Biggie, Thomas and Mick.

Let's eat...

--- I'll serve up some extras from Biggie and Ibrahima before the story runs.

Biggie was talking about the rebuilding of the program and tossed out this nugget:

"Coaching changes happen all the time," McClain said. "People say that Bob Huggins left so they are going to suck for the rest of eternity until the school is over with. It's not like that."

--- Cronin talked about the ultimate motivating factor that was revealed to him yesterday, which was if UC loses to Georgetown there's a strong possiblity it would be the nine seed and play at noon on Tuesday.

He's already lamneted how difficult it is to get this team up to play at noon, stating after the noon-game loss to UConn: I don't think it's legal to give out Ambien."

Cronin continued Thursday: "I can't explain to you how much that is going to motivate our guys to win. When I tell our team that if we lose we are going to play noon on Tuesday we might have guys diving in the fifth row on the first play of the game."

Thomas validated Cronin's contention.

"The only problem with the noon game is, in high school you wake up at 11:15, hop in the van, go play," he said. "The noon game you have to wake up at 7 or 8 so you can eat pregame and actually have to go through the film, so that means from 8 or 7 you have to be awake till noon?

"Usually you have a game at 8 or 9 you can have a nap," McClain interjected.

 

"I am not looking forward to it," Thomas said. "That's great motivation. I don't know what they are thinking about right now in that locker room, but right now, Georgetown is in trouble."

 

After hearing those comments all I could think about was how much I miss college. Where the strongest motivator wasn't money nor reputation nor advancement. Rather, naps.

--- Senior Day festivities will occur before the game Saturday. If you want to be there to honor the six guys, you will want to be in your seats by 1:30 p.m.

--- Friend of the blog, enemy of the BMV, Mo Egger with a great read on honoring Rashad Bishop Saturday:

"Rashad will not leave UC as a star. His number won't be retired, he's not among the school leaders in much other than games played, he'll never be included in any conversation about former Bearcat greats, and he's made his share of cringe-worthy mistakes while at UC.

He's also played in 124 games, and counting. In that 124, he's spent time guarding players at nearly every positions, the list of players he's been asked to check could make up a who's who of quality Big East players these four years. His defensive excellence may or may not go rewarded when the league hands out its hardware, but it shouldn't go unrecognized by fans of this program. He's been asked to bring the ball up, bang underneath, make outside shots, post-up, rebound...nearly everything you could ask a guy to do.

But more than anything, he's been a part of the rebuilding, he's been a part of the solution. He's been a program guy, a building block, and after last year's season-ending a suspension, a case study in redemption.

Wednesday night, he took the floor at less than 100% and he wasn't great against Marquette....yet he still had a starring role in maybe the game's most important sequence...at the end of the first half he made a three to extend the Bearcat lead to four, grabbed an defensive board, then assisted on an SK jumper to give UC a six point lead at the half. It wasn't what we talked about the next day, but it was huge nonetheless.

And so have Rashad's contributions to this basketball program. I want bigger and better things for this team down the road, and if we get them, this will be the team we think of as the unit that started it all. And when we do, I'll think of what #22 meant to them before I think of anyone else."

--- We will find out if Bishop wins BE Defensive Player of the Year when all the conference awards are announced Monday.

--- The Big East said there are 22 different scenarios for how the tournament seeds will play out depending on the outcome of games this weekend. So, how about we just wait until Saturday to figure it all out. Bottom line, though, UC wins it earns a first-round bye.

--- Villanova and Georgetown could be playing on the first day of the Big East tournament. There's a sentence I couldnt' have imagined writing three weeks ago.

--- I wrote here yesterday that, along with UC, only Pitt and Georgetown have won four consecutive conference road games this year. St. John's went for No. 4 last night and Seton Hall beat them down. To be fair, the Johnnies attempted to do some beating down of their own as Justin Burrell got tossed for a hard foul during a wild game.

--- While UC will be motivated by nap time, Georgetown is seeking revenge for the home loss a week and half ago. This from the Washington Examiner.

--- Before the Georgetown game there is an event that features free Taco Bell. May God have mercy on our souls.

--- On to some randomness... 

--- Really looking forward to this HBO documentary on Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels.

--- Luke Winn's Power Rankings are must-read for hoopsheads.

--- Tip for your NCAA Tourney bracket: Love Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin.   

--- I didn't know it was officially illegal to drive 35 miles with your wife on the hood of your car, but that makes sense. I'd probably do a double take on my morning commute.

--- Hockey fights with little concern for the opponent's well-being.

--- Kings of Leon's "The Immortals" will be the theme of the NCAA tournament on CBS and Turner Sports. And this tournament keeps getting better.

League Tourney follows Senior Night success

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They couldn't have capped their careers at Fifth Third Arena in better fashion. 

 

Senior guards Shareese Ulis and Shelly Bellman put a halt to the school-record 13-game losing streak. Bellman provided the offense in the waning moments of the contest, while Ulis came up with a steal and blocked shot on the last two possessions.

 

With Ulis stroking 20 points including a career-best six 3-pointers, the Bearcats scored 60 points for the first time since December 30, 20010, a span of 16 games.

 

"I've been feeling good lately," Ulis said. "I knew I was going to get shots it was just a matter of focusing and making them. They left me open quite a bit."

 

This performance came against No. 20 Marquette, the No. 5 seed in the upcoming conference tournament, making it even more significant.

 

In their previous three-home games the Bearcats dropped two-single digit contests and fell to Providence after a first-half lead. Monday marked UC's first league win at home this season.   

 

"I think it's just not being satisfied with a situation," Ulis said. "We know that we came out and lost a lot of tough games. We didn't give up. We continued to fight every day in practice. We continued to get better at the things we do wrong in our games."

 

Sixth-year guard Bellman battled through a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn patella tendon to suit up this season. The veteran was questionable for this game after hurting her shoulder and missing the previous game against Notre Dame.

 

"How fun was it for Shell Bellman to be on the floor?" head coach Jamelle Elliott said. "Before the shoot around today, we didn't know if she was going to play."

 

Ulis started every game in a Bearcat uniform and averaged a career 12.6 points per game during Elliott's inaugural two years with the program.

 

"As leaders and obviously as players," Elliott said. "They bring a lot to the table. [Ulis] especially has made my first two years as a coach a lot easier. Just by having her on the floor, having her in the locker room."

 

Following a memorable night for the two veterans is the next order of business, the Big East Championship.

 

"We have a lot of momentum right now," guard Bjonee Reaves said. "We're going to take that momentum going into the Big East Tournament and pack like we're staying [until] Tuesday. Pack a lot; we're going in thinking we are going to win. We never have gone into a game thinking we're going to lose."  

 

UC will enter as the No. 15 seed and will play No. 10 seed West Virginia Saturday at 6 p.m. in Hartford, Conn., at the XL Center.

 

In the last two tournaments UC has advanced to second round including as a 14 seed last year. In both wins UC scored more than 60 points while holding opponents in the 50s.  

 

"One game at a time, one game at a time," Elliott said. "Obviously we're going into the Big East Tournament on a high. We just beat a top-20 team. I think if nothing else we're going into the tournament believing that no matter [whom] we play against we should be able to compete. I'm not going to do anything different."

 

For Bellman and Ulis it's one and done. Their careers will come to end with the next UC loss.

 

"The only difference know is the next time [our seniors] lose, they're not going to put on a Cincinnati Bearcat uniform anymore," Elliott said. "I'm going to use that as a motivator for our players that are going to be here next year. Let them know that they need to leave it all out on the court. If not for you, but for the two guys that have given their heart and soul for this program."

 

The Mountaineers enter the postseason as a double-digit seed despite a No. 22 ranking. In the latest ESPN.com Bracketology 10 Big East teams are projected to make the NCAA tournament including West Virginia. 

 

WVU throttled UC on Jan. 8 at Morgantown, in their last meeting 72-44. It held UC to less than 20 percent shooting and blocked 17 shots. The Mountaineers are limiting teams to 52.4 points per game, the second lowest point total in the league. 

 

"It's hard in this conference," Elliott said. "This conference is a monster. It's even more of a monster when you're at the bottom trying to fight your way up. You just crawl and you crawl and you're trying to make [up] ground."

 

Ulis is averaging a career 13.5 points a game in the Big East Championship. If the Bearcats can shoot the ball consistently, they have a chance of making some noise.  

 

"That's the good thing about March - anything can happen," Elliott said.

 

No. 7 St. John's awaits the Cats if they can pull off a round-one upset.

 

"Once that ball goes up and it's time to play, we'll see," Elliott said.   

 

 


Notes:


--- Freshman Kayla Cook was named the Big East Rookie of the Week on Tuesday following a career-high 18 against Notre Dame and averaged 12 points in the last three games. Cook hit all four of her shots in a 13-point effort last Tuesday.


---Bellman earned the Big East Sportsmanship Award Thursday. Bellman started 23 games this year after missing two seasons due to knee surgeries. The senior is the first Bearcat to be recognized with this achievement. This comes six years after being named to the Big East All-Freshman team.


---Guard Kayla Cook and forward Jeanise Randolph were recognized this season with Big East All-Freshman team honors. Cook started every game this season while averaging 8.2 points, second best on the team. Randolph contributed 6.8 points a game and 6.3 rebounds a game in conference action. This is the first time UC has had a pair of players named to the first-year conference team.   

 

 

WHAT NOW!?

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I thought UC was in the NCAA tournament after wins over Louisville at home and Georgetown on the road but some of my friends and colleagues weren't sure. Well after their impressive road win over Marquette can we finally celebrate the return of UC to the NCAA tournament dance better known as March Madness?

I mean people are sitting around biting fingers, saying IF, wondering aloud. They have 23 wins; they are 10-7 in the Big East which guarantees them their first winning record in the league and they are now working on a first round bye in the tournament with a win on senior day Saturday.

It has been a long road back with lots of bumps and bruises and you better win this year or else shouts from the rafters but they've done it so sit down. Mick Cronin, like his style or not, has brought UC back to a respectable standard with this seasons success and you should pat him on the back and his entire staff who have worked as hard and endured as much criticism as the head coach. Pull out your UC gear that you put away when Huggy Bear left and remember why you rooted for UC in the first place. You were probably home town proud or a proud UC grad. Both happen before Huggs or Mick showed up.

We cling to the past because we can't change it or more important we won't let it change us. The future of UC basketball should change you from a hater, bystander or naysayer back into a fan now. They did what you ask and that was to get back to the NCAA tournament where we belong. Now get your butt back in the seats this Saturday where you belong. The kids aren't convinced that you're for real either; but now we know they certainly are and congratulations are in order regardless of your allegiance to Mick or Huggs.

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

 

Thought about waiting until Selection Sunday to post this at the top of the blog, but I don't have that kind of discipline. Plus, watching this video makes where UC is headed all the more real. (The intro lasts 30 seconds, I recommend letting the entire video play in the background as you read today's Breakfast. Maybe this will win an Oscar for Best Blog Score next year)

That song says all I need to say about last night's win.

Let's eat...

--- I did say some more in case you missed it, writing about the need to kick back and enjoy how long this journey from nothing to NCAA tourney in five years has been.

--- What were your predictions for this team at the beginning of the season? 23-7, 10-7, right? With a win against Georgetown the Bearcats will own a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. That's what teams picked 12th always do. (Where is the sarcasm font button?)  

--- The beat's lone writer on the ground in Milwaukee, Bill Koch, with postgame reaction from Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright.

--- Another night of production from Gates. Before I even go into his statistical turnaround, he's now made multiple monster blocks to help determine the outcome of games.

The one last night on Vander Blue was unlike many we've seen from Gates. Helping off his man to pin it against the glass? Who is this guy, Kenyon Martin?

Gates over the past five games: 14.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, two double-doubles.

He's even 17 of 24 from the free throw line during the stretch for 71 percent. He was under 50 percent for the season up to that point.

--- Cashmere Wright's average over the last five games: 11 points, 4.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds. And that includes his dud Sunday against UConn.

Wright has become the catalyst Cronin spoke about earlier in the season. The coach said many times Wright needs to become one of the better point guards in the Big East for UC to reach where it wants to go. He has and they have.

Last night he went for 15 points and 5 assists to 2 turnovers.

"When you got a leader out there and guy running your team playing with confidence playing quarterback the way he played it tonight you got a real good basketball team," Cronin said to 700WLW postgame.

 

This prompted Cronin to dip back into the no-respect card in regards to Wright. And he's correct, Wright doesn't receive anywhere near the respect he deserves from the conference or nationally. The week he avearged 16.5 points and 6.5 assists with wins against Louisville and Providence not only did he not win player of the week, he didn't even make the honor roll of the other top five players that week. 

 

"I get a lot of backlash people say Mick should shut up, Coach Cronin is whining. We have been disrespected all year and it does matter because it has kept us off ESPN and highlights, that stuff affects recruiting. Also, it affects players. These kids have hopes and dreams, these kids deserve to be talked about like other teams in the Big East. Cashmere Wright is outplaying some serious guys in our league and he really hasn't gotten any credit."

   

Oh, by the way, Wright continues to fight nagging shoulder and knee injuries. In fact, Cronin said Wright's knee was hurt him more than usual Wednesday night.

--- Teams that have won at least four consecutive Big East road games this year:

Georgetown (4), @Rutgers, @Seton Hall, @Villanova, @Syracuse

Pittsburgh (6), @Providence, @Georgetown, @DePaul, @Rutgers, @WVU, @Villanova

Cincinnati (4), @DePaul, @Providence, @Georgetown, @Marquette

That's it. (St. John's attempts No. 4 tonight) 

Not a minor achievement.

--- UC won all five effort-related categories last night: Points in paint 34-22, points off turnovers 13-11, 2nd chance points 18-15, fast break points 10-9, bench points 12-7.

--- The Bearcats pulled down 16 of 31 possible offensive rebounds for 52 percent. For perspective, UC averages 38 percent and Pitt leads the Big East at 43 percent.

It wasn't all by overpowering a smaller Marquette group. It came as a product of improved passing, according to Cronin. The coach said he evaluated film of the last four games and though the offense lost dedication to quality passing. The work spent in practice the last two days paid off as the Cats broke down the defense sometimes without putting the ball on the floor.

"When you break the defense down the way we were breaking the defense down with our passing then our big guys aren't being blocked out because they are rotating defensively," Cronin said on 700. "There was a reason you offensive rebound, because you are breaking the defense down with your player movement and ball movement."

    

--- As far as my Moeller math can tell UC could still earn a first-round bye in the Big East tournament if they lose on Saturday to Georgetown. However, they would need UConn to lose at West Virginia and Villanova to lose at Pittsburgh.

Not exactly unthinkable.

Of course, if they win, they will be either the sixth or seventh seed when the tournament commences next week.

--- The regional sites for the first-round of the NCAA tournament can be found here. The closest drives would be Cleveland and Chicago.   

--- Dana O'Neil casts the ballot for Big East POY and COY. Mick Cronin isn't in the conversation for Coach of the Year. What Rick Pitino, Mike Brey and Steve Lavin have done is remarkable and they probably deserve the award -- but none of them were picked 12th.

--- Random college hoops aside: UNC's Harrison Barnes. Tiger Blood. Carolina will be fun to watch this postseason.

--- On to some randomness...

--- The five-second rule doesn't exist? Science, you really know how to bring a guy down.

--- Did you know the "Mad About You" theme song was the wake-up call for the Mars Pathfinder, consequently, the first voice heard on the red planet? (How do you not go with 2001: A Space Odyssey?) 

Well, here are 17 other facts about TV theme songs you had no interest knowing.

--- The Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz had a son, he named him Carlos. He just had a second son. He named him Carlos.   

--- Love this baseball fan flow chart. (H/t TommyG) 

--- Did you realize our guy Josh Katzowitz is the new band director at George Mason? Neither did I.

--- I don't know about you, but when I think about eating lobster, I think about McDonald's.

--- Want some more One Shining Moment? OK. This one is from UC's last appearance in 2005. It includes Nick Lachey cheering in a red UC jersey and sad Eric Hicks.   

Wednesday night will go down as the latest in a rapidly growing string of great moments for the newest version of the University of Cincinnati basketball program.

 

It's hard to find one more special. On the road, in a hostile environment, the team nobody thought could do so reached the magic number of 10 Big East wins, 23 overall and (unofficially) punched a ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.

 

This would be easy to wax poetic about the play of Yancy Gates. The sleeping Bearcat woke up five games ago, contributed a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds with two monster blocks against Marquette. Heck, he even clinched the game by knocking down two free throws.

 

I could shift the conversation to the evolution of Cashmere Wright, who must be mentioned among the best point guards in the Big East with the way he's played during the last month. He poured in 15 points to go with five rebounds and a steal Wednesday.

 

We'd be remiss not to talk about Mick Cronin, who challenged Wright and Dion Dixon after a subpar performance against UConn and saw both respond. He also cut Ibrahima Thomas' minutes Sunday, only to return his confidence by plopping him back into the starting lineup Wednesday. He rewarded with countless big buckets on his way to 12 points and seven rebounds.

 

Every player and coach on the Bearcats charter plane back from Milwaukee deserves praise and recognition for their contribution.

 

At a moment like this, I like to look back at the low points.

 

Wait...what?

 

That's right, the lowest of the low. The point that made you curse at the television or sacrifice the nearest piece non-breakable merchandise. The point that made you want to write your congressman in anger. The point that made you consider giving up on your team or actually following through with the threat.

 

So, what was the most difficult aspect of this rebuilding project for you to stomach?

 

Was it the first season in the moment after the loss to in Game 4 Wofford when you realized how far this program had to go?

 

Was is Year 2 during the 45-point mercy killing at the hands of Connecticut when the full power of the Big East machine was concerningly evident.

 

Was it when Cashmere Wright tore his ACL? Or when Mike Williams went down?

 

Was it the three straight losses to Xavier?

 

Was it playing in the CBI on the road at Bradley with those NCAA tournament games a distant memory?

 

Was it last year watching a team making its miracle run see its Big East and NCAA tournament hopes banked into extinction by DeSean Butler?

 

Ugh. Still hard to write about that one without picturing the devastation on Dixon's face.  

 

Every fan handled the process differently. You may have taken it out on the head coach or the athletic director or the players or your pets. 

 

No matter how you handled it or when your low moment occurred you can look back on it today and smile. And laugh.

 

Because it's over.

 

The goal five years ago was to rebuild the gutted program back to an NCAA tournament level and compete with the best in the Big East.

 

Done and done.

The process required patience, resiliency, intelligence, commitment and about any other positive character trait imaginable.

 

In a week and a half, the road will come full circle as the name "Cincinnati" is listed next to a seed on the CBS Selection Show.

 

There were many moments over the last five years where all UC fans wondered how long it would be until the Bearcats joined that elite company and were allowed to personally experience the greatest tournament in all of sports again.

 

No matter what your low moment was, as you relish in Wednesday's victory and start planning the possible road trips for the NCAA tournament, you should pause for a moment.

 

It's been a long, arduous road back to the observational outlook near the top of the NCAA basketball mountain. The long journey back to relevancy is officially over.

 

Sit back, reflect and appreciate it.  

Gameday edition of the Breakfast today for the final road game of the season. Tonight, at Marquette (18-11, 9-7), 8 p.m. It's on ESPN3.com only. Here's the link. (H/t Tommy G) 

The Bearcats have been road warriors of late. They've won four of the last five on the road and three in a row. Amazingly, the team that opened the year with the 13-game home winning streak endured its most frustrating defeats there.

Yet, on the road, most of the season's important victories were forged.

After opening conference play losing the first three road contests, and handily, some change occured. Cashmere Wright had a theory when I asked him about it yesterday.

"I just think we focus more," he said. "We just block everything out and realize we are a family when we are on the road and all we depend on and play hard as a team."

This team responds to the "us against the world mentality" as well as anybody in the country. Whether in the week after the St. John's loss or playing the no-respect card every step of the 15-game win streak to open the season, it's been a common thread to success.

Adopting that approach for road games was when the switch flipped, Wright said.

"I think it was after the St. John's game, the meeting we had with Coach Cronin and said we are all we got," Wright said. "If people around here don't believe in us, your friends and family, believe in yourself and your teammates and play hard for them. I think we got people in there with chips on their shoulders that just want to prove to other people that they are good and want to be here."

That bodes well for tonight; the oddsmakers have the Bearcats as six-point underdogs. 

Let's eat...

--- A few newsworthy tidbits in relation to tonight's game came out of yesterday's media availability. The first I relayed into a short blog post yesterday on the response of the team following the UConn loss, particularly that of Wright, who took the brunt of some criticism after the game.

Cronin seemed pleased with his team's reaction on Monday, but admitted the workout was light.

--- Bill Koch updated Rashad Bishop's status. He's still feeling his toe injury but will play. The quesiton is how much pain can he tolerate.

Bishop has become the heart of this team down the stretch. If he is hampered, it would be a significant blow to the Cats.

--- The Bearcats are running into Senior Night at Marquette. That normally would be an obstacle, but the Golden Eagles haven't won on Senior Night under Buzz Williams. They fell in OT to Notre Dame two years ago and OT to Syracuse last year, both by one posssession.

Marquette beat writer Todd Rosiak detailed those woes and Williams' opinion on the Bearcats.

--- Jon Rothstein documents the correlation between Williams and Cronin, battling through the middle of the pack in a league full of Hall-of-Fame coaches.

Great piece. It includes this quote from Rick Pitino, which I mentioned a few weeks ago.   

"I love Mick and he's my buddy, but he needs to stop caring what people think about his team," Pitino said last week. "I don't think Cincinnati's an NCAA tournament team. I know they're an NCAA tournament team."

--- Marquette's been living on the bubble for a while now. Games like tongiht are commonplace. Of course, the same could be said about the Bearcats. I asked Cronin about that yesterday.

"We've been dealing with that for a month. You really start thinking about 11 teams making the NCAA tournament out of a conference. Every time you tee it up that is what you are dealing with. It forces you to be sharp at all times, it's taxing on your team. Hopefully, it makes your team better in the long run. Hopefully for everybody come March, we just want to be a part of it and hopefully we'll be all better when we don't have to play each other anymore.

 

So, has it made his team better?

 

"Oh yeah," Cronin said, "but I think it would be nice to play a non-Big East team."

 

This brought back our old friend the non-conference-schedule debate. It had been a while and he looked like he gained some weight. Regardless, Cronin started talking about experts not realizing the truth about his conference schedule.

 

"It's a funny thing about scheduling; everybody seems to have their great opinion about our schedule. What the national pundits don't seem to realize is nobody has invited Cincinnati to the Jimmy V, the Preseason NIT, to Coaches vs. Cancer. We got in Maui because Louisville pulled out. I had been begging the Big East office to help me get in a tournament like that."

 

Not sure if this was a plea for selection folks holding his OOC against him to see a deeper truth or just going off on a tangent as Cronin has a tendency to do. Bottom line, he's only stating fact. 

 

And it continued.

 

"I would love to play Duke home and home on national television," Cronin said."I think Coach K would probably like to play in the Garden. It'd be great to play Texas on CBS the first weekend in February, but you got to win games, you got to get your program re-established to get that kind of stuff. We are working toward that."

 

We'll see how much progress has been made when the schedule comes out after the season.

 

--- Many parallels exist between UC and Marquette. One would be the senior presence on the Golden Eagles. They have four major contributors in the senior class, though, arguably their best players, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, are both juniors.

 

Rosiak talked about their story.  

 

You could say the same about Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, Darnell Wilks and Ibrahima Thomas with Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon and Wright as the better players.

 

--- Bubble boys Alabama, Virginia Tech, Baylor and Illinois all lost big games. And the bubble gets softer. Good news in regards to UC's cushion.

 

The biggest factor to watch the next two weeks will be mid-major bid stealers. Luke Winn runs through the eight most dangerous.  

 

--- Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger handicaps the 11 Big East teams that could make the NCAA tournament.

 

--- Do you want to know too much about the conference tournaments? Do you not have a job or hobby to fill your time? Card Chronicle put together a 5,000 word thesis on championship week.

 

It also gives a shout out to my Ohio Bobcats, who are on fire in March -- again -- and beat up UC Football SID Ryan Koslen's Akron Zips by 35 points last night.

 

--- I mentioned the remarkable UC women's win against Marquette yesterday. What I forgot to mention was senior Shelly Bellman who played 35 minutes and had 12 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and buried a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner in the final minutes did so with a serious shoulder injury. Incredible.   

 

--- Every other site will be talking about this, but I'd be remiss if not linking to this great piece of journalism by SI investigating crime among college football players.  

 

--- On to some randomness...

 

--- A herd of goats made their way onto I-5 in California. Chaos ensued. I imagine it felt like every single time I take I-75 anywhere in town.

 

--- It's difficult to find any randomness that doesn't involve Charlie Sheen, who has taken over the universe. Though, I do like Sports Pickle's take.

 

--- Any time an event occurs at Marquette I always think about one of my favorite lines from Anchorman: "Baxter, is that you? Bark twice if you're in Milwuakee!"    

 

Enjoy the game tonight, we'll be discussing it at length here tomorrow.       

Cashmere Wright and the Bearcats endured a gut-check meeting with Mick Cronin following Sunday's loss to UConn. On Tuesday, the coach was happy with the reaction to this point.

 

CINCINNATI - The words coming out of the various media outlets following the loss against UConn were tough for Cashmere Wright to avoid. And likely tough to stomach.

 

Mick Cronin said his guards were as outplayed "as much as you could possibly be" and called Wright and Dion Dixon "good kids, but tough to coach."

 

Imagine any time you were chewed out by your parents for a mistake you made as a kid. Now imagine everybody you know listening and reading about the argument the next day.

 

The fallout could unsettle a 21-year-old college student like Wright. Instead, he viewed the situation as a positive. 

 

"I think it's a good thing," Wright said. "It shows he believes we are supposed to be better than that. He knows what we did wasn't supposed to happen and we played outside of ourselves and we are better players than that."

 

Wright had been better of late. He was enjoying one of his finest runs as a Bearcat, averaging 12.3 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals over the previous three games. Yet, by all accounts, Wright never gained momentum against the Huskies and after two early foul calls and five missed shots, couldn't become a significant factor in the game.

 

He took the criticism and the corresponding lesson to heart.

 

"I just got to come out and bring more energy from the get-go of the game and not come out lackadaisical because it trickles down to the rest of my team," Wright said.

 

As for the response of the rest of team, apparently Wright's positive attitude also trickled down to his teammates 48 hours removed from Sunday's disappointment.

 

 "Our response yesterday was great," Cronin said before practice Tuesday. "We had a real good workout. You can tell where the guys feel like they understand the situation that we weren't at our best on Sunday and it showed. They understand this time of year, this is why you play college basketball to be in the mix and be in the fight in March."

 

For Cronin's point guard, the last few days served as a return to reality after enjoying aftermath of the season's biggest win against Georgetown.

 

"We realize we just let focus go for a game and we have to get it back," Wright said. "We can't let it happen again."

I LIKE TO WATCH

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Sure, it's a line from one of my favorite older movies starring Peter Sellers, but I really do look forward to March 13.

First off, it's the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. If we're fortunate enough to have sun that day, it might be up until after 7 p.m.

I enjoy daylight and I enjoy me a sunset from time to time. (English sticklers, I realize that's not an appropriate sentence, but for this column, I choose to remain unstructured me.)

More importantly, March 13 is Selection Sunday and for the first time in five years Bearcat fans have a reason to watch.

It was 2006 when we last watched. Unfortunately, the evening ended in disbelief as a team with one of the top "strength of schedules" and a Top 40 RPI was snubbed. (I still have great reservations over that decision.)

But, that's old history now and after great struggles in rebuilding personnel and respect, coach Mick Cronin has the Bearcats back in position to watch Greg Gumbel toss it to Clark Kellogg with the hopes of hearing their name.

I've missed Greg Gumbel (the less abrasive of the Gumbels).  I've always enjoyed Clark Kellogg's work and I like him more on games than in studio. I even miss the cantankerous Billy Packer.

Most importantly, I miss UC not being in the discussion or the equation.

This year, barring the unforeseen, unpredictable or unbelievable, the Bearcat GPS should find it's way back to "Bracketville".

I'm not naive enough to call it a lead-pipe cinch, but it seems safe enough to at least watch the program (and CBS could probably use your business).

Yeah, I'm a little hesitant when I see a Joe Lunardi or Jerry Palm make the Bearcats a No. 7 seed after a win at Georgetown, then waiver a bit four days later after a loss to an also-ranked Connecticut team, but how many folks can be wrong that have been pushing 11 teams from the Big East?

I do have concerns wondering about "back room deals" to keep the NIT afloat by including Big East teams, but at the very least, we get to watch the show with a dog (or in this case, a 'Cat) in the hunt.

Just go easy on the Jim Nantz as Augusta overkill soon follows.

 

 

A Night to Remember

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February 28, 2011.

Write it down.

Make a note of it.

Tell your grandkids you were there.

Because on February 28, 2011, we saw the result of almost two seasons' worth of work by Coach Jamelle Elliott. We saw the Bearcats reach a goal they've been working toward, since Coach Elliott arrived in Clifton. We saw the UC women's team defeat a ranked team for the first time in the Elliott Era.

Oh, yes, the 'Cats had come close before, but the 65-62 win Monday night over #20 Marquette was the first time that it actually had happened. And it was only fitting that on Senior Night, the two seniors, Shereese Ulis and Shelly Bellman, led the way, Shereese with her three-point shooting and Shelly with her cool-as-a-cucumber conversion of two free throws in the final seconds to ice the game for UC.

It's a bit ironic that on the night we saw the end to the home season, we also saw the beginning of a new era for the 'Cats. Because the game, this win, was not just a result of hard work in one game, it was the result of hard work over the season.

Now it's on to the BIG EAST Tournament, and anyone can tell you that anything can happen there. Shelly said Coach Elliott told the players to pack for the week, not just one or two games. Coach Elliott feels at home back in Hartford, and her team exceeded expectations there last season.

So write down the date: Monday, February 28, 2011. I hope you can say that you were there when you saw the future of Bearcat basketball. And the future's gonna be fun.

The women's basketball team endured its struggles this Big East season. The latest 13-game losing streak provided a growing pain with many teachable moments.

Perhaps, that makes what happened last night all the more special.

On Senior Night, with No. 22/24 Marquette in town, two seniors made sure it was a game they'd never forget. Shelly Bellman went for 12 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists and buried a 3-pointer from the corner to give UC its final lead with 1:25 remaining. Shareese Ulis set a career high with six 3-pointers as the Bearcats held off Marquette for their first win since Jan. 5.

It's hard to imagine how gratifying that win must be, particularly for the seniors.  

Say what you will about winning and losing, nights like Monday for those women are what college athletics are all about. 

Let's eat...

--- There's media availability with Mick Cronin and some players this afternoon at 3 p.m. We'll get an update on Rashad Bishop's injury and likely talk more about being so close to the tournament.

If you have any questions you'd like answered, just shoot me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or tweet (@pauldehnerjr) and I'll do my best to deliver.

--- Bill Koch talked with Joey Brackets and wrote about UC's tournament chances. The magic number continues to be 10 wins, as it has been all year. UC needs to win one to avoid sweating on Selection Sunday. Period.

If they don't get one more, they may very well still get in, but there will be reason for nervousness, depending on what happens at MSG.

--- Marquette is 6-2 at home this year with a loss against red hot St. John's and UConn the only blemishes.

They can straight fill it up. They lead the Big East in scoring during conference play at 74.1 points a game. Of course, they're 14th in the league in points allowed at 70.1.

The tempo they play at would be somewhere between Providence and Villanova as far as those that try to outscore you every night. The Cats handled Providence easily -- until the final six minutes -- but in general UC's trend against the top scoring teams in the league was they were unable to make enough buckets to keep up.

Villanova, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh rounded out the top 5 in Big East scoring during conference play. UC played them all on the road and couldn't hold any below 66 points.

These types of teams will get their points. The question is if UC will hit enough shots to keep up as they did against Providence. The Golden Eagles defense allows more opportunities to do so than the previous three, but another 4 of 17 night from behind the arc would spell doom for the Cats.  

--- The emergence of two sophomores has been a key to Marquette's three-game win streak. This from Todd Rosiak at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

--- UC is 0-7 when trailing at the half and 22-0 when leading at the half this year.   

--- Tommy G put together this feature on one of the nicest athletes I've met at UC, senior Ibrahima Thomas.  

--- The Big East has eight 20-win teams entering the last week of the regular season. Since 1982-83, the first year of the Big East's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, 128 of 132 Big East teams with 20 or more wins have reached the NCAA tournament (97 percent).

--- Good thing Villanova isn't anywhere near the bubble. They are giving an encore performance to last year's late-season collapse. If the BE tournament started today they would be the 11th seed. Yikes.

--- Mike DeCourcy with another great story, this time about how teams that win on the road in the regular season win in the NCAA tournament. The same being said for teams that don't win on the road in the regular season.

"Over the past five years, 19 of the 20 Final Four teams had a winning road record. The exception: 2010 Duke, which went 5-5. Among that group, 14 were at least four games over the break-even mark in road games, and eight won at least 80 percent.

"Consider the teams that struggled on the road. Over that same five-year period, there have been 15 top-40 RPI teams that were three or more games under .500 in road games. Only one advanced to the Sweet 16, and their overall tournament record was 8-15."

As for UC, they are 4-4 on the road in the Big East and 7-4 on the road overall. That doesn't include what was considered a neutral site win vs. Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

A game like Wednesday at Marquette will be as great a test of that theory as any this year.

--- Andy Glockner writes the Bubble Watch with some discussion of UC in the Big East section. He almost contradicts himself talking about how incredbily weak the bubble is and that anyone who is anyone will be in, but later says UC still has work to do.

--- John Calipari said he uses the media like a wet rag. In these trying times of journalism, it's at least nice to know we serve some purpose.

--- Didn't get around to this yesterday, but Lance Stephenson saw his first NBA action of the year this past weekend for Indiana. He didn't hav a field goal, but made two free throws for his first NBA points.

Most surprising from this blog post by Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com, was Frank Vogel said he sees Stephenson being an "X-factor" this year.

--- Former Bearcat Brian Garman with the save yesterday for the Milwaukee Brewers.

On to some randomness...

--- Zach Galifianakis hosted SNL last year and was fantastic. He's coming back for a second session on March 12.

--- The Onion.

--- Since today is the first day of the best month of the year, I figured I'd post a video that shows the way I feel about the next 31 days.    

 

UC stuns No. 20 Marquette on senior night

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CINCINNATI - Trailing by two points with 1:25 remaining, senior Shelly Bellman sunk a clutch corner 3-pointer and broke out with a huge grin that said it all.

 

Cincinnati ended a 13-game slump that dated back to Jan. 5, with a 65-62 upset over No. 20 Marquette on Monday at Fifth Third Arena.

 

"We can't stop smiling," senior Shareese Ulis said. "It's been a long season. We showed games where we could come out and compete with teams who were ranked. We saw games where we could come out and lose by 30 or 40 points. We know that we can compete. It's just a matter of putting together a complete 40-minute game. Tonight we did that."

 

Bellman scored the Bearcats' (9-19, Big East 2-14) final five points with last two coming from the charity stripe to extend their lead. The veteran didn't think twice about her biggest shot of the season prior to the free throws. 

 

"To be honest I had no idea there was a minute left in the game," Bellman said. "I was just so into the game. And as I was running back on defense and looked up at the scoreboard."

 

Senior Shareese Ulis blocked the potential game-tying shot on the Golden Eagles' (22-7, 10-6) final possession to seal the win. 

 

It was second-year head coach Jamelle Elliott's first win over a ranked opponent.


Elliott embraced her fourth-year players at midcourt following the victory. 

 

"It was just all love," Elliott said. "I wanted to get to my two seniors because this was their night. My pregame speech was look, 'play as hard as you can for the two guys who this is going to be their last game on [their home] floor.' I had them look around the room because the next time we sit in [our locker room], there is going to be two very important guys that are not going to be apart of [it]."

 

Ulis knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers on 12 attempts for a game-best 20 points. Bellman contributed 12 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, nearly accounting for a triple-double.  Junior Bjonee Reaves added to the UC long-range onslaught going 4-7 with 12 points.

 

The Bearcats finished 44.8 percent from 3-point line while netting 13, their most in three years. UC hit the 60-point plateau for the first time in 16 contests.

 

With the score knotted at 38, Ulis drilled back-to-back buckets from distance and Reaves followed suit with two 3-pointers for a slim 50-48 lead at the halfway point of the closing period.   

 

The two squads traded baskets for the next seven minutes; there were eight lead changes in the second half. Golden Eagle guard Tatiyiana McMorris, who had a team-best 18 points, then nailed a triple to put her team up by four with 2:54 left.

 

UC answered with a Jeanise Randolph layup and execution on both ends in the final two minutes.

 

"My team deserved this win tonight," Elliott said. "They could have easily packed it in two weeks ago, three weeks ago and said 'Look I can't wait for this season to be over. This losing streak sucks, I don't want to work hard, I don't want to play hard, I don't want to compete hard.' And none of that ever snuck into my team at any point."

 

Bellman, Chisholm and Ulis poured in three-straight shots from distance to give

UC a seven-point edge, its largest of the game, at the 2:31 mark of the first half after trailing by three.  

 

"Hopefully today we learned how to win," Elliott said. "Getting down against a top-20 team in the country, having to fight back. I told [my team], 'Remember this feeling, remember this feeling, because I want to have this feeling, when we get back in conference play next year, more than two times.' "