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May 2011 Archives

Bearcats Breakfast 5.31.11

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I promise not to turn this blog into As Tony Campana Turns, but I can't help but point out the way he's busting onto the scene with the Chicago Cubs. (Who, by the way, return to GABP June 6-8 and you can buy $14 field box seats thanks to the Reds promotional deal --- just sayin)

Yesterday, Campana started in CF. He went 1 for 3 and stole second and third base -- twice. That's four stolen bases in a game. Plus, he made No. 6 on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays. On his birthday.

Not a bad day. Though, there's been plenty of them for UC product.  

In 11 games, he's already tied for the club lead in stolen bases (5) with Starlin Castro. The shortstop has played in 51 games, in case you were wondering. Campana's hitting .286 with six hits in 21 at-bats.

The fan base in Chicago is beginning to take notice. They gave several ovations to him during Thursday's game when he went 3-for-4 in his first start, while being called out sliding into first on his only out.

Talk from this Cubs blog compares him to Sam Fuld, the beloved, Mighty Mouse-type outfielder they dealt to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza trade. For anybody whose seen Fuld play, that's an encouraging comparison for Campana's camp.

Much like UC teammate Josh Harrison, called up by the Pirates this weekend (Harrison didn't play in his first game available), he's a story people can't help but root for.

Let's eat...

--- Harrison got the big league call on Sunday and joined the team Monday in New York. It's easy to point out what served as the final straw to force the Pirates to make a move. Harrison went 5 for 5 in a dramatic win for his Indianapolis team in what would be his last game there for now. He found out the news after the game.

Harrison, a utility infielder, was hitting .321 in Indy and providing the similar speed, spark and defense of Campana. Great to see.

In case you are wondering Bearcats fans, Cubs @ Pirates, July 8-10. 

--- Some stats thanks
to Tommy G: Harrison becomes the 19th Bearcat to make Major League Baseball. This is the first time since the 60s UC has had three products in the bigs at the same time.

--- Brian Cleary will be on with Lance McAlister during his show in ESPN1530 this afternoon (3-6 p.m.)

--- Incoming freshman Jeremiah
Davis played alongside soon-to-be teammate Jermaine Sanders recently. In his first game at the iS8 tourney in NYC, he scored 18 points while Sanders had 30. Chad Brendel caught up with Davis and talked to him about his arrival on the UC campus in a few weeks.

--- Was sad to see blog favorite Brian Bennett retire his Big East blog. He's moving to the Big Ten to add support to ESPN's beefed up coverage there.

Anybody who reads this blog regularly is well aware of the thorough, fair work Bennett did during his three years covering the Big East for the WWL. Good guy.

Andrea Adelson will replace him. She covered the nation and non-AQ schools prior.

--- The football coaches have been out recruiting and returned to campus today. This tweet came out from Butch Jones this morning:

"Coaches are back from recruiting... Recruiting meetings all day trying to find the best fit for our football family! #RTC"


The life of a football coach -- particularly an assistant -- goes underappreciated by fans for the most part. People don't realize the incredible amount of time on the road and away from family they sacrifice.

--- Of the same recruiting ilk, very interesting Outside the Lines piece on 7-on-7 football. Is it the AAU of football?  

--- An old Conference-USA rivalry is flaring back up. Louisville added a home-and-home with Memphis beginning next season at the KFC Yum! Center. The battles between UC, U of L, Memphis and Marquette back in those days were enjoyable. Most Bearcats fans will admit, they were mainly fun because UC usually ended up on top.

--- Villanova By the Numbers compiled a list of all the Big East roster moves since the NBA deadline. Transfers are a part of the game now, but I have to admit it's probably not a coincidence Mick Cronin hasn't seen many players transfer out during his tenure.

In fact, of Cronin's full recruiting classes -- the first year with Deonta Vaughn was a patchwork group thrown together at the last second following Cronin's hire -- only one of 15 scholarship athletes to play for him transferred to another school. (Alvin Mitchell, Mountain State)

That shows loyalty, strong decision-making in recruiting and an ability to connect with his players. Sounds easy enough, but in this day and age of "play me or I'll leave," one of the most difficult tasks to pull off.

--- The news of Jim Tressel's
resignation spread rapidly across the country yesterday and as it did, I couldn't help but be much more fascinated with the reaction than the actual news. The tendency of many to blame the media for discovering the cheating and lying was laughable. Even more, I saw many defensive OSU fans taking shots at UC folks.

Why there is so much bitterness between the two fan bases is beyond me. The "whose better?" debate from 2009 obviously sparked some of it, but as a whole this seems to come up much more often than would seem appropriate. UC had nothing to do with the Ohio State situation in any shape or form, but there was the backlash in the social media taking shots at the Bearcats ability to compete.

Luckily, this can be decided on the field in a few years.

Coincidence Tressel resigned just before this Sports Illustrated expose' hit the interwebs? Probably not.

--- Some randomness...

--- Heat-Mavs starts tonight. My prediction: Heat in 5.

--- An insane ending to the Indy 500 this weekend. I imagine JR Hildebrand's crash feels like when I put together and incredible blog entry and the site freezes and I lose everything. Except he would have eventually earned millions from the win. I was forced into a late lunch.

In case you didn't see, here's the recap:

Bearcats Breakfast 5.27.11

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The women's basketball made a memorable gesture yesterday and permanently adopted 11-year-old Buzz Smith as a member of the team.

Buzz is a recovering tumor patient and attended the last two games of the season, including UC's dramatic win against Marquette.

Here's the story about it
.

Coach Jamelle Elliot and the rest of the team welcomed him in an official ceremony at Fifth Third Arena. Here's some of the video.

Basketball will always be just a game, but the real connection and effect it can have a community can be profound when taken seriously. We saw this with Mitch's Mission, which started in much this same manner and just saw a $10k donation to the hospital in his name this month.

I have to give a standing O to Elliott and the basketball program on this one. And to Buzz, who undeniably deserves it.

Let's eat...

--- The baseball season came to an unfortunate end Thursday with a 5-3 loss to Louisville at the Big East tournament. UC dug itself a 4-0 deficit early and never closed the gap despite pulling to within a run.

UC loaded the bases in the ninth inning with one out, but a double play ended the game.

Thus the season comes to a close with a 30-27 record, 14-13 in the Big East. The season fell into the norm for UC since joining the Big East, though it was the second time in school history they finished above .500 in BE conference play. Here's their record over their first six seasons in the conference: 

2011: 30-27, 14-13
2010: 29-29, 13-14
2009: 29-29, 13-14
2008: 39-20, 19-8
2007: 28-28, 10-16
2006: 32-26, 13-14

The chemistry of the 2008 season hasn't resurfaced yet for the program. Cleary talked about it after winning his school-record 392nd game earlier this season. He's happy to have accomplished what he has, but the program isn't winning at the level he'd like to at this point.

Only two position players will graduate from this year's team, unfortunately, one will be Justin Riddell, who led the team in most major hitting categories this year. The true challenge will be finding pitching after losing two of their three primary starters. The starting pitching question comes on top of collecting answers to a bullpen that never quite developed as Cleary would have liked this past season. 

--- Quick reminder
: Every Wednesday in June the UC coaches will take part in the Coaches Caravan and sit down for with the fans in different areas of the Tri-State. Mick Cronin, Butch Jones, Elliott, Brian Cleary among others will be in attendance to take questions and sign autographs. It starts Wednesday in Glenway on Glenway Ave.

--- Phil Steele's epic college football preview hit the presses and on top of picking UC end up in the MVCA Compass Bowl against defending national champ Auburn (who he picks dead last in the SEC West), Steele clearly owns a significant West Virginia mancrush.

Steele placed 10 Mountaineers on his preseason First Team All-Big East squad. Pitt was second with five. The Bearcats landed four members. So, nearly half of the team goes to WVU? They will be the favorite next season, sure, but to claim the same West Virginia team that was trampled by N.C. State in its bowl game and suffered a home loss against Syracuse last season will be far and away the class of the conference feels a little over the top.

UC fans won't be happy to see Geno Smith picked over Zach Collaros for the top QB spot. Though, that opinion probably won't be in the minority when predictions surface.

Here are their 2010 stats side-by-side:

QB                   Cmp   Att  Yds      Cmp%  Yds/A   TD  INT  Rat

Geno Smith       241    372  2,763   64.8      7.43     24   7   144.7
Zach Collaros    225    383  2,902    58.7     7.58     26  14   137.5

Both owned similar contributions in the run game, compiling just over 200 yards, though Zach scored four touchdowns on the ground compared to zero for Smith.

We have all offseason to jump into the Collaros-Smith debate, so I will stop there. For me, I'd point to Derek Wolfe being denied a spot on the defensive line behind two WVU linemen, Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller. Granted, by the numbers of last season Irvin (14 sacks) and Miller (nine) both deserve the nod. They contributed many more sacks, TFLs and tackles. As for what one player means to their team and pure physical potential, Wolfe far surpasses Miller. Of course, when you are attempting to preview every team in college football, glancing over the numbers without delving much deeper comes with the territory.

--- If Butch Jones wants
to follow the Mick Cronin model of playing the disrespect card there's plenty of ammo available. Brian Bennett made a Big East "superteam" taking the top position groups from a school. UC wasn't represented. In fact, UC was the only team not represented.

--- Bennett says
the realistic expectations for the football season for UC should be returning to a bowl game. The folks inside the Lindner Center certainly set the bar higher, but I would call Bennett's prognostication reasonable enough.

--- The NCAA officially adopted the charge circle under the basket. Great move.

--- Some randomness...

--- Transporting $1 million
worth of anything in your car is inadvisable.

--- Saw Hangover II last night
. My fears were confirmed. If you are hoping for it to be remotely like the first one, don't waste your money. It's not. The jokes are lazy and redundant. Because of the characters, particularly more screen time for Ken Jeong, the movie still delivers some laughs, but for the most part it's a weak rehash in a different setting.

On a trailer somebody apparently called it the funniest movie of all-time?!? Never read that publication again.

--- Michael Rappaport
put together a Tribe Called Quest documentary. Can't wait.

--- Eddie Vedder's new Ukulele Songs solo album streaming live here

--- Someone please throw a chair at Scottie Pippen.

--- The new ESPN book caught headlines across the blogosphere this week. Sports Pickle suggests a less intriguing follow-up for the authors.

--- Happy Memorial Day weekend to everybody. Summer is finally here and for my Friday music selection, I got to go with one of the best summer relaxing songs of all time. Yes, I love Will Smith. I will not apologize for it. This isn't changing. 

Enjoy yourself and stay safe.
 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.26.11

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Happy to report a positive get-together with former Bearcats Blog inhabitant Josh Katzowitz last night. Katz, who currently lives in Atlanta and writes an NFL blog for CBSsports.com in case you forgot, was in town for a few days. In fact, the gathering which occurred at Montgomery Inn looked more like an Oceans 11 of the Cincinnati sports media scene than anything. We had representatives from UC, The Enquirer, CBS, ESPN1530 and even three former CNati grads together again.

I'll gloss over any hijinks and only report the moral of the story is Josh and his family are doing very well in Atlanta and copies of Bearcats Rising can be found at bookstores across the Tri-State area.

Let's eat...

--- Tough loss for
the baseball team yesterday. The Bearcats did a nice job fighting back against the defending Big East champs and last year's tournament MVP pitcher Kyle Hansen.

After drawing to a 3-3 tie and heading into the eighth inning the game unraveled with one swing of the bat. The Red Storm's Jake Grove drilled a one-out grand slam that sapped any drama out of the final innings.

UC takes/took on Louisville this morning starting at 10 a.m. By the time you read this it will probably be over. It's an elimination game in the tournament. UC is searching for their first BE tournament victory since finishing second in 2008.

--- Mardy Gilyard returned to his high school in Florida where they retired his football number. In typical Mardy fashion, he was open and emotional during the ceremony. The Daytona Beach News-Journal captured the moment.

--- Brian Bennett concluded his hope and concern series with UC. He cites the Year 2 bump as a reason for optimism. I've talked about this concept at length in this space many times, so I won't delve much deeper into it here. He mentions former Big East coaches who experienced a significant rise in level of play for the second season. Bobby Petrino, Doug Marrone, Rich Rodriguez and Brian Kelly.

Here were their jumps from Year 1 to Year 2:

Coach        Y1    Y2
Petrino       9-4    11-1
Marrone     4-8     8-5
RichRod     3-8    9-4
Kelly         10-3   11-3 (Orange Bowl)

--- The Track and Field team travels to Indiana for the East Regionals with Terence Somerville the most prominent of UC's male participants. He's currently second in the country in the 110-meter hurdles and is expected to advance to nationals.

The women's team is experiencing one of its best seasons in history, having already broken nine school records. They will have 13 athletes at the competition seeking a spot at nationals. Tiffany George wrote this story about the expectations for the trip.

--- You know we've
hit the painfully slow season of college football when we're rating who has the best helmet in the Big East.

--- Some randomness...

--- These before and after photos of the damage from the Joplin, Mo., tornadoes are painful. Here is a link to how you can help the victims

--- The return of a
blog favorite, Zach Galifianakis' Between Two Ferns with a new episode. This time with guest Will Ferrell. Predictable shenanigans follow.

--- People are shooting at washing machines in their own houses. But, yeah, I'm sure passing a conceal in carry in bars won't turn out badly at all.

--- Very, very cool video about the history of the crossover move in basketball. New York Times talks with Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway and Pearl Washington.

--- Going to see
Hangover II on Friday. These are the reviews I was concerned about. "Tell the same story again, only louder." Not liking what I am hearing.

--- Yes!

--- The Pearl Jam documentary will come out in theaters in September before hitting PBS in October. Like.    

Bearcats Breakfast 5.25.11

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Thanks for some of the responses on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) and Facebook at the Bearcats page yesterday regarding the UC triplets debate, even if some of you are filled with hate in your hearts.

As pointed out, the numbers about their return insist no more accomplished trio has returned to Clifton in recent history. But, the good folks at BearcatLair mentioned, those numbers will mean little in connection to the team's success unless the offensive line can create time to let them pile up more stats. The line will be the big question about the offense next season. That's no secret. Yesterday's discussion wasn't to discount that, but only to focus on the returning trios as Rivals brought up with their national rankings.

Yet, I digress and we eat...

--- Evan Daniels posted a new round of his recruiting class rankings. UC fell into line at No. 25. That's five spots in front of Xavier for those of you looking for dinner conversation in divided households.

Shaq Thomas is the only player ranked in the Top 100 (78) with Jermaine Sanders the No. 25 SF in 2011. What does this mean? Very little, outside of the continued move toward the "popular lunch tables in the cafeteria" as Mick Cronin likes to describe recruiting.

Daniels' rankings may not correlate to success, but kids pay attention to those. And if they think they are joining a perennial Top 25 class, that may be enough to sign on the dotted line.

--- Cashmere Wright wasn't a Top 100 prospect coming out of Georgia. Yet, he's turned into one of the best point guards in the Big East and the motor that drives the Bearcats.

BearcatsBlog put together a retrospective analysis on his season.

I point to his development when comparing his conference season stats to his OOC stats. His 8,9 points didn't change. His 1.7 A/TO ratio barely dropped. On the surface, it would seem Wright didn't progress as the season did. But when you consider the vast differential in talent between the OOC and Big East play, those numbers actually present significant spikes.

--- I'm not sure what Sean Kilpatrick is up to, but he claims this is a preview for a documentary about him. As long as he really is getting up and working out at 4:30 a.m., I think most UC fans would be thrilled.

--- UC finished third in the Big East APR among basketball schools for the 2009-10 school year.

--- Many different models for a 17-team Big East basketball tournament are being discussed. Trimming the final field to 12 teams is an option, as well as a 10-team first-day that eliminates five right off the top.

I'd personally be in favor of the 12-team format, if anything because the conference is so deep it rewards the top teams and punishes the worst much more. Forcing Pitt to play UConn in its first game last year was unfair.

Allowing even a team like DePaul to blow off a one-win conference season and still have a chance to play in March devalues the regular season and to a lesser extent, the trip to Madison Square Garden. That NY trip should be earned. Finishing in the top 12 of 17 shouldn't be too much to ask.

This also eliminates the hated double-bye system where lower seeded teams show up in a two-game rhythm before the ball is even tipped. 

--- Jim Calhoun said he could see a split between the basketball and football schools of the Big East in the next 4-5 years. He also said, if that were to happen, he could see a reformatted basketball only Big East adding Dayton and Xavier. UD and XU would have to jump for joy at that opportunity. Specifically Xavier with the way they are running through the lesser A-10 right now.

As for that possibility, it's looked at as a last resort, but the game changes over five years. Did anyone see this possible seismic shift of football conferences coming five years ago?

The move wouldn't be terrible for UC. The core of the basketball powers would stay together while becoming more prevalent nationally in football.

Of course, as Marvin Lewis likes to say, "we don't want to speculate on speculation."

--- Butch Jones spoke to Andrea Adelson about the open No. 2 QB position. Nothing new here, but when Butch speaks, I link. So here you go.

--- Baseball players Justin
Riddell, Justin Glass and Braden Kline each were named All-Big East on Tuesday. Riddell earned First Team honors. He ranked second in the BIG EAST with 29 runs batted in during conference play. He also finished in the top 10 in batting average (.361) and slugging percentage (.546) in league games.

Riddell is a senior, but the good news is both Glass (freshman) and Kline (junior) will be returning next season.

Here's video of the awards presentation. Unfortunately, there is no opening dance number. 

--- Another reminder, UC baseball opens the Big East tournament today at 1 p.m. against St. John's. Keep track of all the action here.

--- Dominick Goodman has
done a great job marketing himself since he left UC. Goodie's Corner has been a popular blog and he's also used UStream/YouTube quite a bit to keep everyone up to date.

He's currently playing for the Cleveland Gladiators and the team web site caught up with him for a series of questions. His mother will be pleased to know he cleans his room until it's spotless every game day.

--- Some randomness...


--- I feel like its a bad omen if your dinosaur catches on fire the day before your Dinosaurs Alive exhibit is supposed to be opening. Sidenote: May 30 is the last day to pick up the Season Gold Pass for only $99. It includes free parking all season, which if you go to Kings Island even a little bit over the summer makes it well, well worth it.

--- Must read of the day comes from the USA Today. It's on the Warrior Games, an Olympics style competition for wounded, ill or injured war vets. Incredibly well done.

--- We bury Barry Bonds regularly for being a jerk, we should also give him pub when he does something admirable. He's going to pay for college for Brian Stow's kids.

--- Derrick Rose goes
all NBA Jam. This, of course, before he couldn't finish in the fourth quarter, again. Though, it's tough when he's fighting three against one.

--- Today is Oprah's
last show. I have to assume the amount of merchandise given away to the audience could feed a third-world nation. Here's Boyz II Men and Jimmy Kimmell giving the ultimate tribute.
 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.24.11

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For those of you not following the Bearcats baseball team will open the Big East tournament play on Wednesday against St. John's.

The tournament is a double-elimination event with the championship held Sunday on ESPNU.

UC would play either Pittsburgh or Louisville on Thursday at either 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. depending on the first day's results. You can check out all the results here. Also, Shawn Sell provided a tournament primer with thoughts from Brian Cleary here.

St. John's will be returning to the site of their 2010 Big East championship. Not only that, UC will be facing pitcher Kyle Hansen, who was the 2010 Most Outstanding Player for the tournament.

The Bearcats are 3-7 in the BE tournament all-time and a second-place finish in 2008 served as their top showing.

In fact, UC will be searching to rekindle any of the magic from the 2008 season. In three other trips to the tournament (2006, 2009, 2010) the Bearcats have been eliminated with back-to-back losses.

Let's eat...

--- Rivals.com ranked UC's trio of Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead and D.J. Woods in the top 10 triplets returning in college football next season. They weighed in at No. 9.

Here's the full list.

It got me thinking (never a good thing), how do these three rank among returning triplets in recent UC history? While measuring by yards is an inexact science when gauging complete performance, it's the most accurate single metric available. Still, let's add in touchdowns along with yards per touch for the RB/WRs. We'll take those three categories and see which triplets ranks out as the top returning trio from the previous year's statistics.

In the last ten years, only four returning triplets were even comparable. Here they are: 

2011                     TotalYards     TD    YPT
    

QB Zach Collaros           3,104      30     ---

RB Isaiah Pead             1,209        7     6.6     

WR DJ Woods               985        10    14.5

TOTAL                       5,096        47    8.74

2009                     TotalYards     TD    YPT
    

QB Tony Pike               2,454      20     ---

RB Jacob Ramsey         759        3     4.6     

WR Mardy Gilyard       1,286       11    15.5

TOTAL                       4,499       34    8.25          

2004                     TotalYards     TD    YPT     

QB Gino Guidugli          2,870       14     ---

RB Richard Hall            1,229       10     5.9     

WR Hannibal Thomas     413         3    18.8

TOTAL                       4,512       27     7.17

2002                     TotalYards     TD    YPT     

QB Gino Guidugli        2,498       17     ---

RB DeMarco McCleskey 880        7     4.7     

WR LaDaris Vann         922         3    11.8

TOTAL                       4,300       27   6.75 

--- By the numbers, the returning trio of Collaros, Pead and Woods are clearly the best this program has seen in recent history (or at least as far back as the web site stats go). They have the top numbers in all three major categories and it's really not close.

When you add in Pead's ability to rack up yards through the pass and Woods on the ground, it clearly put them over the top. Of course, Collaros throwing and running for more than 3,000 combined yards didn't hurt either.

--- Unfortunately for UC, these numbers don't necessarily predicate success. In 2009, UC experienced its best season in history. The Sugar Bowl run was powered by Pike and Gilyard in particular, with Ramsey giving way to Pead during the season.

The Cats started slow in 2004, but finished winning six of the last seven to go 7-5 on the season after a win in the Forth Worth Bowl. That made for two wins better than the 2003 campaign where they went 5-7.

In 2002, UC won C-USA despite a 7-7 overall record. They previous season they were 7-4. If you're looking to draw correlations, yes, two of the three seasons UC returned a trio of top players at QB, RB and WR they improved their win total. The other, they won the C-USA title.

Those three players, didn't always play better than the previous season, or as mentioned in the case of Ramsey, didn't even carry the load in their return.

--- Not sure I did anything but fill your head with unnecessary information here, but, hey, not exactly a plethora of football news going on. Historical player debates are the sitcom clip shows of the college football offseason.

--- The Big East meetings opened up on Monday. Expansion, of course, was the hot topic and commissioner John Marinatto talked about where the league is at. Bottom line, the Big East needs to figure out who the membership will be and then can go forward toward banking a major TV contract just as the PAC-12 did.

The good news is there appears to be an urgency to deliver both.

Andrea Adelson is reporting for the ESPN blog filed a number of stories. Here's the primary look at expansion from Marinatto.

Adelson has much more posting periodically here.

--- Skip Holtz made
his position clear. Though, he's likely hoping UCF would join the conference and build a geographic rival into the conference.

--- The status of Tennessee
defensive back and All-SEC safety Janzen Jackson is up in the air for next season as he deals with some personal problems. Derek Dooley opened the door for his return, but there's a chance he may not be patrolling the secondary when UC heads to Knoxville.

--- I mentioned the APR here yesterday, discussing that along with penalizing teams, maybe other top performers should be rewarded. Louisville recently lost three football scholarships because of the numbers. Perhaps, the bigger question that needs to be answered was broached by Dan Wolken: How legit is the APR? Not very, in his estimation.

--- Some randomness...


--- This would be the equivalent of Mick Cronin taking the head coach position at Miami (Ohio).

--- Jim Leyland not a fan of the clowns who call into sports talk radio. Also not a fan of this question.

--- I can't remember seeing a choke like the Thunder collapse last night. As the lead unraveled, you could see the inevitability on the faces of the OKC players. They never had a shot in OT. The Thunder have every element of a championship winner except the killer instinct.

Could there be more poor shots/execution than what Durant and Westbrook put forth over the final four minutes? Yikes.

Tweet of the night goes to Bill Simmons after the game: "Kudos to Dallas, but that was like watching a Little League World Series pitcher fall apart and start crying on the mound."

--- All these years later, I still have a soft spot for the Muppets, who have a new movie coming out. Here's the trailer. Though, I'll always be partial to Fraggle Rock.

--- The Richmond Flyin
g Squirrels are holding Tribute to Bacon Night this evening. Kevin Bacon will be there. As will numerous other pork products. A year's supply of bacon will be given away. In case you are wondering, there's a 3:30 p.m. flight out of CVG that lands you in Richmond in plenty of time for the ceremonies.

 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.23.11

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Senior Night seems to be a recipe for memorable games around UC athletics this year.

The men's soccer team clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big East tourney with a 4-0 win while honoring the seniors prior to the final home game of the year.

The women's basketball team experienced one of the most dramatic wins in recent memory as senior Shelly Bellman played through a serious shoulder injury to bury a rare 3-pointer in the final minutes to upset No. 20 Marquette to snap a 13-game losing streak.

The men's basketball team experienced the crowning moment of the season with a double-digit blowout of Georgetown where every senior made relatively significant contributions.

Well, the baseball team wasn't about to be left out.

Brian Cleary's bunch dropped the first two games of the UConn series and needed a win on Senior Day on Saturday against the best team in the Big East to clinch a berth in the Big East tournament.

They did just that, handing UConn only their fifth Big East loss in 27 games.

Senior pitcher Dan Jensen only gave up two runs in six innings while UC built a lead it wouldn't relinquish during a 7-4 victory.

The day topped off an eventful weekend at Marge Schott Stadium. Big congrats out to the team who now enters the Big East tournament as a No. 7 seed after tying for fourth overall in the conference. UC will play No. 2 seed St. John's at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla.

Head to this link to follow all the tournament happenings from Florida.

Let's eat...

--- Jay Bilas remains one of the best -- if not the best -- color analyst in basketball today. He recently posted a story on the most underappreciated coaches in college basketball today. Included in his list of 13 was UC coach Mick Cronin.

There is no arguing the job he did in Cincinnati was underappreciated. Few people outside of the I-275 beltway truly understand the enormity of his rebuilding job. Here's what Bilas had to say in case you don't have the ESPN Insider account.

"Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: Cronin grew up with the game and further learned the game under Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino. Cronin left Murray State after doing a terrific job there to take a major rebuilding job at Cincinnati, and he never wavered. Cronin has stayed strong and stuck to his principles and it paid off this season with an NCAA appearance."

The other coaches included in the list were Xavier's Chris Mack and former Wright State coach now at Clemson, Brad Brownell.

--- St. John's will now only have one returning letter-winner on their basketball team after Dwayne Polee decided to transfer.  

--- I understand why programs can lose scholarships because of poor APRs, but why don't we award an extra scholly for an exceptional one? Wouldn't that increase the importance of academics for basketball coaches? Wouldn't that make them want to push not only passing, but excelling in the classroom even more? I like the concept of a program being rewarded on the floor for academic excellence off of it. Food for thought.

--- Fox19 with this great piece on Tony Campana. Also, Campana told ESPN's Buster Olney he headed out to sign the inside of the Green Monster at Fenway this weekend -- twice.   

--- Dana O'Neil alert.

--- The annual Big East meetings are this week in Ponte Verda, Fla. Expansion is expected to be a hot topic, though, the conference didn't release any official agenda.

Brett McMurphy, now of CBSsports.com, took an anonymous poll of coaches asking their view of expansion. Here were his results with only one coach declining to participate.

--- The Register-Herald goes inside the mind of new WVU OC and coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorson. I'd rather go inside the awkward meetings between him and Bill Stewart next year.

--- Dr. Saturday looks deeper at Todd Graham, Pittsburgh's new coach who will be one of the fresh faces in the room at the meetings this week.    

--- Some randomness...

--- I'd call my trip to Cleveland this weekend a success. Got to catch up with an old professor and one of my good friends, Justice Hill. Despite the bat of Travis Buck and longest lines I've ever seen entering a baseball game, enjoyed a perfect day at Progressive Field.

If you ever go to Cleveland, I've got the restaurant spot for you: Melt Bar and Grilled. They take grilled cheese sandwiches and add...well, anything you could imagine to it. I had the Tuna Tokyo Melt. Grilled cheese, tuna sashimi and wasabi inside a grilled cheese sandwich. Wow. Incredible. And that was only the beginning. There were about 30 sandwiches equally as orginal. Highly recommended.  

--- The AJC asks if Atlanta is a lousy sports city. The answer is yes. And another hockey team leaving an apathetic US town for a city in Canada that will passionately follow every slapshot is a win for the NHL.

--- Don't sue Chuck E.Cheese. It's unbecoming.

--- Minnesota DE Ray Edwards is a Cincinnati guy. Grew up in Madisonville. I actually did a story on him in 2009 when the Bengals played the Vikings. Still prevalent in the community there.  

Well, he's picked up professional boxing during his downtime. And now there's talk of him fighting Kimbo Slice. Yeah, I'll watch.

--- Curb Your Enthusiam starts a new season July 10. He's a social assassin. Here's the season preview.   

--- Randy Macho Man Savage passed away Friday. Sad. He made my Saturday mornings complete.   

Bearcats Breakfast 5.20.11

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I thought about emptying my notebooks of every piece of information remaining from this year covering the UC for today's blog. It seemed like a slam dunk idea. But, just in case the rapture doesn't occur Saturday, I'm going to save a few nuggets for next week. That said, plenty of quality info to read as the world explodes around you. Or you can take part in the official Sports Rapture Draft. Draft Tebow or die.  

Let's eat...

--- The Big East/SEC Challenge slate was released yesterday and UC was hit with a bit of a surprise opponent. The Bearcats will travel to Athens to play at Georgia on Dec. 2.

During last week's Challenge oppponent outlook, I mentioned UGA as the possible other team outside of the projected big four of Auburn, Alabama, Vandy and UK. The primary reason was they also sit in the middle of the pack in the SEC and if the big names avoided UC because the BE "powerhouses" connected with them, it seemed a logical fallback.

Also, if you are a UC basketball fan, it provides a road trip that will not disappoint. Athens represents one of the great college towns in the country. If you haven't been, it's well worth a trip, especially during the cold December months when the temperature will be slightly more tolerable.

Visit the Taco Stand, explore Broad Street, maybe even take in a local indy band at the home of REM. Just plan the trip and do something, thank me later. 

--- As for the basketball side of the draw, let's take a closer look at UGA;

GEORGIA

2010-11 results: 22-12, 9-7 SEC, lost in first round NCAA

Returning: The Bulldogs were devastated by the early-entry deadline as their two top scorers Trey Thompkins (16.4) and Travis Leslie (14.4) both jumped ship early. It left guard Gerald Robinson as their only returner who averaged double figures. Also, Thompkins and Leslie were the team's top two rebounders, averaging a combined 14.5 boards a game.  

Ranking: Georgia will not be ranked and almost certainly not even receiving votes.

Pros: This will be an excellent opportunity for a road win against a major-conference opponent. Those are SOS boosters no matter the competition. UGA should improve greatly as the year progresses with a young team filling new unfamiliar roles. Catching them early bodes well for UC. This will be an great chance for Yancy Gates, Cheik Mbodj and Justin Jackson to gain some confidence on the boards as UGA will be empty in the paint without Leslie and Thompkins.   

Cons: No matter how happy UC will be to play UGA in Athens, facing a premier ranked opponent would have been significant gain in exposure, experience and NCAA resume. Mick Cronin doesn't want to bombard his team with tough non-con foes. He established that M.O. last season. The Big East is too difficult to attempt that technique and the team's fresh legs at the end of the season proved critical.

That said, this would have been a great opportunity for the one huge game to point toward and surround with a few smaller top rung opponents to round out the non-con. Georgia isn't a poor opponent, but it's not a game between ranked teams like Vandy, Bama or UK would have been.

--- This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools. 

--- All games will be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. Here's the entire lineup:

Thursday, Dec. 1
Georgetown at Alabama
Providence at South Carolina
St. John's at Kentucky
Ole Miss at DePaul

Friday, Dec. 2
Auburn at Seton Hall
Florida at Syracuse
Cincinnati at Georgia
Vanderbilt at Louisville

Saturday, Dec. 3
Arkansas at Connecticut
West Virginia at Mississippi State
LSU at Rutgers
Pittsburgh at Tennessee

--- All of the matchups make sense -- except two. I love Florida at Syracuse because those two teams rarely meet and both will be top 10 against the backdrop of the Carrier Dome. In fact, Florida is undefeated there. Fantastic.

Louisville and Vandy makes sense from talent and geographic perspective. Excellent match. Pitt and Tenn have the rivalry of last year's upset. The majority of the rest are random matchups of lower quality teams.

--- Then there's UK at St. John's. The Red Storm became a significant storyline last year. Steve Lavin did a remarkable job. Both schools own vast college hoops history. I get all that. But St. John's will be decimated next year. They are losing almost 90 percent of their scoring. UK will be ranked in the top three with a trio of top players returning. I don't care how great St. John's freshman class is supposed to be, they will be shellacked in this game. I'm sure John Calipari would love the idea of taking his team into the Garden and showing off a bit. Maybe he held major pull in making this matchup occur, but picking UC or a UConn rematch would have made much more sense to me.

Georgetown at Alabama befuddles me as well. The Hoyas own the prestige of being who they are. That's great, but they will be down next year. They lose more than half their scoring and will be extremely young. Sending them on the road doesn't seem like the greatest of matchups. To me, this would have been the most logical fix and where UC became a victim of the past five years subduing their national draw. Sending Georgetown to UGA and UC to Bama would make much more sense if it's top-tier matchups you are looking for in this event.

--- CBSsports places UC-UGA outside the six games that excites about the Challenge.

--- Jeff Eisenberg took issue with a few matchups as well.

--- Love Nippert Stadium at night? Congrats. The football opener against Austin Peay will be Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. at The Nipp. Should be fun.

--- UC dropped the opening game of the UConn series last night at the hands of Matt Barnes and the Huskies, 3-1. Barnes pitched six scoreless innings despite six walks. Tonight skydivers will be jumping in during pregame and the Bearcats badly need to grab a win -- 6:30 p.m. first pitch.

--- For the first time since being called up, Tony Campana didn't enter the Cubs game on Thursday, a 5-1 win against Florida. No, I won't be updating Campana's stats every day here, but do want to bring you the occassional tidibt when he plays well. He's too good a story not to.

His ascension isn't only a great story for himself and his family, but all of UC baseball. Seeing a direct path from hard work to MLB running through the UC campus can go a long way with recruits and those currently on the team.

Brian Cleary talked about just that yesterday:

"We have worked really hard to create an environment where players can come to develop. Facilities, coaching staff, all those things. One more piece of evidence points to come to Cincinnati, work hard, pay attention, you can go a long way. We have six guys right now in Double-A or higher. That is not easy to do. Couple more guys have chance to be in the bigs before too long. I think we are getting the reputation, professional baseball if you get a kid out of Cincinnati history suggests they can progress through the ranks."

 

With Campana in the bigs, let's take a look at who could the next UC player to break through.

 

Josh Harrison: Triple-A Indianapolis. He's currently hitting .330 in the Pittsburgh organization one year after hitting .300 at Double-A. If his numbers persist, it's only a matter of time until the standard Pirates September callups include him.

 

Mike Spina: Double-A Midland. Spina is putting together a nice campaign during his first run with the A's Double-A squad. He's hitting .277 with nine home runs and 31 RBI already. A move up to Triple-A at the end of this year or next year could track him to the bigs in the next two seasons.

 

For the rest of the UC players in the minors and their stats, check them out here.    

 

Some randomness...

 

--- Mo Egger is one of the best at doing his job well in all of Cincinnati sports media. If you don't listen to or read him regularly, you don't care about Cincinnati sports. More importantly, he's an even better guy and friend. Read his blog today. Follow his advice.

--- Twitter and Facebook and the Interwebs are killing our memories. I would tell you the last time I went a day without using any of the three but I can't remember.

--- You already knew this Cubs fans, but how about some quantatative analysis from the Wall Street Journal to really kick you in the junk. There's always next year.

--- The Onion Investigative Team explores a question we've all asked ourselves in a way we've hopefully not considered.  

--- Kevin Durant. Make 'em say ugggh.

--- I'm taking a road trip to Cleveland this weekend to hang out with one of my old professors, a few friends and take in some baseball. The trip up I-71 will be filled with serious reconnection with some old CDs. Top among them will be one of the great driving songs of all-time. Have a great weekend everyone. Hope we are all alive to reconvene on Monday.

Bearcats Breakfast 5.19.11

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Just a monster weekend for the Bearcats baseball team. If you want to watch quality baseball with high stakes, this will be the time to head out to Marge Schott Stadium.

UC enters the final regular season weekend fourth in the Big East standings at 13-11. Due to a bunch up at the middle, they are only two games ahead of USF and Seton Hall, who are both tied for eighth. The top eight teams in the league advance to the Big East tournament in Clearwater.

Depending on the results of the weekend, the Cats could end up as high as third and as low as ninth.

Now, that wouldn't seem so bad until you consider Connecticut enters as the far and away best team in the Big East at 20-4 in conference play. UC needs to find a win to assure they head to Clearwater and every win after that will be critical for their placement in the tournament.

"I don't ever remember it being this tight," Brian Cleary said. "You'd like to think fourth place this late you don't have to worry about getting into the championship, but we do."  

By Cleary's estimation, if UC can make it to Clearwater, Fla., the site of the tournament, it will enjoy as good a chance as almost anyone to come out on top. UConn and St. John's have pulled away from the pack slightly of late, but outside of those two, everyone else will be about the same. Whoever gets hot will likely be playing for a title.

For UC, getting hot means finding quality innings out of the bullpen. The relievers have struggled to finish off games. Cleary knew that would be an issue entering the season due to last year's departures, but nobody has ascended into a consistent shutdown role.

"Our starting pitching for the most part has kept us in the games. Offensively, we've done a good job. Our defense has been pretty good. I like where we are, I wish I could point to a bullpen like we did a year ago. It's been a mix and match try to trick (the opponents) a little bit."  

The weekend opens with a bang tonight, as UC will face the certain Big East Pitcher of the Year in UConn's Matt Barnes. He's expected to be a first-round draft pick. He's 10-3 with a 1.18 ERA this season and 91 K's to just 24 walks. Barnes already owns three complete game shutouts. Yikes.

They play at 6:30 p.m. tonight, 6:30 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. Come show your support for the Bearcats.

Let's eat...

--- Of course, Cleary recently set the career wins mark at UC, as we mentioned earlier this week. Ryan Koslen advanced the story with this feature.

--- Jake Saylor and Sam Vandenheuvel have known each other since first grade and are playing baseball together for the Bearcats. Cool story from Shawn Sell at GoBearcats.

--- I wrote about Alum Tony Campana here yesterday. Here's the story. His Game 2 went much like his MLB debut -- with an instant impact. He stole a base and scored a run pinch running for Alfonso Soriano in a 7-5 win against the Marlins.   

--- The Big East/SEC Challenge opponents are supposed to be announced today. The first matchup to leak out was St. John's playing Kentucky, according to the NY Post. So, Bearcats fans can let out the collective groan, they won't be able to talk trash with their neighbors for the next six five months.

I handicapped the possible opponents last week, if you are interested in rehashing that today. Or you could just patiently wait for the news. I'll take a closer look at the matchups in tomorrow's Breakfast.  

--- Meant to mention this yesterday, but on Tuesday Butch Jones and a few other UC folks headed over to Children's Hospital to deliver a check for $10,000 in the name of Mitch's Mission. Great cause and admirable work by the UC folks here. They have been pounding the pavement on this since Mitch's case first came to light and with his cancer in remission it's fantastic that the beat still goes on.

Here's some video.

--- ESPN's Bruce Feldman put out his annual list of the Top 10 Physical Freaks in college football and a Bearcat rolled in at No. 10.

The acceleration of Walter Stewart? No.

The power of Derek Wolfe? Nope.

Must be the speed of Isaiah Pead then? Uh-uh.

It was punter Patrick O'Donnell. Yep, a punter. But as Feldman rightly points out, O'Donnell is no ordinary punter.

Here's his synopsis:

"Yes, a punter. Don't roll your eyes, though. This guy is one of the more imposing punters since the Pittsburgh Panthers' MMA fighter Dave Brytus. The 6-foot-5, 217-pound O'Donnell has a 355-pound bench, broad jumps 9'2" and his 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds is actually faster than the time Jeff Demps clocks."

Moral of the story: Don't mess with the punter.

Some randomness....

--- Ponies get tired, too. Sometimes, they would rather take the train.

--- Reviews and stories from the new ESPN book are starting to surface as selected reviewers received their copies yesterday. I'm interested in reading it, but have a feeling all the interesting stuff will fill up my Twitter timeline before I even have the chance to purchase it. Though, whatever Charley Steiner says makes me happy.

--- The 2011 Ben-Gals team was selected. Here is the only time you will look at them without binoculars.

--- Whatever Joe Maddon says, I usually agree with. I just assume he knows more than I do. He thinks Interleague play needs to go. That's fine, as long as I get my trip to Tampa in first.

--- Help defense and bounce passes hit the streets. 

--- In honor of this blog being a little late today and the Reds playing a business day special, this only seems appropriate.

Tony Campana: 'A dream come true'

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University of Cincinnati product Tony Campana made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, living out a lifelong dream few could have predicted.

 

 

[See Campana's interview with Cincinnati media] 

 

CINCINNATI - Tony Campana heard the same story his entire life. He didn't belong.

 

The young kid from Springboro with a severe case of the baseball bug stared ahead at a track to his dream more resembling the 110-meter hurdles.

 

His 5-foot-8, 160-pound body resembles a shell of Dustin Pedroia with a splash of David Eckstein - minus 10 pounds.

 

Major college programs scoffed at his dream and Campana settled in at UNC-Asheville.

 

He didn't belong.

 

Two eye-opening seasons in Carolina earned a spot at UC. Despite 60 stolen bases his junior year, 44 of 55 attempts his senior season to complement a .319 average, the narrative remained the same to MLB scouts.

 

He didn't belong.

 

As a 13th-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2008, his college numbers were as undeniable as the "yeah, but," to always follow.

 

"In high school, all the coaches that I talked to were like, 'Eh, I think you're a little too small to play college ball,'" Campana said. "After (college), they were like, 'Well, he's probably a little too small to play pro ball.'

"When I got drafted, it was just kind of like, 'Well, he's fast, let's see if anything else happens."

 

On Tuesday, it happened for Tony Campana. He was called up from Triple-A Iowa by the Chicago Cubs. He belonged.

 

He stood on second base following an RBI double for his first Major League hit, baggy blue jersey accentuating his boyish size and using every muscle in his face to hide a grin that would reach from Great American Ballpark to his hometown of Springboro. Meanwhile, a throng of 50-plus friends and family projected proud screams into a quiet, dreary Cincinnati night.

 

Campana, 25, a kid everyone said couldn't play in the major leagues, defied the odds with a line of dirt-covered jerseys and manufactured runs in his minor league wake. No matter what happens from this point forward, nobody can ever take that away from him.

 

And nobody should be surprised at his ability to persevere. It's par for the course for somebody who overcame lymphoma growing up.

 

"It means everything," Campana said of reaching the show. "It's been my dream since I was a little kid. Especially being my size. People who said I couldn't do it, I proved wrong. It feels amazing."

 

The amazing day began moments after a blowup by Cubs manager Mike Quade prompted an early-morning call to Triple-A. Projections and potential overstayed their welcome in the Chicago locker room. Quade desired production. So, franchise darling Tyler Colvin and his .113 average headed to Iowa. The scrappy, base-stealing outfielder and his .342 average earned the right to live a dream.   

 

"He can run (with) speed that we don't have," Quade said of Campana, who stole 144 bases during three-plus years in the minors. "He plays great defense, can slap it around. (He) can help us win a ballgame late and do some things for us that (we) haven't had available."

 

Campana found out about the call from his manager late Monday night then spent the night in a Reno, Nev., hotel not sleeping. A flight left at 6 a.m., including an hour layover in Salt Lake City preceding a cross-country flight to Cincinnati. Waiting to pick up himself and reliever Scott Maine were Campana's parents and two younger sisters.

 

Mom and dad driving Tony to the baseball game, just like old times. Only, the grass at GABP was slightly better manicured than the Springboro baseball complex.

 

He arranged 50 tickets for his friends and family before telling his UC friends they needed to pay their own way. A whirlwind with two rounds of interviews with a horde of Chicago and Cincinnati media came next.

 

Before he knew it, he was called into the game to pinch-run in the seventh inning. He'd cross the plate with a go-ahead score. An inning later he'd lace his first MLB hit down the right-field line past a diving Joey Votto for an RBI.

 

"I couldn't have planned it any better," Campana said, surrounded by media after the game. 

 

Cubs management hopes his role on the team works out in the same fashion. Stealing bases, bunting and  chasing drives in the gaps provide a skill set few on the Cubs employ.

 

More nights like Tuesday will keep Campana in the bigs for a long time.

 

"He's played really well the last couple years for us and brings a little different dimension," Chicago GM Jim Hendry said. "He's a real good defender, can play all three spots, he's really a fast kid, he really runs well, can steal bases, gets the bunts down, high-energy kid."

 

The magical tour for Campana continues this weekend as he heads to Boston to look across the diamond at the only other UC player in the majors, Kevin Youkilis.

 

Campana said he's spoken with Youkilis before during Red Sox stars trips back to UC. Now, they'll converse as peers. Just add it to the long list of earned, unforgettable experiences for the kid everyone thought didn't belong.

 

"It's a dream come true," Campana said.

Bearcats Breakfast 5.18.11

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For anybody who reads this blog semi-reguarly, you've heard this before and know my stance. Mick Cronin's work on the basketball court is only rivaled by his work off it with this program.

Nobody talks about how the image of the program has flipped and the lack of off-court issues that were nationally associated with it for a long period of time. The latest proof of that change came Tuesday when the Academic Progress Rates revealed the men's basketball program in the top 10 percent.

Cronin was hired in 2005 with the program on academic penalty and gutted. Five years later, they returned to the NCAA tournament and are being awarded for academic acheivement. What else do you want? His accomplishments are impossible to deny or rate as anything less than remarkable.

Let's eat...

--- Tuesday will go down as one of the most memorable days in the life of former UC star Tony Campana. He flew across the country, went through two sessions of interviews, set aside 50 tickets for friends and family, made his MLB debut less than an hour from his hometown, scored a run as a pinch-runner and delivered an RBI double for his first MLB hit.

Yeah, they don't get much better than that.

He stood on second base using every muscle in his face to avoid showing a complete ear-to-ear grin after his first hit.

I'll have much more on Campana later today.

--- BearcatsBlog breaks down the year of Sean Kilpatrick. Minute-for-minute, he was the best offensive player on the Bearcats last year and top 10 in the Big East. As his role expands the next few years, he should be a special talent.

--- I talked earlier this week about Trent Cole being slighted at No. 73 on the NFL Network's Top 100 Players. He agreed and spoke out about it on his Twitter account.

--- The ACC/Big Ten Challenge schedule was released yesterday. OSU-Duke looks like fun. We are still awaiting the Big East/SEC slate, but expecting it soon.

--- Yesterday, I wrote about the benefits of possibly making the World University Games team for Yancy Gates, who received a tryout invitation earlier this week. Bill Koch caught up with Gates and got his perspective on the honor.

I love this quote from Gates about committing to accomplishing goals he told Mick Cronin he would upon his arrival at UC.

"When I first committed at the end of my junior year, me and Coach Cronin talked a lot about rebuilding the program and how we were both from here and how it would be big for us," Gates said. "For me, just making it to the tournament one year and then leaving wouldn't be holding up my end of the deal that I had with Coach Cronin."

 

--- Pretty slow day for news and randomness, plus I need to get to producing the Campana story. So, we'll end it here with a guy's marriage proposal that will make yours inadequate. 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.17.11

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In this town, the Cubs are tough to like. Just ask Marty Brennaman. Or sit next to their fans for a game.

They became quite a bit more likeable here today. Chicago called up former Bearcats CF Tony Campana from Triple-A.

If you don't remember Campana, he was the blur that circled the bases of Marge Schott Stadium through 2008. His senior year, he stole 44 bases in 55 attempts while hitting .319. He led the team with eight triples and was second with 60 runs scored.

He's now the second UC player in the bigs along with Kevin Youkilis. 

Campana spent the last three years fast-tracking through the Cubs system and could make his MLB debut tonight at GABP. I will head down there and catch up with Campana before the game to bring you some of his reflections as he sips his first cup of coffee. I can't imagine the kind of excitement Campana must be feeling -- and of all places to come up, the kid from Springboro and UC ends up in Cincinnati. Hard not to root for him to play and get that first hit/stolen base tonight.

Let's eat...

--- Yesterday I mentioned Brian Cleary grabbing UC record win No. 392, passing Glenn Sample for all-time victories. Tommy G caught up with Cleary yesterday to chat about the series victory against Seton Hall and the rest of the baseball season.

--- Bill Koch posted a blog about Yancy Gates being invited to tryout for men's team at the World University Games to be played in China this August. Training camp for the event will run July 30-Aug. 8. At the very least, the opportunity to practice with the best players college basketball has to offer will be great experience for Gates. It also goes a long way to building confidence rolling into next season.

If you look back at the 2009 University Games team and then to their production the following year, the jump in numbers stands out. Most of this likely comes from graduation of other players and increased reliance on their skills as they mature.

Still, the numbers of those that made team show a common thread of the experience owning some responsiblity for improvement. Much talk in the NBA recently has been about the national team experience benefitting two major players still remaining in the playoffs, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. You can say the same about the possiblities if Gates were to land on the team.

Player/Year              School   08-09ppg/assists  09-10 ppg/assists 

James Anderson/Jr.    OK State    18.2/1.4           22.3/2.4

Talor Battle/Soph.       Penn St.    16.7/5.0           18.5/4.2

Trevor Booker/Jr.         Clemson    15.3/1.7           15.2/2.5

Craig Brackins/Soph.  Iowa St.      20.2/1.3          16.5/2.2

Da'Sean Butler/Jr.       WVU          17.1/1.7          17.2/3.1

Corey Fisher/Soph.     Villanova     10.8/2.8          13.3/3.9

Lazar Hayward/Jr.       Marquette   16.3/1.1          18.1/1.5

Robbie Hummel/Soph. Purdue       12.5/1.9          15.7/2.1

Quincy Pondexter/Jr.   Wash.        12.1/1.6          19.3/1.8

Deon Thompson/Jr.     UNC           10.6/.7            13.7/.8

Evan Turner/Soph.       OSU          17.3/4.0           20.4/6.0

Jarvis Varnardo/Jr.       Miss St.     12.9/.8            13.8/.9 

Average                                     15.0/2.0           17.0/2.6                               

While the numbers aren't staggering in improvement, take this significant factors into consideration. Most of these players were the primary scorers for their particular teams. The ball goes inside to Trevor Booker at Clemson, it was going to the rim. Da'Sean Butler grabbed a pass on the wing, he was driving to the hole and forcing the shot. 

Playing on this US team with these talented players helped enforce an attitude of unselfishness on the basketball court. It forced these players to start thinking about passing the ball instead of constantly forcing up shots in tough situations. It allowed them to see passing lanes because they were blinding themselves to them before. 

Look at the assist numbers. Every single player, except for Talor Battle at Penn State (already an unselfish point guard prior, asked to score more upon his return to PSU), saw jumps in their assist numbers. Some were small, but many were significant. Anderson, Butler, Fisher, Turner, Booker and Brackins all saw their assist number rise at least .8.

This isn't to say Yancy Gates (already a decent passer) will return and distribute the ball like Bill Walton his senior year, but if he made the team, history and numbers would insist his 1.2 assists per game could easily bump up to 2 or 3 assists. That would be a major asset as teams attempt to double down on the big fella.

--- Remember the difference against UC at the Big East tourney when USF had PG Anthony Crater in the first half compared to without him in the second? Yeah, not good news for the Bulls as they dismissed him from the team.   

--- West Virginia was already slim on perimeter help next season. Now G Dalton Pepper is transferring.  Huggs will be sporting a toddler backcourt next season.

--- I've been calling Dana O'Neil the best pure writer/reporter in college basketball for years. Here's the latest fantastic example with her story on former Villanova star Will Sheridan, who came out publicly as homosexual. Just an incredible story and every bit what journalism is supposed to be.

--- No mo MoMo. I just wanted to write that line.

Some randomness...

--- A man writing a blog about sandwiches he's eaten sort of makes me happier the Internet exists.

--- One of the primary reasons why CBS is America's most watched network: They don't let Colin Cowherd infultrate their airwaves.

--- Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam documentary will air on PBS' Masters on Oct. 21. My DVR is already set.

--- Do you know a Star Wars fan with a birthday coming up? Does he/she like to grill. Maybe you can convince this guy to replicate his R2D2 smoker for you.  

--- Here's some video of Tony Campana from his stint in the Southern League (Double-A) where he won the 2010 Hustle Award. (H/t Lance McAlister)

Bearcats Breakfast 5.16.11

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Have to start off today's blog by congratulating UC baseball coach Brian Cleary for his 392nd win to grab the new school record for career victories.

Every interaction I've had with Cleary has been a sheer delight and he's obviously a tremendous baseball mind. The university is lucky to have him.

He continues the job of building on that win total this week with four more home games to round out the regular season. They host Butler on Tuesday, then UConn comes to town for a three-game set with games Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All games start at 6:30 p.m. except for the 1 p.m. first pitch Saturday.

Let's eat...

--- Was watching NFL Network's latest list of the Top 100 Players in 2011 last night and former Bearcats star Trent Cole showed up at No. 73.

He'll be the only Bearcat on the list, but couldn't be more deserving. In fact, you could argue he should be higher on the list if you consider the numbers. PhiladelphiaEagles.com did. They point out only two players have more sacks since 2006 than Cole.   

Of the active sacks leaders, Trent Cole (No. 19, 57 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (No. 8, 80) are the only two players with less than seven years in the league gracing the top 20.

Over the last four seasons Cole averaged 52 tackles and 11 sacks per season. Yeah, pretty productive for any player, much less a fifth-round selection.

Here was a quote from Andy Reid:

"You talk about motors. You take your greatest motor that's ever been made and that's what Trent is ... One speed, and that's 110 miles-an-hour.

"He's the only player that's come to me, in tears, and told me, 'Don't ever take me out of a game.'"

--- BleacherReport put together a list of the top five game-changers for UC football in 2011. The list is pretty standard for anybody who follows the team.

I'd rate Derek Wolfe higher and move back J.K. Schaffer. That's in no way a slight on Schaffer. If discussing "game-changers," Wolfe has the capability to completely alter a gameplan with his run-stopping and pass-rushing skills. J.K. provides a different asset. He bring consistency and intelligence. You can't change your gameplan because of Schaffer, he will always find you 10-15 times a game. I'd call Schaffer the most irreplaceable player on the UC defense and the heartbeat of the team, but not as much the typical "game-changer."    

--- Pat Forde mentions 10 things he's excited about next season. None of them directly involve UC, but still a great read for my hoopsheads.

Carolina will be as fun a team to follow next season as there has been in college hoops for a while. The return of three lottery picks including future superstar Harrison Barnes, playing Michigan State on an aircraft carrier, game at Rupp Arena that will include 6 or 7 first-round draft picks on the floor in a likely 1v2 and the standard fare against another quality Duke team. 

--- The Murray State pipeline that moved Mick Cronin to UC took his successor there to Texas A&M.

--- Kim English spent his offseason thinking about UC's elimination of his Mizzou Tigers in the NCAA tournament, but he has a particularly lovely fan club to console him. They call themselves "Cougars for Kimmie." And, no, it's not BYU fans who enjoy Missouri basketball.

Can we start a "Cougars for Paulie" club here? I'm willing to fight the copycat stereotype for the potential outcome. 

--- Likely you've heard by now what Brandon Phillips did last week by attending a little league game after a Twitter request. If not, here's the story. Phillips has taken to Twitter better than any athlete I've seen, sans the noted Twitterer on the other pro team in town. It's no coincidence either, Ochocinco talked to Phillips this winter about Twitter and how to properly utilize it to market himself. It's paying off.

Some randomness...

--- Do you want to know more about Cosby sweaters? Sure, why not.

--- I do love some hidden ball trick. This is the first time I've seen it in lacrosse.

--- Star Wars and Legos together? It's like a nerdpocalypse.

--- I like Dan Le Betard. Seeing him do a show on ESPN2 next year should be entertaining. It can't be worse than the rest of the garbage on the deuce.  

--- Taj Gibson became a household name last night. Both his dunk on Dwyane Wade and his putback late in the game were spectacular, but I think I give a nod to the putback for play of the night.

As Mark Jackson would say, "Mama, there goes that man." 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.13.11

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I'll have a post coming later today from when I caught up with Steve Logan earlier in the week at the Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony. Logan was great, as was the spread. Quality cheese plate.

Let's eat...

--- Tommy G caught up with Mick Cronin yesterday to talk about the offseason happenings around the basketball offices. Among the topics of conversation were Yancy Gates leadership and weight plan, Justin Jackson's body building and the acquisition of Cheikh Mbodj, the spellcheck killer.

What I found to be most interesting, however, was talk of the SEC/Big East challenge. The announcement of the full slate of games will come any day now, but for the moment, all that's known is UC will be on the road. The likely opponent will come from a group of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Auburn.

Remember, this event was expanded in December and moved away from the neutral site concepts and have all the games on campus (a few were on campus before, but most away from home).

The games are set to be the week after Thanksgiving and all 12 will be played over the long weekend.

Before we find out, I wanted to take a look at the four teams and some of the pros and cons of each when figuring out what would be the best matchup. Personall, I pick the best matchup by the city that the game is in. Let's just say I've been to all four and this is a bigger landslide than Reagan-Mondale.

Nashville is one of the great cities of the South, between the Honky-Tonkin entertainment and killer BBQ joints, it's a can't miss for a weekend road trip.

But, for once, I guess this isn't about me. Here's a breakdown

KENTUCKY

2010-11 results: 29-9, SEC champs, Final Four

Returning: Terrance Jones deciding to return along with Doron Lamb was a lift to what will be the latest ridiculous recruiting class for the Wildcats that includes superstar freshmen Michael Gilchrist and PG Marquis Teague.

From ESPN here's their projected starting lineup: Three freshmen and two sophomores: PG Marquis Teague (Fr.), SG Doron Lamb (So.), SF Michael Gilchrist (Fr.), PF Terrence Jones (So.) and PF Anthony Davis (Fr.). 

Ranking: Kentucky will almost certainly be ranked No. 2 or in the country for this game. Most have them behind heavy favorite UNC, but next to OSU and in front of everyone else.

Pros: Proximity, disdain factor, OOC SOS. Obviously, this would be the most popular matchup locally due to the intertwining of the two fan bases. And let's be honest, not too many Bearcats fans are rooting for Big Blue. Most importantly, a road game at a team like Kentucky will give a major boost to the Bearcats RPI and strength of schedule. Plus, with Kentucky likely starting three freshmen and UC returning such a strong core, the time would be ripe for pulling a major RPI-boosting upset.  

Cons: You won't be going. Good luck getting a seat at Rupp Arena. Oh yeah, UK is going to be really damn good.

Ballpark percentage: 25%  

VANDERBILT

2010-11 results: 23-11, Lost to Richmond in Second Round

Returning: Vandy had three players that could have declared for the NBA Draft, but all three decided to stay put. The returning trio of Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezelis (It's a Festus for the rest of us!) averaged a combined 47.2 points a game last year and were the three leading scorers for the Commies.

Ranking: Most have Vandy as a preseason Top 10 and the best team in the SEC, sans UK.

Pros: Nashville, OOC SOS and proximity. Nashville is an easy 4-hour drive or so and my stance on visiting has already been stated. On the court, this will be a great early-season test and likely to earn huge RPI boosters as well. With both teams returning their offensive corps, would require a high-level of play for an early-season basketball game. By the way, Memorial Gym holds more than 14k.  

Cons: It's not Kentucky. All the Bearcats fans want to play the Wildcats, but if you can get past the personal feelings Vandy would be the best bang for your buck. Hard to find a con here, though, if you are looking to rack up early season wins, that won't come easy.

Ballpark percentage: 15% 

AUBURN  

2010-11 results: 11-20, no postseason

Returning: The Tigers didn't have a senior on the roster last season and will have everyone back. Of course, that team went 11-20, so that doesn't mean all that much.   

Ranking: Auburn won't be ranked and will be picked to finish middle to bottom in the SEC West.

Pros: This would be a great opportunity to pick up a road win against a major-conference opponent. Auburn won't have near the talent or experience on the floor that UC would.     

Cons: Considering UC's standing in the Big East, this would be a bit of a slap in the face going against a bottom-tier SEC team. That said, these matchups are made for TV and the Bearcats just don't have the national appeal of other BE teams at this moment. This would also take away the SOS bump opportunity in comparison with other possible opponents. I would also characterize the game as a bit of a lose-lose. UC would be favored to beat Auburn, but beating a team returning every player and hosting a Big East opponent in their gym will be highly underrated.  

Ballpark percentage: 20% 

ALABAMA

2010-11 results: 25-12, 12-4 SEC, lost in NIT championship

Returning: Alabama will be stacked next year as they bring back the majority of their team, including their top two scorers in JaMychal Green (16.0) and Tony Mitchell (15.4).

Ranking: Andy Katz ranked Alabama at No. 14 in this early Top 25. They will be right around where UC should ranked in the 10-20 range.

Pros: This would be among the four teams in terms of anticipated SOS boost. This would also likely be a featured ESPN game with the two rising programs. Bama presents the most evenly-matched opponent of any UC would face.  

Cons: Tuscaloosa would be a haul of a car ride and more than likely a plane trip for the fans. More than that, this would be a battle royal on the interior going against forwards Green an Mitchell, who both averaged more than seven boards a game last year. For a UC team working on its inside depth, could be a tough matchup.

Ballpark percentage: 30% 

OTHER

Pros: You never know how teams will be flipped around at the last minute, but those are the four Cronin said would be the most likely. A trip to Georgia would seem to be a good matchup as the Bulldogs have a good amount of talent returning and will be near the top of the conference. And none of you want to miss an opportunity to visit Athens.

Cons: Playing either Vandy, Alabama, UK or Florida would be a major haul for UC and their schedule and allow the major opponent so many fans complained the Cats didn't have last year. Anybody else would be a bit of a letdown, certainly from a fans perspective.

Ballpark percentage: 10%

--- Big weekend for the baseball team with three games against Seton Hall. They are scratching for position in the Big East race. If you can't grab a ticket to the Reds-Cardinals tilts, there's no better second option in town than Marge Schott Stadium.

--- Shawn Sell with a nice piece on the state-of-the-art vision program benefitting the baseball team.

--- Tough break for former UC swimmer Josh Schneider, who lost in a swim-off in the 50-meter freestyle to make the U.S. team that will compete this summer in Shanghai.

He lost by four-hundreths of a second.

Here's the story from The Enquirer.

--- Some randomness...

--- I will be planning my days around the Heat-Bulls Eastern Finals. Prediction: Heat in 6.

--- You know what they say, never trust a man with a baby leapord in his luggage.

--- Kings of Leon on VH1 Storytellers should be fantastic

--- The new movie Horrible Bosses with Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx looks like it will be a huge winner this summer. With me, at least.

--- In honor of the St. Louis Cardinals coming to town and this being a pretty active May weekend in the city, I figured we'd go with some party music from my man Nelly.

Catching up with Steve Logan

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Wednesday night, I took some time to head over the Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Fairfield. Nine players were being inducted into the HoF, including Miami's Wally Sczerbiak, Xavier's Aaron Williams and UC's Steve Logan.

Plus, Charlie Coles was the keynote speaker and anytime Charlie speaks, I listen.

Mostly, though, I wanted to catch up with Logan. He was inducted into the UC HoF earlier in the year, but I missed him that day. A good amount of controversy has surrounded Logan in the past few years, specifically a rape charge that was dismissed.

With that unfortunate situation behind him, Logan is moving forward and trying to use his knowledge of the game to help kids become better basketball players. He talked about the youth basketball camps he's attempting to get off the ground in his hometown of Cleveland right now along with a wide range of other topics.

Looking back at the numbers Logan posted at UC, they are simply staggering:

--- His 1,985 total points are good for second all-time in UC history only behind Oscar Robertson. 

--- He averaged 22.0 points a game his senior season and was named a First Team All-American.

--- He averaged 29.2 points a game during UC's Las Vegas Classic championship, including a 40-point performance against an 11-0 Mississippi State team.  

--- He accomplished all of this at 6-foot tall. And that may be generous.

When I asked Logan what the one thing UC fans always say when they talk with them, I expected to hear about his game-tying drive that rattled around the rim against Memphis, scoring 21 second-half points to win the C-USA tournament or the epic double-overtime heartbreaker against UCLA that concluded his career.

No, not at all.

"They say, 'Wow, man, we didn't realize you were that short."

The manner in which Logan overcame his height disadvantage was extraordinary, in retrospect. He didn't do so with exceptional speed or quickness necesarily, but with force, savvy and basketball IQ.

Anyway, here are a few highlights of our conversation prior to the banquet as Logan sat at a table his wife and children Steve Jr. and Kerry:

On what he is up to now:

"I am in the Cleveland area trying to get my camps going. I am in the business of running camps and trying to get my camps off the ground. Helping inner city kids and kids in the suburbs know how to play the game the right way, fundamentally first. That is what I am trying to get off the ground right now."

 

On the last time he played competitive basketball:

 

"I haven't played competitive ball in at least two or three years. I was in Europe, I had a meniscus repair arthriscope, it was really slowing me down and my knee hasn't been the same since. I think I am at my end with playing ball, but I wanted to stay in basketball and give back my knowledge of the game."

 

On the fact there has been a revival of small point guards lately in the NBA and his size kept him out of the league 10 years ago:

 

"I believe God has His plan. I didn't' hit it well with the NBA, got a few years overseas. Like you say, I look at the game now and see the small guards in there and it's like, wow it's amazing. Some of the things the guys are doing out there I know I can do. I am just blessed just to be here and I can't worry about not making the league. That's behind me now. I had a good basketball run and I am really proud of myself."

  

On his career which, spanned some amazing highs of two No. 1 seeds, second-leading scorer, and ultimate lows of Kenyon Martin's leg injury:

 

"I think I got lucky to play with a great leader like Kenyon for two years and learn from him, you know, how to work and how to play the game as a big man. It was unfortunate he went down because we felt like that was our year to win it. But he went down, I just learned from that. Just play hard everyday. That is one thing Kenyon did everyday, he came to practice like it was a game. I kind of followed my work ethic after him as far as working hard."

 

On the recruiting story of how he ended up at UC:

 

"Mick was actually recruiting another kid from California and the kid had a bad night shooting. Him and Huggs was there watching the game, he said, forget this Mick, call Logan and tell him we want to sign him. I ended up at UC because a kid had a bad, off night."

  

On what he wants to do next:

"I would love if the opportunity presented itself to come back to Cincinnati and get things started with basketball. Maybe coaching here. Most definitely (get into coaching), I like high school and college, just giving back what I know. How to play the game, especially for point guards, being able to show these guys what is the right way to play. I would love to come back to this area and get some camps going, AAU things going and teach these guys how to play basketball." 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.12.11 (Lunch edition)

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Due to the attack of a virus on my computer and subsequent five-hour session with the McAfee anti-virus folks overseas, today's Breakfast comes to you with some brevity, tardiness and concerning amount of angst.

To subdue some of the expletives that would have littered this post, I will be playing this video throughout the time I write it. I recommend you join in in listening to my cell ringtone and one of the fantastic feel-good songs of all-time. 

Let's eat...

--- Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, whose always been a Bearcats Breakfast favorite, broke out the surprise of the early-season rankings. 

The guy cuts through the traditions and cliches college basketball better than anybody in the business. He drills directly to the base numbers and facts regardless of jerseys or expectations.

As anybody following UC closely has seen -- and Mick Cronin has been pounding the desk about since last season -- the Cats tend to be underrated by lazy pundits due to the history of the past five years.

Count Winn as the first national writer to publicize the potential in the 2011-12 Bearcats. 

He ranked them No. 8 in his preseason college basketball poll.

Here's his analysis of UC -- the fourth of four Big East teams ranked in positions 5-8:

Hoops nation was highly skeptical of the Bearcats last season when they started 14-0 without beating a single NCAA tournament team. When they fell to 18-5 in February, they were written off as a non-factor in the Big East, and a late surge to 26-9 only earned them the No. 25 spot in the final AP poll. But Cincy's résumé, in retrospect, offered a lot of promise for a strong 2011-12: Mick Cronin's team finished 18th in the nation in defensive efficiency, had road wins at St. John's, Georgetown and Marquette, and routed A-10 champ Xavier by 20 at home. The Bearcats handily beat Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and return the core of that team, including power forward Yancy Gates and promising freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick. They're my dark horse pick to win the Big East title.

 

Winn's history is pretty solid. If you go back to his first power rankings of last season, it included some of the traps nearly everyone fell into with Kansas State and Michigan State ranked in the top three. On the flip side, Winn has Butler, BYU and Florida in his top 16.

These rankings mean little. UC has just as much chance to end up like his preseason No. 8 from last year in Villanova and fall off into oblivion next March, as they do to end up like No. 13 Kentucky and rise to the Final Four.

The overriding aspect that means quite a bit in my eyes is polls like this one place UC back in the conversation -- not just as a quality team, but elite one.

Being a part of the process and in the mix nationally represents the next step in the evolution of the program. Most figured that would be the case after advancing to the second around last year, but there's a big difference between winning a game in the tournament and being a preseason Top 10 team when it comes to notoriety and exposure. (BTW, those two traits mean little in pros, but when one or two committments from teenagers can change the course of the next 5-10 years, they go a long way).

--- In other way-too-early-poll news, Jeff Goodman of Foxsports put out his Top 25. I like Jeff, but his Xavier slant is more predictable than me eating Skyline before the Crosstown Shootout. Having incorrect returning players on the Bearcats doesn't help, either.   

--- News regarding the football program. The date of the season opener against Austin Peay was moved from Thursday, Sept. 1 to Saturday Sept. 3.

The times and TV of the game are yet to be announced, but it will be a Saturday game instead of the Thursday night opener. If I were UC, I wouldn't want to take the chance of going up against the possible season premiere of Community, either. (P.S. for those without joking font, there's absolutely zero chance that had anything to do with this decision) 

--- I mentioned Brian Bennett's spring wraps here yesterday. UC's wasn't posted when I posted the Breakfast, so if you didn't see it, here's the direct link to Brian's look at the Cats.

--- Brian also looks at the season's biggest newcomers. Kenbrell Thompkins makes the list. I believe Thompkins can deliver one of the great receiver seasons in recent history, but let's remember, Vidal Hazelton was on this same list last year. Things happen.  

--- Irving Fryar was the man back in the day. He played 16 years in the league, concluding in 2000. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and went off for a career-high 1,316 yards as a 35-year-old with Philly in 1997. Remarkable.

He recently spoke with the UC football team and Butch Jones Blog caught up with him.

--- Speaking of Butch Jones, he offered up some supreme hospitality to Bill Koch recently and Bill posted a blog about it.

--- The long offseason allows these types of debates which serve little purpose. Of course, so does Saved by the Bell trivia, but I still get amped up to tell you the name of the Hawaiian hotel the gang stayed at for summer vacation.

Rush the Court ranked the top 20 college hoops jobs in the country. I'd disagree with the position of UCLA and Arizona (both should be 5-10 spots lower), but UC isn't on there, though plenty of Big East schools are represented. The school needs three to five more years of sustained success and it would return to the most desirable jobs. Whoever consistently finishes in the top five of this conference year in and year out will own one of the top 10 jobs in the country. Period. That goes for anyone from DePaul to Syracuse.

--- Some randomness...

--- If giant boxers and midget actresses can't stay together, what chance do the rest of us have?!?     

--- LeBron buried some demons last night. Say what you will, but outside all the off-the-court garbage, he's always been one of the best basketball players we've ever seen. Has Dan Gilbert issued his reaction letter to the Heat series win over the Celts yet?

--- No wonder first dates cause so much stress.

--- Us at the Reds scoreboard crew have been trying to push the Rally Squirrel for a few years now. The bullpen at the Portland SeaDogs have taken the concept to a new level.  

--- Talking about Monty Python earlier calmed me down and also left me wanting more. So here's one of the many great scenes from the Search for the Holy Grail.

"It's not a question of where he grips it, it's a simple question of weight ratios."

 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.11.11

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I know folks don't like being taken out of their routine, so hopefully the regular readers weren't out of sorts the last few days by the altered format of the Breakfast. It's a long summer and occassionally shaking it up will be necessary to keep myself from getting bored and your Breakfast from getting stale.

No worries, for all of you who eat two eggs, scrambled, two pieces of turkey bacon, an english muffin, two OCD pills and half a glass of orange juice every single morning, you'll be happy to see the regular format back today.

Let's eat...

--- Doing the basketball outlook, the backup quarterback development got glossed over. I tackled this issue at the conclusion of spring football talking with OC Mike Bajakian and Butch Jones about all the backup candidates.

Jordan Luallen, Muchie Legaux and Brendon Kay all need to overcome weaknesses in their game to ascend to the second QB position. Whoever does so the best over the course of the summer and into training camp will be backing up Zach Collaros against Austin Peay.

For Luallen, it's learning and adjusting to the speed of a college passing game. He not only didn't play at Georgia Tech, but was running an option attack. He ran a Wing-T in high school. If he can become comfortable in drops, passes and route combos, he'd be a favorite for the job.

For Legaux, the battle comes down to game management. Legaux needs to grow his comfort level with the offense and ability to run it efficiently under pressure. His physical tools have more potential than anyone else back there, but building comprehension of how the offense needs to run will be his priority over the offseason. If he shows up in camp and instinctually can run the offense without hesitation, I'd have a hard time giving anyone else the job.

For Kay, it's a matter of health and reps. His advantage over Legaux and Luallen are he was taking reps at QB last season and owns more experience. He's probably more skilled as a pure passer than the other two, without quite as much mobility. But Kay needs to get healthy. Injury problems have followed him throughout his career. If he shows up healthy and shows off his knowledge of the system and a superior passing precision, the job could be his.

Those are quite a few ifs involved in the backup QB job and ideally, none of them will be needed until 2012. But it will likely be the most intriguing position battle this August.

--- As for Chazz Anderson's departure, I'm sad to see him go. Anderson was a stand-up kid in good times and bad. I'll never forget him speaking so open and honest following the Syracuse loss last year, pinning it all on himself. Half of the issues weren't near his fault at all, but as leader of the offense he decided to take the heat for them.

People would have excused him as the backup quarterback and nobody expected him to step in and be Zach Collaros. But Anderson didn't view it that way and handled the situation with class, integrity and pride. He'll be a fine leader in some capacity one day.

--- There is significant concern Mardy Gilyard won't survive training camp with the Rams this year after St. Louis drafted two wideouts.

One columnist said he needs to have "the training camp of his life." Here are a number of opinions on his situation from those in the know.

--- I'm way late on this, but wanted to recognize this great profile by Bill Koch of Larry Sheakley. While many times boosters and donors tend to get their names dragged through the mud in association with violations, Sheakley's only concern was that there wouldn't be any. He's a breath of fresh air to be certain.

--- Brian Bennett is wrapping up the springs of all the Big East football programs. It serves as a nice look at the 2011 season. UC's was not up as of the time of this posting.

--- As you could tell if you read this blog the last two days -- or ever -- I'm a bit of a stat nerd. Though, I concede my spot at the front of the nerdery to the blog Cracked Sidewalks, who went in depth to break down the top 100 players in the Big East last year in terms of offensive value.

For those of you unconcerned with theorems or scientific calculators, the list actually gives plenty of love to the Bearcats, despite their offensive woes throughout the year.

Among players that are returning next year, here are where the Bearcats rank:

5. Dion Dixon, 8. Sean Kilpatrick, 11. Yancy Gates, 20. Cashmere Wright.

If UC finishes next year with four of the top 20 offensive values in the Big East, it will be a special season.

--- The News-Record rated the top five athletics teams of the 2010-11 school year for UC. Baseball and track haven't concluded yet, so it's a little premature, but can't argue with volleyball and Stephanie Niemer at No. 1.

--- Sad story documented by Brendan Prunty coming out of the Rutgers basketball program.

Some randomness...

--- I loathe "legacy on the line" stories. The Boston Celtics Big Three have won a championsihp and lost in The Finals to Kobe, they were the first to form a "superteam." Their legacy has been cemented. To contend they need to beat the Heat to prove anything is absurd. Of course, 85% of Boston sports writing is absurd, so I guess this blends right in.

--- I don't know that I'd be comfortable enough with the development or historical precedence of the jet pack to fly one across the Grand Canyon.

--- Even if you don't follow/watch lacrosse, it's pretty obvious this is one of the most incredible shots ever.

--- Come see the NBA Senior Finals at the Del Boca Vista Rec Center. They really have shaped that place up since Morty Seinfeld was impeached as President.

--- The Dude's cardigan is going up for auction. Remember to hold your paddle up when you want to make a bid. This isn't Nam, there are rules.

 --- Since posting any scenes from the movie is impossible due to language and excessive use of dirty laundry (the whites), here's the a pretty cool trailer from before it came out.

Bearcats Breakfast 5.10.11

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Yesterday I started a project of taking a look at the offensive experience returning to each team in the Big East now that the early-entry period is over. Here is the first half of the blog with the first eight teams in the conference alphabetically (sort of, I skipped Marquette yesterday). Below it will continue with a look at the final eight teams.

Also, Andy Katz put out his latest Top 25 since the early-entry deadline and has UC at No. 19 and the sixth listed in the Big East.

Let's continue...

MARQUETTE

Record: 22-15

Finish: Lost in Sweet Sixteen to UNC

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Darius Johnson-Odom, senior: 25.6%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Jimmy Butler: 21.4%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 62.2% (46.7 of 75)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 2/2

Analysis: The Eagles numbers don't look spectacular on this scale because the depth they enjoyed last year. However, both Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan -- key cogs in the Sweet 16 run -- are back and averaged more than 19 minutes a game. The Eagles should smoothly cover the loss of Jimmy Butler and be an elite team again. 

RUTGERS

Record: 15-17

Finish: No Postseason

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Dane Miller, junior: 22.4%

Gilvydas Biruta, soph.: 23.4%

Mike Poole, soph: 21.9%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Jonathan Mitchell: 23.9% 

Percentage of total points scored returning: 46.2% (35.5 of 66)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 2/3

Analysis: The sun is beginning to shine on Rutgers program with some big wins last year and landing nice recruits to go with transfer Wally Judge, but next year will be an uphill battle. Nothing can underscore enough the loss of Mitchell and three of the five players that took up the majority of the team's minutes last year.

SETON HALL

Record: 13-18

Finish: No Postseason

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Herb Pope, senior: 24.2%

Jordan Theodore, senior: 22.8%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Jeremy Hazell: 26.2%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 46.3% (31 of 67)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 3/2

Analysis: The loss of Jeremy Hazell will severely hamper the Pirates' offense, but Jordan Theodore developed into a top-level Big East point guard last season and if he can become a dominant force at the point, the presence of Pope inside may give the Hall a chance to make the tournament.

SOUTH FLORIDA

Record: 10-23

Finish: No Postseason

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Augustus Gilchrist, senior: 28.3%

Jawanza Poland: junior: 23.6%

Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, junior: 21.0%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Jarrid Famous: 23.4%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 76.6% (47.5 of 62)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 5/1

Analysis: The Bulls lose half of their twin towers in the middle with Jarrid Famous, but Augustus Gilchrist already was the third-most used offensive player in the conference behind Kemba Walker and Marshon Brooks. That number will only increase for his senior year. With strong PG Anthony Crater back, the Bulls could surprise a few people. Then again, probably not. 

ST. JOHN'S

Record: 21-12

Finish: Lost in first round NCAA tournament

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Zero

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Dwight Hardy: 25.6%

Justin Brownlee: 22.4%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 14.1% (9.9 of 70)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 0/5

Analysis: Welcome to the real Steve Lavin era in Queens. All the contributors from last season are gone and the second-rated recruiting class in the country which runs 10 deep will take over. There will likely be some growing pains, but in a year or two this team will be back on top.

SYRACUSE

Record: 27-8

Finish: Lost in second round NCAA tournament

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Scoop Jardine, senior: 24.7%

Kris Joseph, senior: 22.6%

Brandon Triche, junior: 21.4%

Dion Waiters, sophomore: 21.3%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Zero

Percentage of total points scored returning: 82.1% (59.9 of 72)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 3/1

Analysis: Nobody does a better job of grooming veteran teams than Jim Boeheim. He's set up to do so again. The loss of Rick Jackson inside hurts, but literally everyone else is returning from one of the most talented teams in the Big East. The Orange should be the runaway preseason favorite in the conference.

WEST VIRGINIA

Record: 21-12

Finish: Lost in second round NCAA tournament

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Darryl Bryant, senior: 25.6

Deniz Kilicli, junior: 26.3% 

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Casey Mitchell: 26.9%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 56.6% (39.6 of 70)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 2/4

Analysis: Bob Huggins boys are losing quite a bit of offense, but it could have been a disaster if Kevin Jones declared for the draft. Instead, the player who spent 87.3% of the possible minutes on the floor last year will be back as the leader of what will be a young team of Mountaineers.

VILLANOVA

Record: 21.12

Finish: Lost in first round NCAA tournament

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Maalik Wayns, junior: 27.7%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Corey Fisher: 25.7%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 44.0% (31.7 of 72)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 2/3

Analysis: Welcome to the Maalik Wayns Show. This should be more entertaining than the other Wayns brothers shows I believe are still showing reruns on WB. The loss of Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will place a load of pressure on Wayns and a talented, but young corps to grow into larger roles fast. It may take a year outside of their customary Top 15 status before the Wildcats return to the top.

--- What does all this mean? Primarily, it means the depth of the Big East will be strong as ever. The lowest rung teams like DePaul and USF are bringing nearly all their young bases back and only five teams lost more than 50 percent of their scoring.

--- Notre Dame and St. John's will look remarkably different, but few others in the conference will undergo massive overhauls.

--- Syracuse, USF, Marquette, UC, DePaul and Pitt all return their leading scorers from last season.

--- Only two teams aren't losing a 20-percent possession use player: Syracuse and UC. Offensively, both these teams should take major steps forward in 2011-12. That's a scary thought if you are playing the Orange, who could light up the Dome already. It's encouraging for UC which struggled to find buckets during long stretches last year.

--- As for a direct look at offensive experience, the percentage of points returning stat was the most telling. Here is the concise chart of how the teams ranked.

Team             Points%Return

Syracuse          82.1

DePaul             81.4

South Florida    76.6

Louisville          67.8

Cincinnati        66.8

Providence       65.7

Marquette         62.2

Pitt                 59.1

WVU               56.6

UConn             54.1

Georgetown     51.5

Rutgers            46.2

Seton Hall        46.3

Villanova          44.0

Notre Dame     21.0

St. John's        14.1 

--- At the end of the day, next season will be defined by far, far more than these offensive experience stats. Defense, chemistry and injuries all will have a major affect. Yet, over the past few years, the impact of freshmen in the Big East has been minimal. To say that any of the talented recruiting classes will be able to enter and overcome major differentials in stats above would be a stretch. The top offensive teams next year are likely at the top of the above list. The consistent winners have been those with veteran teams, not those relying heavily on youth. That bodes well for the Cats. 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.9.11

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On a busy weekend featuring The Kentucky Derby, a collection of NBA playoff games, some high drama at Quail Hollow (it's a golf course, and in case you didn't know they still air tournaments on TV that don't include Tiger Woods) and three nip-and-tuck Reds games, what spiked my excitement didn't come from any of them.

Watching the list of players that decided to return to college basketball continue to roll in next season have me ready for November to show up tomorrow.

Not only will this be the most highly anticipated season during the Mick Cronin era at UC, but the rest of the country is playing along as well.

Here's the early-entry list. The Dagger has their list of winners and losers.

Tu Holloway and Terrance Jones were among the local big names to announce they are returning to school. Even more direct impact on UC was the return of three major seniors in the Big East: Pitt's Ashton Gibbs, Georgetown's Hollis Thompson and WVU's Kevin Jones.

Don't forget, we already knew Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes both decided to turn down an almost certain lottery pick to pursue a national title.

We saw the kickback from a record number of departures last season and the cloud of impending NBA labor strife.

I wanted to take today to give a glimpse into what each team in the Big East will be returning. By using the KenPom offensive ratings, minutes and possession percentage numbers, I'll break down who has the most offense coming back beyond the points and rebounds per game stats.

I will go in alphabetical order with eight teams today and eight teams tomorrow. Then we'll do some analysis of those stats once those are concluded.  

Let's start with the Bearcats:

CINCINNATI

Record: 26-9

Finish: Lost in second round NCAA tournament

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Sean Kilpatrick, soph.: 24.2%

Yancy Gates, senior: 22.9%

Dion Dixon, senior: 22.4%

Cashmere Wright, junior: 22.3%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Zero

Percentage of total points scored returning: 66.8% (46.1 of 69)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 4/1

Analysis: The Bearcats return their top four scorers and top four possession users. This team will lose little besides depth on offense, need to find a replacement for Rashad Bishop's defense on the opposite side.   

CONNECTICUT

Record: 32-9

Finish: Won National Championship

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Shabazz Napier, soph: 20.9%

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Kemba Walker: 31.4%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 54.1% (39 of 72)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 4/1

Analysis: Almost every statistical measure should come with an asterisk*.

*Losing Kemba Walker

DePAUL

Record: 7-24

Finish: No postseason

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Brandon Young, soph: 25%

Tony Freeland, jun.: 24.2%

Cleveland Melvin, soph: 26.4%

Moses Morgan, soph.: 21.6%  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Mike Stovall: 26.5%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 81.4% (55.3 of 68)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 5/1

Analysis: DePaul only won one Big East game last year but returns nearly everyone who contributed last year. Cleveland Melvin appears to be a budding star, but even with all this talent back they are still a year away from making any waves.      

GEORGETOWN

Record: 21-11

Finish: Lost to VCU in first round

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Jason Clark, senior: 20.5%  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Austin Freeman: 24.5%

Chris Wright: 25%

Julian Vaughn: 21.8%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 51.5% (36.6 of 71)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 2/3

Analysis: Hollis Thompson's return will bolster a team lacking much experienced scoring. If you thought they looked lost without Chris Wright late in the season, wait to see them without Wright, Freeman and Vaughn early next year.

LOUISVILLE

Record: 25-10

Finish: Lost to Morehead St. in first round of NCAA

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Peyton Siva, junior: 23.4%

Rakeem Buckles, junior: 23.4%  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Preston Knowles: 25.2%

Terrence Jennings: 20.3%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 67.8% (23.2 of 72)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 4/2

Analysis: The Cards will miss Preston Knowles shot-making and dribble-drive, but will likely become point guard oriented behind Peyton Siva and a collection of talented freshmen next season. Still, they return four players who averaged more than 20 minutes and two-thirds of their scoring. That doesn't scream fall off even while losing Jennings.

NOTRE DAME

Record: 27-7

Finish: Lost in second round of NCAA to Florida St.

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Zero  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Ben Hansbrough: 25.0%

Tim Abromaitis: 21.1%

Ty Nash: 21.3%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 21.0% (15.7 of 75)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 1/5

Analysis: Carleton Scott returning would have been the lone ray of hope for the Irish. With his choice to go pro, the Irish are in full-on rebuilding mode. It's been since pre-Luke Harangody this program saw such a lack of talent on the roster.

PITTSBURGH

Record: 28-6

Finish: Lost to Butler in second round NCAA

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Ashton Gibbs, senior: 21.0%

Nasir Robinson, senior: 21.9%

JJ Moore, sophomore: 24.6%  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Brad Wanamaker: 23.8%

Gilbert Brown: 21.0%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 59.1% (43.7 of 74)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 3/3

Analysis: Ashton Gibbs' apparent reversal and decision to stay was a game-changer for Pittsburgh's hopes next year. If he'd have joined Wanamaker and Brown, the Panthers would have gone from losing 59 percent of the scoring to 36 percent. The combination of Robinson and Gibbs will be enough to keep Pitt among the league elite.

PROVIDENCE

Record: 15-17

Finish: No postseason

No. of players used in at least 20 percent of possessions returning:

Vincent Council, junior: 20.5%  

No. players 20 percent possession lost: 

Marshon Brooks: 29.7%

Percentage of total points scored returning: 65.7% (49.9 of 76)

Players averaging 20+ minutes returning/leaving: 4/1

Analysis: Four 20+ minute players returning looks nice on paper, until you realize the one is Marshon Brooks, who single-handedly kept Providence in games last year. Even losing Brooks, they return about two-thirds of their scoring, but without any defensive improvement it could be another long season for the Friars.

Bearcats Breakfast 5.6.11

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I hope everyone enjoyed a slight reprieve from the Breakfast yesterday, instead subbing in the feature on Nic Spence. If you didn't read it, you are a disappointment and ill-fitted to attack the day. All that can be erased by going to it here.

An extra day gives a few more Breakfast items to get to, some of which are already more than a day old, so I'll jump right in.

Let's eat..

--- Don't worry, Dan Hoard isn't going anywhere. The Voice will be adding the Bengals radio duties to his resume as he takes over for Brad Johansen.

Personally, I think Brad is one of the best in the business and it's unfortunate somebody great has to lose a job for somebody great to gain one. That said, any Bearcats fan can attest to Dan being the most deserving guy in the country for the gig. The fact he isn't leaving UC makes the move even better for those of us following UC.

Actually, we'll probably see more of Dan than previously. The job allows his family to move back to Cincinnati and he'll be spending more of his time in the city and accessible for mid-week interviews, etc, instead of constantly racking up Delta miles. 

When reached for comment Delta would only allow they are disappointed for the loss and scrambling to find ways to resecure the income.

--- Staying along the lines of local media, the Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame will be holding its spring banquet and inducting nine into the HOF. Among those is Steve Logan.

It will occur Wednesday at Receptions in Fairfield. An individual ticket is $50. Here's the details.

More importantly, the event, emceed by George Vogel, will include guest speaker Charlie Coles. Anyone who follows this blog at all knows my affection for Charlie. I would pay to attend his press conferences after games. Hearing him put together an act for an event like this makes me want to drop all plans to attend. You won't want to miss it.

--- Filed under "interesting but essentially irrelevent," new signee Cheikh Mbodj ranks 8th in the class of 2011 by JuCorecruiting.com which asserts itself as the No. 1 spot for the highly sought after juco recruit rankings. They also rank God's Gift Achiuwa No. 24, hurting their credibility.

--- Brian Bennett on top of the game as always talking about the Big East TV deal. Expansion means little on the priority list compared to inking a lucrative television contract on par with the other BCS schools. The numbers shortfall of the current deal is alarming.

--- The Bearcats have done a better job than every school but one (Utah) this century of turning lower recruiting classes into NFL caliber players, this according to collegefootballmatrix.  

We could call this the Brian Kelly corollary. Kelly made a living of recruiting guys off the radar, knowing he could find a way to help them rise to the next level. Say what ever you chose about Kelly, he could turn coal to gold on the football field. A number of former Bearcats collecting NFL paychecks (or at least will be at some point in the near future) owe their cashflow to him.  

--- Taking Gus Johnson away from the NCAA tournament is like taking One Shining Moment away from the National Championshp Game. It will still be intriguing, but not nearly what we all know it can be.

A sad day for CBS if they never come to terms.

--- Gary Williams retirement came as a shock to most. Though, apparently the decision didn't come out of the blue for those close to him.

Bottom line, this restarts the coaching carousel. As I heard names like Jay Wright mentioned for this job, it made me think: Would a top-tier ACC job like Maryland be a step up from any school in the top 3/4 of the Big East?

The Terrapins have money to spend on a hoops coach, but name me one job not named Rutgers, DePaul, South Florida, Seton Hall or Providence you would leave and move to College Park, Md.

Unless a coach held a significant grudge against the arduous Big East schedule, battling a conference packed with Hall of Fame coaches and consistently recruiting the best players in the country makes it a no-brainer.

Money talks at the end of the day. So, backing the truck up to Wright's frontyard would probably be enough to find an Armani store in Maryland, but it won't be for competition or prestige.

--- Jamal Coombs-McDaniel drained a number of big shots for the Huskies during their title run. He has been granted his release after Jim Calhoun told him he wasn't going to play more and to take a hike. That's more good news for the Bearcats.  

-- Randomness...

--- The Home Alone house is for sale. I assume the paint cans attached to ropes are still in tact.

--- I would take a 81 mph slider to my back to prove a point, but not anytime soon.

--- Maybe he'll construct his own jail cell out of legos.

--- Hope everyone enjoys a prosperous Kentucky Derby weekend. Can't think of the Derby without thinking about absurd hats, C-list celebs and Secretariat. Here was Secretariats record-time victory in 1973.

Aussie rules baseball

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First baseman Nic Spence loves every minute of taking a game he played in near obscurity in his home country of Australia and lifting the Bearcats through the high-profile Big East grind in America. 

 

CINCINNATI - From scruffy beard to red and black striped socks, Nic Spence looks every bit the average University of Cincinnati baseball player.

 

Only, the second he yells a command from his first-base post to the rest of the infield, his unique background becomes more obvious than a high-and-tight fastball.

 

"Runnah!" Spence echoes across Marge Schott Stadium.

 

The alert doesn't sound awkward to Spence, a native of Australia, who moved to the United States three years ago to pursue a baseball career.

 

"I guess it's a little bit different than how you guys pronounce it," he said, allowing a knowing shrug.

 

His accented alert quickly became a catch phrase with the new teammates Spence met upon his first UC season since transferring from Central Arizona CC. It lasted about a week, then predictably, another of his unique accented phrases turned into a running gag around the Bearcats.

 

Spence expects jokes. Living on the opposite side of the world from his hometown, ribbing comes with the territory. Select phrases are lost in translation and he caught the first sight of snow in his life. Still, he's quick to point out his new home in Clifton looks more like his old home in the Southeast corner of the state of Victoria than most on this campus could ever know.

 

That is, except for the atmosphere surrounding the baseball field he now calls home.

 

There are no high school baseball teams in Australia. No parks packed with grade-schoolers filling the local knothole league on Saturday morning. No Major League Baseball broadcasts glowing the television on summer nights.

 

On the national sports radar, baseball falls somewhere into a jumble behind Aussie football, soccer and cricket. In fact, only seven players from the country currently play in the bigs.

 

For those reasons, just by starting for the Bearcats, Spence is defying the odds of his home country.

 

"He's got pretty good feel for the game for a guy whose probably not played the game as our guys have played as a young kid growing up," Bearcats coach Brian Cleary said. "He's got really good baseball instincts."

 

He built those baseball instincts living like a minor leaguer for most of his childhood. Without many local teams to play against -- even at the age of nine when Spence first started playing baseball -- his teams traveled an hour or more for nearly every game.

 

Spence spurned the more popular sports. They never fit. He wasn't quite interested in the running of soccer or physicality of Aussie football.

 

Much like the jokes he endures regarding his accent at UC, he took on the comments about playing an obscure sport in his home country in stride.

 

"All my mates were playing football and I am sort of the odd one out playing baseball," Spence said. "As much as they give you a hard time about it, it's also tongue and cheek because people knew I loved baseball a lot and had an opportunity to come over here."

 

His opportunity came with a blueprint.  

 

Nic's brother Josh, 23, is two years older and first left Australia to attend Central Arizona CC. Josh latched on at Arizona State after two years of junior college. Two years after that he joined the San Diego Padres, where he currently owns a 2.38 ERA at Double-A San Antonio.

 

Watching Josh prove his baseball success in Australia translated favorably to baseball success in America provided a security and confidence to make leaving home less daunting.

 

Actually, for Nic, it was a no-brainer.

 

"It made the process easier, the fact he's in the same steps," Spence said. "I always wanted to play baseball, so my junior/senior year, I knew I wanted to come over to play. It was made easier the fact that Josh was playing at Arizona State and I was 40 minutes down the road at a junior college."

 

Two years into his junior college experience, Arizona State coach Pat Murphy placed a call to Cleary, who he coached with at Notre Dame. He wanted to relay word about a player he thought would be a nice fit for the Bearcats.

 

The concept of taking on a player who didn't own the same exposure to the game in his youth didn't subdue Cleary's excitement about the potential match. Cleary spent a stint as a pitching coach for the British National team, which was comprised of many Australian players. Not as many players take part in the game down under, but those that do played it well in Cleary's estimation.

 

"I wasn't as concerned about that," Cleary said. "We had gotten so many positive responses doing research and digging on what kind of kid he is. Will he work? Will he compete? As you do that you rarely get a unanimous response when everyone says this guy is the makeup of what you are looking for. But in this case it was."

 

Spence struggled with the bat early in the season, seeing his average hang consistently below .200. Cleary connected most of the struggles to adjusting to the speed of Division I baseball. Spence's unique background required unique solutions.  

 

"In having a conversation with him, he really did some things that you say, 'Man, that's really unorthodox, how did you ever learn that?'" Cleary said. "And in talking to him he says that's how you swing a cricket - I don't even know what - paddle? You sit there and say 'OK, that makes some sense.'"

 

Of late, Spence put down the cricket, uh, paddle, and picked up the whooping stick. He entered Wednesday on a seven-game hitting streak where he's hitting .393 including a 4 of 5 performance Tuesday against Otterbein. Actually, over the past month he's hitting .317 with 20 hits in 63 at bats.

 

His offensive numbers serve as icing on the cake that is his defense. He's started every game because Cleary wouldn't dare take his glove out of the lineup.

 

"I say all the time, there is nobody who is a good enough defender to warrant not giving you some offense," Cleary said. "But he might be the exception to that rule. I can't tell you how many outs and runs he's saved."

 

Spence established himself as a central figure of the program for the next two years. Beyond that, he hopes to establish himself as a central figure in this remarkably baseball-crazed side of the world.

 

"It's a dream to go play pro baseball, but I know that's not for everyone," Spence said. "I'd love to stay over here in America. I love it a lot over here. Whether I could coach or something, you play baseball for so long you learn so much, you want to give that back to kids who are going through the same process you are going through would be pretty cool."

 

Going back to his home country and adding to the slowly growing number of coaches and players in Australia is also an option. But, for now, he's squarely focused on keeping the Bearcats near the top of the Big East and among the eight teams to advance to this year's conference tournament.

 

"I think his strength is how he attacks the game and how he handles himself," Cleary said. "I think he's great and, you know, he brings the accent."

The CFA College Football Advantage

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There is a work stoppage in the NFL and ironically in my life too. Unlike the NFL and the players my position was eliminated at the hotel I worked for and it was a total surprise. Life moves on and so will the game of football, even if the NFL doesn't resolve its billionaire versus millionaire fight.

So it's a great time for college football to market itself even more aggressively during this time. People are already wondering if there will be pro-football and their love jones for the game is calling. College football can answer the call by reminding football fans they have no strikes, plenty of games and future stars en masse. Advertisers may be nervous about capitalizing on that core audience and you can come to their rescue.

If you love football, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and a few other conferences will give you the fix you need. You will see hard hits, great athleticism and late game heroics that keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Now I admit it won't be to scale but high level college football is a great place to land in the event of a strike and the ticket prices are less of an impact on the budget as well. You can actually pick up the tab for the day including parking and food.

So as the NFL owners cry broke but won't open books; and the players cry foul and won't bend, college football run a blitz on the fans and advertisers. The NFL doesn't have a defense to stop that...at least right now.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 5.4.11

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Not a great night for Cincinnati baseball. The Reds slept through another home loss and the Bearcats didn't play well in a loss to Otterbein.

Here was Brian Cleary's reaction to the 6-4 loss on Twitter:

"Certainly disappointed in our result and our performance. Outplayed in every part of game. Congrats to Otterbein on a well played game."

That about says it. Soon to be Bearcats Beat Cover Boy Nic Spence enjoyed a big night as his offensive upswing continued with a 4 for 5 night. Beyond that, not much went well at Marge Schott Stadium. The good news is the Cats have a chance to rebound tonight against Wright State.

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch posted a blog on the 2012 draft prospects for UC's players. I won't rehash his list, here's the blog.

Bill rightly places DT Derek Wolfe and RB Isaiah Pead as the most likely candidates for a selection.

In fact, both are listed among Mel Kiper's Top 5 at their position for returning seniors next season. (Insider)

Here's the RB list in case you don't give money to the WWL.

1. LaMichael James, Oregon

2. Dan Herron, Ohio State

3. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

4. Doug Martin, Boise State

5. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss.

Here's the defensive tackles list:

1. Jared Crick, Nebraska

2. Mike Martin, Michigan

3. Mike Daniels, Mizzou

4. Jaye Howard, Florida

5. Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati

Being on the list represents an achievement and an ode to the performances of both Pead and Wolfe to this point in their career. Certainly, neither guarantees a spot in next year's draft. Unfortunately, Armon Binns was on the same list last year and wasn't able to find his way onto the draft. That's not a knock on Binns in the least, only pointing out how much the board changes over the course of one season.

I fully expect Derek Wolfe to be the best defensive lineman in the Big East. I've said it here recently and will say it again, combine his raw talent, physical superiority, senior season urgency and talent around him  and he's set up perfectly to break out.

The same opportunity exists for Isaiah Pead. A full, healthy season and increased execution of the offense as a whole could allow his stats to skyrocket. Bottom line, I can't imagine his speed and game-breaking ability not ending up in somebody's draft plans.

As proven by Cam Newton and Nick Fairley -- did you know those two this time last year? -- so much can happen between now and then.

--- Kentucky players held an NBA combine for the scouts to see their four draft eligible players work out. With the early entry deadline already tight and soon to be tighter, I'd look for more and more schools to institute this pro day concept.

It might not happen at UC where there haven't been many early entrys -- sans Lance Stephenson -- and likely won't be many in mass quantity in the immediate future. For the one-and-done factories like UNC, Duke, Kansas, UK, etc., this makes sense.

--- Among the players into the final hour of their decisions right now is Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs. Bearcats fans certainly would love to see Gibbs go pro, but having to make snap decisions on one of the toughest spots in their young life seems incredibly unfair.

--- The PAC-12 signed a mega-deal with ESPN and Fox worth $3 billion. The Big East is reportedly amid negotiations with ESPN on a new TV deal. How much they garner will go a long way toward fulfulling a few luxuries both the basketball and football program are after.

--- Some randomness...

--- There are many reasons I wish I had more hair: avoiding skullburn, shaking off water in the pool, general attractiveness. Shaving three-syllable words into my head is not among them.

--- Wasn't watching Heat-Celts at the time, but my Twitter had a mini-explosion when this move happened. D-Wade embarrassing KG.

--- This is the ideal result for everytime an idiot fan runs on the field -- outside of being Tased.

--- Let Derrick Rose's emotional speech accepting the MVP and thanking his mother remind you that Sunday is Mother's Day and you have a long way to go if you plan to give a better gift than Rose's.  

NEW BEARCAT CAN THROW DOWN (AND OUT)

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In addition to throwing defensive lineman around, incoming freshman tackle Justin Murray of Sycamore High School has a couple of other talents.

The current Aviator senior is an Ohio state Division I contender in the shot put and the discus, where he currently leads the Greater Miami Conference. Beyond that, he leads the city in the shot and is second in the disc.

Last year, he finished sixth at the state meet in Columbus in the shot put with a throw of over 52'. This season, he's chucked the 12-pound ball of steel 57'11.5" and hurled the discus 163'11".

While there are other worthy throwers in the GMC, it's pretty much Justin and all of the rest.

Clearly, shot put is his best event, but he'd liked to improve his discus distance for a chance at double honors at the state meet.

"Last year in the disc I made it to regional," Murray said. "I didn't do too well. I fouled out on the last two throws."

At 6-5 and 255 pounds, Murray has more sheer strength than most, but insists it's not all about the bulk.

Thumbnail image for DSC_0270.jpg


"You have to have a lot of technique," Murray said. "People usually think it's a lot about strength, but it's really not. Strength is only about half of it. At the front of the ring, it's all about your legs and having the torque. You get your legs down and use them to push off of."

Because of track, Murray wasn't able to see much of UC's spring football action. When you're one of the leading scorers on a top-ranked team, the coach is hesitant to give you a meet off.

"I was actually at a track meet on the Saturday of the spring game," Murray said. "I was up in Mansfield, about three hours away, so I couldn't get to that."

He will be joining the Bearcats soon. The state track meet is June 3-4. If everything works out, Murray will switch his high school green and gold to UC red and black two weeks later.

"I report the 18th of  June," Murray said. "I think I'll be doing everything with the football team and  I'm going to be taking two classes as well. I'm looking forward to it."

While he wouldn't rule out a chance to throw shot and discus in college, his focus will be on football and adding the strength and pounds necessary to create holes in the Big East.


"I need to get bigger," Murray said. "Once I do that, I'll be alright."

In the meantime, Murray continues to leave some serious divots at local high school throwing pits with his mighty heaves.

Bearcats Breakfast 5.3.11

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Yesterday I spent some time on campus talking with UC's Australian first baseman Nic Spence for a feature that will be posted later this week. I also was able to catch up with manager Brian Cleary to talk about Spence and how the team's been playing to this point. Little known fact about the Cleary, he was a pitching coach for the British National Team in 2007. Turns out, in a country where finding a youth baseball league is harder than finding a democrat on 700WLW, the team was more of a barnstorming collection of baseball-playing gypsys than anything else.

The entire concept of the team he coached in 2007 reminded me of the kicker from the movie The Replacements. Turns out, they finished in second place in the European Baseball Championships in a Miracle on Ice type of run. Had they won the championship game, this interesting collection of players -- many with other jobs -- would have been headed to Beijing for the Olympics. They lost in the championship, but still earned Britain's first spot in the World Cup of baseball since 1938. Had Aroldis Chapman not defected a month before it opened in 2009, they'd been facing him for the Cuban national team, to give you an idea of the competition level.

Anyway, if you ever see Coach Cleary around and want to strike up an interesting conversation, ask him about his British National Team experience. And you'll want to block off an hour or two. Great stuff. 

Let's eat...

--- It's no secret the rise of UC's football image of the past five years surged recruiting. According to collegefootballmatrix.com, their rise in average recruiting class ranking over the last 10 years far outweighs any other program in the country. Nobody has raised the talent level on campus to the point of UC.

Here's the list.

This probably speaks more to how bad the recruiting rankings were prior to the football renaissance of the last decade than how elite they are now. Nonetheless, pretty impressive when looking at the numbers.

--- Brian Bennett looks at the numbers behind the Big East draft class. Looking at draftees per school, they finished in the middle of the BCS conferences. The biggest detriment to this class was the lack of elite draft picks.

--- Spring soccer recap with soccer coach Hylton Dayes. A Tommy G Joint.

--- Not going to fake it folks, not a ton of UC stuff going on right now. The baseball team hosts Otterbein tonight at MSS and Wright State tomorrow. As I mentioned, I'll have a Nic Spence feature I'm excited about later in the week. And of course, Breakfasts every morning.

--- On to some randomness... 

--- A.J. Green used his new NFL status and coinciding paycheck to purchase a car. A black Porsche Panamara 4S. Here it is. Over/Under on four months until he's busted for speeding?

--- Learning more and more about the story of how the US tracked down Osama bin Laden is incredible. Navy SEAL Team Six, I can't wait to meet you.

--- Reason No. 4,382,301 why I no longer work for newspapers.

--- I've started to warm up to Justin Bieber the last few months. He's been self-depricating and amping up his street cred. That said, I'd still like to throw eggs at him on stage.

--- A 1986 interview with Beastie Boys. Hearing them talk about Licensed to Ill before it came out reminds me of just how much it changed the energy of music back then.

--- Tweet of the night: From FoxSportsOhio's Zac Jackson on the NBA Playoffs:

ABC has announced the Grizzlies-Hawks playoffs will be seen on TruTv.     

--- Huge night for national anthems, but I will always be partial to Jim Cornielson. You probably remember Jim from the Bears playoff games and the Blackhawks Cup run last year. Well, the one last night at the Bulls felt bigger than any of those. The guy is a pro.

 

Bearcats Breakfast 5.2.11

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I won't wax poetic about the events of last night. I'll let the news people do the news thing. Plus, Mo Egger already got the job done this morning.

However, I do send out thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims of 9/11 and all those troops whose lives were lost in pursuit of last night's accomplished goal. Incredible courage and bravery. Proud to be an American.

Let's eat...

--- Congratulations to Jason Kelce, who joins the Bearcats factory in Philadelphia. Kelce ended up being selected in the 6th round, No. 191 overall.

PhiladelphiaEagles.com writes about an expectation of repeating the success of former Bearcats Trent Cole and Brent Celek, who currently star for Philly.

Cole was a fifth-round draft pick along with Celek. Kelce went a round later, but has the potential to step in and make a similiar impact. Mike McGlynn is listed as the starter and Nick Cole the backup currently for the Eagles, but Kelce brings a different philosophy. In fact, size-wise, the pick is surprising from Andy Reid and the Eagles. They've made a habit of drafting monsters up front. 

Here's their front five including the backup center:

C McGlynn - 315, C Cole 339, G Todd Herremanns 321, T Jason Peters 328, G Max-Jean Giles 358, T Winston Justice 320.

Kelce at about 295 pounds comes in as the quickest lineman in the draft, not exactly fitting the ogre mold of the Eagles. Perhaps that gives him an advantage and role he could fulfill nobody else could. We shall see, but Kelce certainly will be given an opportunity to flourish in Philly. He only needs to consult two of his teammates to know that. Look forward to seeing his development there.

--- The unfortunate flip-side to the draft was Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton not being selected. Binns sent out this tweet not long after the draft ended:

"This has been the hardest day of my life, my faith is definately bein tested. But I kno God has a plan 4 me so Ima keep fightin"

Feel for Binns, great guy who hoped to hear his name called. I can only imagine watching that final round was excruciating for him.

That said, Adam Schefter broke out an eye-opening stat that should serve as hope for Binns: 23 undrafted free agents were in last year's Pro Bowl. That's not ever, that's last year alone. To think that not being drafted dooms any chance of an NFL career is lunacy.

Here's a list of the top 25 undrafted players of all time from NFL.com. The list includes Kurt Warner, Warren Moon, John Randle, Jeff Saturday, Nate Newton, Brian Waters and Tony Romo.

--- The same message goes out to Vidal Hazelton. He can't seem to catch a break, though, as I've mentioned here before, going undrafted might be a best-case scenario for Hazelton. He now can choose where he thinks would be the best fit for him. He's a huge Falcons fan and despite the drafting of Julio Jones, the Falcons are clearly looking for playmaking options at wide receiver. Sure feels like a nice fit from this seat.

--- Rutgers was the only Big East school without a player drafted. Pitt led the way with five, WVU and UConn each saw four players selected.

Brian Bennett allowed his thoughts on the Big East.

--- Interesting news out of N.C. State. The school released QB Russell Wilson from his scholarship per the quarterback's request.

Remember, UC hosts the Wolfpack in primetime at Nippert Stadium. Wilson terrorized UC last season in a game the Bearcats lost in Carolina, 30-19. Here's his season stats

His stat line that night: 26 of 40 for 333 yards, 3 TDs, no interceptions, for a 159.9 QB rating. Coach Tom O'Brien loves Mike Glennon, who reportedly took over the starting spot while Wilson played baseball in the Rockies system this spring.  

Even so, avenging the defeat feels much more feasible for the Bearcats today.   

--- I mentioned this on Friday, but here is more on Xavier signing 7-foot-5, 339-pound behemoth Sim Bhullar. (W/ video)

--- Some randomness...

--- Disturbing but well done piece on ESPN Outside the Lines this weekend about adults gambling on youth football games in South Florida. Crazy.

--- Community begins its two-part paintball extravaganza season finale. Bringing back the paintball episode, one of the great single episodes on TV in the last few years, should be fantastic.    

--- Even the Village People can't trust the police.

--- Here's the breakdown of how exactly how the attack on Osama bin Laden was executed. Can't wait to hear the story these guys tell.