Since Big East media day there hasn't been much buzz about the upcoming season. Discussions about what Skylar Diggins' production will be has surfaced on the web, but no real substance or any developing stories have come up.
So instead of searching for the story that isn't there, why not get the thoughts of head coach Jamelle Elliott on some of the early headlines in the Big East. From her thoughts on expansion to UCONN being chosen second in the preseason poll, Elliott shares her answers.
1. What was your reaction when you heard that Notre Dame was picked over UCONN for the preseason Big East Championship?
"I think it's well deserved for Notre Dame to be picked number one. They beat UCONN in the national semifinal game last year and went on to the national championship for one. Number two is you look at who UCONN lost, Maya Moore, being one of them and the main one. Then you look at who Notre Dame lost, I think UCONN lost a lot more production from a scoring stand point and a leadership standpoint then Notre Dame did. Rightfully so, Notre Dame deserves to be number one. But it doesn't matter where your picked to start off it only matters where you end up."
2. Would you compare Skylar Diggins' game to that of Maya Moore when she had so much success at UCONN and was the best player in the Big East?
"I think she's a great talent. I think she can be mentioned in the same breath as Tina Charles and Maya Moore and whoever else has won player of the year. I think she's proven that on the court, she's a point guard, she handles the ball a lot, she's a great shooter, she gets to the basket, she's left-handed, so I think her being picked player of the year is well deserved."
3. The Bearcats have been picked 15th in the preseason for the second straight season. Why do you think your team is having so much trouble rising in the preseason polls?
"I don't know. I think they probably looked at the fact that we lost 16 points a game with Shareese Ulis as a senior, who was our leading scorer. Our second leading scorer was only at seven or eight points a game, so I'm sure they looked at that. The fact that we are young, we have eight or nine freshmen or sophomores, so with that being said I think they probably just figured that with us losing so many point outputs and us being so young that their opinions were to put us there. But, again it doesn't matter where you started it matters where you end up. Obviously I've used that as a little bit of a motivator for our team and I don't think our team is practicing like the 15th best team in the league."
4. What kind of reactions do you have when your team doesn't have any players nominated to all-conference teams during the preseason?
"We're in a strong conference. We have 16 teams in our conference and only 10 players are picked and a couple honorable mention on the first team, so that just goes to show you how many great players we have in our conference. Obviously my better players are young, freshmen and sophomores, so we're just kind of making our mark now and I think hopefully in the future we'll get the recognition from individual players for the conference, but if we don't, we don't. I'm more concerned with how we finish as a team."
"My reaction to that is that it is well deserved. He's the best coach in the country. I played for him and I worked for him for a number of years and he's obviously proven that he's a winner and he's doing things the right way. I think it's a great thing that the Wooden people are recognizing him as the coach of the year and I think it's well deserved."
6. We obviously don't know where UC fits in regrading expansion. What have you heard and what are your thoughts about this whole process because it does affect your program?
"I don't have an ideal situation I just trust President Williams and Whit Babcock to keep us in the loop of what's going on. I believe they are going to put Cincinnati in the best position possible so that we are in a good place moving forward. My only comment on it is that I'll just be glad when it's settled so we know who is in our conference, who we are playing, so we can go out and recruit knowing who our conference is made of. I'm going to leave that to my AD and my President who do a good job of keeping me informed.
Happy Halloween. The one day a year it is perfectly OK, in fact encouraged, to scare the cute out of little kids. Make sure you take advantage.
When you trekked through the neighborhood as a kid, did you avoid the houses set up to scare? Of did you go right for them? You know the house...the lights flashing on the outside, screams heard from two blocks away, rumors circling among every group you pass on the street.
I often wondered about the redeeming qualities of the lives of those who took the time to turn their garage into a real life morgue maze, but they were fun that night.
Hopefully all of you with kids find those houses tonight. And hopefully the kids don't return in tears.
Quick Halloween no-no: Don't put the bucket out front and leave it. Writing the sign that says "Just Take One" is even worse. Kids won't just take one. The one rebel will take everything. It's more inevitable than the fact he'll probably egg your house in two years.
Consider now three teams are a game behind UC in the loss column, that's Louisville (who UC already beat), Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Should UC find a way to win the next two weeks, they would not only be 4-0 in the Big East, but own what amounts to a 3-game lead with three to play considering head-to-head tiebreakers. (This if Louisville loses at WVU Saturday).
Point being, if there were two weeks for this team to be playing its best football, these are it.
--- Stat that makes Derek Wolfe drool: Pittsburgh is the worst
team in the FBS in sacks allowed. They have given up 36 -- that includes
12 in three conference games. UC has given up 10 sacks all season.
Even further, you can take this to the bank -- if you can't protect the
quarterback, this defense will make it a long day. If you can, the
Bearcats can be made to look like the 2010 unit.
Here are the breakdowns of most points scored against UC by FBS
opponents this year. With that is the national ranking in sacks allowed
by the opponent, sacks by UC and passing yards racked up against that day.
--- The trend is pretty clear. As we've said all year, pressuring the
quarterback masks the youth in the secondary and allows them to be the
opportunistic, turnover-driven unit they have been much of the year.
But, when the QB has time to throw, the coverage has trouble holding.
--- Only five touchdowns were scored on them in four games against teams
that don't protect the passer well. One of those was a defensive TD by
the Cardinals, two came in garbage time by the Zips. That makes for two
legit touchdowns against this defense by teams that can't protect the
This defensive line will punish the weak.
--- Again, I repeat, Pittsburgh ranks dead last in the FBS in sacks allowed this season.
--- The Bearcats head to Pittsburgh to face the most battered team in the conference. At least, after losing three offensive starters for the season in the UConn game, they are.
Obviously, the loss of Ray Graham leaves the Panthers reeling. Consider the stats of backup Zach Brown in comparison.
In the three games Brown received any substantial workload (more than eight carries), he rushed 36 times for 107 yards. That's 3.0 yards per carry.
And, oh yeah, Graham averaged 5.8 yards per rush.
If you've been paying attention, you don't need myself or number-crunching to know Pitt will be hindered without their star back. --- The Panthers say they have not forgotten the last time these two teams met at Heinz Field. Bearcats fans will never, ever, ever forget the last time these two teams met at Heinz Field.
--- Andrea Adelson talks about what we learned in the Big East this weekend with talk about the formation of the championship picture and Pittsburgh surviving without Graham. --- Turnover margin update: At plus-1.86 per game, UC ranks third nationally behind LSU and Oklahoma State. In case you forgot, they ranked 119th last season.
Pittsburgh ranks 110th in the category at minus-0.88 per game. They only have seven takeaways this season. UC has 23.
--- I didn't get a chance to mention this Friday, but UC football landed in the Top 10 in graduation rate among BCS schools at 79 percent. You have to love the well-rounded nature of the program at this point. On and off the field, the change and accomplishments are becoming difficult to ignore.
--- They are bringing back afresh version of In Living Color this spring. New cast, but if they can produce anything close the product of the original we'll all be winners. Remember, that show launched Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, Tommy Davidson and David Allen Grier.
Unfortunately, it also launched Shawn and Marlon Wayans and, consequently, all those Scary Movie bombs that ruined evenings and stole money from customers for years. So, there are pros and cons. --- This next link is sponsored by DontEverGoToTheEverglades.com. A 16-foot python was caught after consuming a 76-pound deer.
--- This is how I like to imagine everyday activities go for Ray Lewis. --- Jeff Neumann asks if 2011was baseball's greatest season. In a historical contest it will be quickly forgotten because there were no dramatic record chases or monumental moments. But I might put it in the running for greatest postseason, counting the final day of the regular season.
--- Because I am contractually obligated to post this video whenever relevant -- this will be UC's first trip back to Heinz Field since Armon Binns made the most memorable catch in UC history.
It was my honor earlier this week to be the MC for the annual Legion of Excellence gala on campus, where the University of Cincinnati honors its alums, supporters and student-athletes for their dedication and hard work to support and represent Bearcat athletics. You can read a preview of the event here but I especially hope you were among the 250 or so who attended the event.
Honorees include present student-athletes, all the way back to pitching great Sandy Koufax and the 1961 National Championship basketball team. All had amazing stories about their time at UC and why they were so loyal to the athletic program.
It was especially fun to see so many of the student-athletes in a setting other than how we usually see them, on the court or on the field. They certainly are a group for which the university can be proud now, and when they graduate and go out into the world.
So let's celebrate the young men and women who are Proudly Cincinnati on their Legion of Excellence awards:
Heading out to practice Wednesday evening in search of some bye week fodder, I wasn't able to talk to a few players I had in my mind for a story due to meetings, so I changed to scramble mode at the last second.
Once I was done with a couple quality interviews with Deven Drane and Kenbrell Thompkins, there was one player left in the bubble: Isaiah Pead.
Now, anybody who reads the blog here knows I talk to Pead after practice and games regularly. Probably too much. But the guy always lends a real, genuine perspective. Plus, his Kid-N-Play high fade haircut is rising to epic proportions. The thing is really filling in here, people. It's nearly surpassed Johnny Gill status.
However, the normally confident, positive Pead took on a different attitude when discussing the running game Saturday. USF did a better job containing Pead than any team this season.
Overall, the 3.47 yard per carry average was the worst for UC on the year. Pead's 3.6 yards per carry were half of his average the previous week against Louisville.
For him, this wasn't a matter of the Bulls playing great run defense or the holes not being there. He says this one was on him.
"I couldn't tell you what I was doing," Pead said. "You can
see it on film, it looks disgusting. I couldn't even finish watching the film.I made it to maybe the first couple plays of the
third quarter and I said, 'Man, I can't even see this.'"
Similar issues to those that dogged Pead in the first half of the Louisville game were to blame. He was looking too much for the big play instead of following his reads and focusing on hitting the correct gap.
Searching for the big play amounted to none of them. His long on the day was a 14-yarder. "I was just trying to do what is best for my
team instead of taking it back to what we are coached, what we are taught," Pead said. "The
runs were there, I was just looking at everything. My coach used to say, when you see
everything you seenothing. You got to
look at your read, what does your read tell you to do. That is what I was
doing. I was battling myself."
You got to hand it to Pead. The guy is accountable. Not a lot of college football players would take the fall for struggles in the running game like that -- especially in a winning effort. Pead did just that. More than confessing his wrongs to this reporter, he took ownership of it to his team.
"I made vows to myself that I would never play
like that again," Pead said. "I told the coach. I told the players. But we all had mistakes
and we are all here to fix it."
--- Speaking of Pitt, Tino Sunseri threw for over 400 yards last night. OK, go get your coffee, wash out your eyes, sit back down, read it again. Yes, that's right. Tino Sunseri, the guy from the University of Pittsburgh. The one who accumulated 38 yards against Utah. He threw for 419 yards last night against UConn. Here's video evidence, which I expected to be hazy and out of focus and through trees like a Big Foot sighting film.
Over the last two games he was a combined 18 of 39 for 165 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Then, he morphed into Dan Marino against the Huskies to go 29 of 42 for 419 and three touchdowns without a pick.
Should we bronze the right arm of Sunseri right now or look deeper? Let's look deeper.
The Huskies have now allowed more than 400 yards passing in three of the last four games. The 433 yards racked up through the air by Pittsburgh was only the third-highest total gained against UConn. Western Michigan (!) passed for 479 yards and West Virginia passed for 469 yards. Yikes. --- The bigger news to come out of the game was the injury to Pitt star running back Ray Graham. He hurt his knee and it didn't look pretty. He's undergoing further evaluation today, but judging by what we saw last night there is almost no way he plays against UC.
Consider this, only four RBs at BCS schools have received more carries than Graham this year (164). He also leads Pitt in receptions. He owns the fifth most yards from scrimmage of any player in the country at 145.5 a game. Just a devastating loss for the Panthers from any angle. --- Another day another change in the outlook of the conference realignment story. Just when you thought West Virginia was bound for the Big 12, word surfaces that Louisville made a late push and now the entire process is on hold again.
Until the presidents are at the podium shaking hands with the commissioners, nothing is for sure at this point. What is obvious is that Louisville and West Virginia are both standing on the edge of the boat begging for the Big 12 to make room in their life raft. How much room there will be, if any, or if friends are allowed join, is anybody's guess. Plus, politicians are now involved, so it's about to get ugly. Or we may see a sex scandal thrown into it.
The Bearcats have been relying on solid recruiting to improve their win, loss record and finish higher in the Big East. Head Coach Jamelle Elliott and the women's basketball squad has three freshmen that bring different attributes to floor, but share the same common goal: build a winning program.
Chelsea Jamison, Alyesha Lovett, and Talequia Hamilton are new to the team this season and are poised to help out in any way, shape and form. Each may play a different role this season, but they will always remain a unit that sticks together through adversity and triumph.
"Everybody is playing a role right now," Elliott said. "I think some of the freshmen's roles are bigger than others."
Lets meet the freshmen one by one featuring their specific skills that will aid the team's success this season.
Alyesha Lovett comes from Newark, N.J. and was ranked as the no. 71 player in the nation by ESPN Hoopgirlz. She is a proven winner. She was a key member of three straight state championship teams while in high school and was also named Lady Bulldog of the Year during one of her four seasons. She was Cincinnati's top recruit this offseason as she chose UC over other Big East programs such as PIttsburgh and Syracuse among others.
"I came here because I liked the team and the program that is building up," Lovett said. " That's what I wanted to do, help build up a program."
Lovett says that her strongest attribute is her shooting. A hopeful scorer off the bench this season, Lovett will be called on to use her shooting expertise in pivotal situations.
"I like to shoot," Lovett said. "I always look to drive and shoot and make a good play basically."
Elliott said that Lovett has been the most impressive freshman in practice thus far and will be playing a key role during this season. She has been able to grasp the system quicker than the other two girls according to Elliott.
"I think Aleysha Lovett is the one that has shown the most promise," Elliott said. "Just her natural, raw ability, talent and instincts."
Chelsea Jamison is from close by Indianapolis, Indiana and was a three-year varsity starter at her high school. One of her greatest achievements was scoring a school record 43 points. She also averaged a staggering 10.5 rebounds per game and that is the attribute she said she loves the most and hopes to bring to the floor for the Bearcats.
"My best attribute on the floor is I like to rebound," Jamison said. "In order to leave a legacy I think I would have to go game speed all the time and work harder to learn the system."
Jamison who has been improving in practices according to Elliott has just taken a step back. She is currently suffering from a concussion and is limited in workouts because of it. There is no time table for her return to full participation, but with weeks left on the calender before the start of the season there is ample time for her to regain her health and join her teammates in workouts.
"Chelsea was making some really good progress, but she just got a concussion about three or four days ago," Elliott said. "That has kind of set her back a little bit."
The Shot Blocker:
Talequia Hamilton reigns from Huntingon, W.Va. where she played at the same program as NBA star O.J. Mayo. She reached conference player of the year status her senior year and was named to first-team all state during the same season. Hamilton stressed that her shot blocking skills have always been a part of her game that was stellar. Not to mention her aspirations to be the next Candace Parker or Brittney Griner and dunk a basketball during her career.
"I think my biggest attribute would be shot blocking because I've always been good at that," Hamilton said. "I've always wanted to dunk as well, I'm a little ways off, but I think if I keep working hard it will happen."
Hamilton also gained high praise from her head coach. Elliott likes Hamilton's intensity in practice and believes that her play in practice makes everyone else on the team better. While she shows promise, Elliott did stress that she has a ways to go and has not made the starting rotation yet in practice.
"She's probably one of our best, if not our best practice player," Elliott said. "It's really hard to score against her and she's really hard to guard when she's playing on that other team in practice."
The team opens exhibition play a week from Saturday when the Bearcats take on Northern Kentucky at Fifth Third Arena.
Two weeks ago, I was able to sit down for a long conversation with UC
hoops coach Mick Cronin. You may have heard of him. He's coming off his
signature season running the program where the team went 26-9, 11-7,
made the NCAA tournament and lost in the second round to eventual
national champ UConn. The rebuilding portion of his massive project
appears to be on the downward side of the mountain as he enters Year
Six. The new job of holding a sustainable winning model began Thursday
with the team's first practice.
Before starting that, however,
we touched on anything and everything UC basketball. We discussed the
always galvanizing topic of the non-conference schedule, the games he
tried to get and the games he thinks are close. Also, he estimated how
much closer he is sitting to the cool kids table in recruiting. From
there topics ranged from season ticket prices to the importance of his
new contract to why Doug Gottlieb has no idea what he's talking about.
And, of course, we discussed the important pieces of this year's team
and what could curtail them from meeting lofty expectations.
The 2011-12 Bearcats appear set up for success more than any squad in the Mick Cronin era and you could argue any squad even since the senior season of Steve Logan.
UC returns its top four scorers from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. The two top scorers in Yancy Gates (11.9) and Dion Dixon (11.6) are both seniors. Gates averaged 16 and 8 during the final eight games of last season when he drove the Bearcats into the NCAA tournament.
Without doubt, Gates will be the driving force behind this team.
The biggest question entering this year is can we expect to see the
Gates of the final eight games of last season for all 30-plus this year?
This is Gates' final chance to deliver on the hype and have the season
everyone believes he can -- including NBA scouts.
"He's in a
great place," Cronin said. "The table is set for him. I think that he's a microcosm of our team.
He's improved each year and really played well down the stretch last year. We
both finally - I don't care about myself, talking about my team and him - have a chance of
getting the respect finally. They don't just give it to you. You got to do it
one year and, oh let's see, then you do it again the next year then everybody
believes it. And he knows it's his last chance. Being a senior you know it is
time to show what you are made of."
Gates' numbers rose by about a point and rebound per game from his
sophomore season last year. But because of his high-profile within the
city, the fans and those inside the program expect more. They expect the
man who dominated the final month of the season.
"He is no different
than so many guys who played here," Cronin said. "He is in a different era. He is in an era
that they want to see great freshman and sophomores. And everybody, it is a
national phenomenon in college athletics, especially basketball. It sells. It's
sexy and it sells. The truth is 90 percent of these kids need to improve and
get better every year."
Sean Kilpatrick returns after a season where he held the second-best offensive rating (112.4) on the team and 13th best in the entire Big East. His 9.7 points per game are a bit of a mirage, considering he only played 20 minutes a game. Mick Cronin has said Kilpatrick will likely play more around 30 minutes a game this year.
It's time to take the training wheels off.
thing was he was going 110 miles per hour because he is an attacker and your
strength is your weakness. He's an attacker, so the problem with him was at
times he didn't know when to not attack. When you are in a halfcourt Big East
game you can't attack off the entry pass against Pittsburgh. They are too well coached. They
are going to be sitting there and they are going to steal the ball from you.
You got to wait until the ball gets swung before you attack. You aren't able to
attack until you get ball reversal. Well, that was my fear at times last year
he was awesome and at times last year I couldn't play him. You are in games and
-- turnover, turnover -- you can't have it. You got to go with Rashad or Dion,
a veteran guy. So, I think his understanding of the game is much better. That
is going to be the important thing, his mental maturity, which improved all
year. The big thing for him is going to be his defense.
Ah, yes, defense. It was the staple of last year's team. UC ranked third in the conference in defensive efficiency. They wore teams down with the rotation of 10 players, all flying around the court in different pressure schemes.
Gone are role players and defensive specialists Rashad Bishop, Larry
Davis and Darnell Wilks, along with Biggie McClain and Ibrahima Thomas
Can that continue without the group of six defensive-oriented, role-playing seniors?
"That's the ticket," Cronin said. "It's possible."
The key will come on the perimeter between Kilpatrick, more of an offensive weapon, and Dixon.
Rashad, and (Kilpatrick) and Dion, it has already been explained to both of them, somebody
is going to have to guard somebody here," Cronin said. "We lost probably the best perimeter
defender in the Big East. Perimeter-wise, Rashad was clearly the best, he was
best defensive player I have ever coached from the perimeter standpoint. So, we
got a lot to replace in that."
New blood will take over on the interior surrounding Gates. Center Kelvin Gaines (6-10, 225 pounds) returns from a redshirt freshman
season and Cronin added JuCo transfer Cheikh Mbodj (6-10, 245), of
Senegal, to the middle to help fill the gap left by Thomas and McClain.
Gates was at his best last season when Thomas played well as his complement. With new players inside, can Yancy receive the assistance he needs in the post? Cronin was as resolute about that question as any he answered.
"Cheikh is the
hardest working kid I have had since I've been here," he said. "He and Kelvin Gaines. Both
of those guys are working their butts off.I am really
confident in our front line. Really confident."
Because Mbodj is a center from Senegal, some would assume he's the same type of player as Thomas. That's not the case.
"No, no, completely different," Cronin said. "More of an inside
player. We turned Ibrahima into an inside player late in his career."
Cashmere Wright underwent offseason knee surgery. He played much of last season with nagging knee injuries, but still was a spark and one of the better point guards in the Big East averaging 8.8 points and 3.9 assists per game with a 1.9 assist/turnover ratio.
Look back at some of the Bearcats biggest wins last season, those were when Wright played his best. Perhaps none was bigger than the home win against Louisville that flipped the momentum of the season. He poured in 20 points. The next road game at Providence he contributed his lone double-double of the season with 11 points with 11 assists. The win at Marquette that all but clinched the NCAA Tournament? Cash contributed 15 points and 5 assists.
He must be healthy for the Bearcats to reach their goals last year. That, more than ability or effort, is the question with Wright.
good, no swelling," Cronin said. "It's conditioning and workouts are a lot different than
everybody practice. He just needs to be mature about it the rest of his career.
Hopefully he is going to have a long career. He's got to learn how to take care
of his body."
Both Cronin and Wright are learning as they go along with the health issue. They are figuring out how to deal with his knees and if that means letting up a bit in practice, so be it. It's a fine line for both, but there will be an understanding as the season starts becoming a grind.
"We practice more than we play," Cronin said. "In basketball, you
got to make sure I don't' let him be a hero and just be smart about making
sure -- his knee may be fine and there may be no reason to be cautious, but we are
still going to be cautious. He knows how much he needs to practice to be sharp
and he knows he has to be in shape. At the same time, at the first sign of any
type of swelling or soreness, you just have to stay on top of things. It's maturity
level for him. If I turn around and he is on the bike, I know why."
A highly-touted freshman class of five arrived with high expectations. One of the top recruits, Shaq Thomas, will not play this season due to ineligibility issues. Jermaine Sanders (6-5, 225) leads the class as far as most likely to contribute, the Rice HS product was one of the best players in New York City last season. Joining him are G Ge'Lawn Guyn, G Jeremiah Davis and F Octavius Ellis.
"We know our goal right now is we have six new
guys and we have got to incorporate them into who we are," Cronin said. "Right now we are
spending a lot of time becoming a team. You have half these guys who have been through
a lot and we have all these new guys. So we spent all this time coming together
as a team because the storm is coming. Especially after Christmas. You got to
make sure you are ready to handle it because it is real in our league you are going
to lose a game. It is going to happen. You are going to have a tough week."
Thus exposes the biggest concern about this year's group. Can they handle success? They've never been ranked in the Top 25 preseason. They've never had people talking about them as a possible Big East champion. The goal was always to take the next step. With Gates and Dixon as seniors, the time is now. This is different than fighting the disrespect card all season. Teams will be gunning for the Bearcats and they will be expected to win big games.
"That's my concern," Cronin said. "The one new thing for these guys is handling success and expectations. We just
need to make sure we understand that stuff didn't matter last year. And it
doesn't matter this year. All that matters is what goes on between the lines.
That's all that matters."
Considering the road veterans like Gates (expecations), Dixon (WVU in BE tourney), Wright (ACL tear) and Kilpatrick (redshirt behind Lance Stephenson) have traveled to reach this point, Cronin believes their mental toughness shouldn't be in question. "My upperclassmen here, they have been through
the meat grinder. And I don't begrudge anybody.
The hardest thing for a fan base is to have their program ripped away from
That's just a fact, I am not blaming anybody, but that's what happened. I think
all parties were at fault. And I'll tell them all to their face and one of them
I dearly love. But at the end of the day the suffering party were the fans.
When you have your program ripped away from you and you are told it's going to
take five years to recover, that sounds good, but after about two years you
don't want to hear that anymore. That is reality. I don't blame anybody. These
kids, though, went through that. They lived through all that. Because of that,
they were forced to stick together. They've gotten A-pluses on staying focused."
I have exciting news for Mick Cronin:I've found him a big man recruit.
OK, there's a catch - Mick is going to have to wait 18 years to sign him, but Jason Maxiell is about to become a dad in the next few weeks and he's already referring to his unborn son as a "future Bearcat."
"Yes I am," Maxiell told me with a grin."I am on eBay every-other-night looking for baby stuff with a UC logo on it."
On Wednesday night, Maxiell will be inducted into UC's James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame as part of a stellar class than includes baseball legend Sandy Koufax, Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Jonathan Ruffin, UC swimming and diving coach Monty Hopkins, and the 1960-61 national championship basketball team.
Maxiell learned about the honor in a phone call from Mick Cronin, who did much of the legwork in recruiting him to Cincinnati as an assistant under Bob Huggins.
"Mick did most of the flying to Dallas to come and see me - it was pretty much all Mick," said Maxiell."Just to see him now in the role of head coach as I get picked for the UC Hall of Fame - it's an accomplishment for both of us."
Maxiell is certainly deserving of his Hall of Fame induction as he ranks 12th on Cincinnati's career scoring list and 3rd in blocked shots.He also earned his degree before being selected in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
"UC made me more outgoing and more responsible," said Maxiell."I came to Cincinnati as a shy guy and playing under Huggs broke my shell."
Assuming the NBA lockout eventually ends, Maxiell will be entering his seventh year with the Pistons.He has two years remaining on a 4-year, $20 million contract.
"It seems like it's flown by," Jason told me."I wish I could slow it down a little bit so I could get to the point where my son-to-be could see me play."
He and his wife Brandi plan to name their son Jason II and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he grew up to be a Bearcat.Jason is a proud supporter of his Alma mater and was thrilled when Coach Cronin led UC back to the NCAA Tournament last year.
"Now I can go in the Pistons locker room and brag about the Bearcats again," said Maxiell."That was my top priority.As soon as they beat certain ranked teams, I was in the locker room plastering things all over the place."
Hate to start the Breakfast off with bad news, but unfortunately that will be the case today. CB Dominique Battle, who recovered from an ACL injury last season to become a core part of the defense's turnaround this year has torn his ACL again.
I wrote this piece during camp about Battle's humbling rehab and his excitement to be back on the field again. The only good news in all of this was that Battle was granted a redshirt last season, so he will be a senior next year and can hopefully play a full year healthy without any injuries.
He had two interceptions, including one taken back for a touchdown, and a forced fumble this year. I always like talking to Battle, he's intelligent and thoughtful with his answers and never afraid to be honest. And he's just a good kid. Always wish the best for him.
Sophomore Deven Drane will take over Battle's spot. The two have been in competition for playing time all season. Drane came up with a big interception Saturday and UC hopes there will not be much of a dropoff with the injury.
--- UC held the introductory press conference for new AD Whit Babcock yesterday. It went off well and you get the feeling his fresh perspective will energize the department and the base.
Three observations stuck out in my head after:
1) A full row of Babcock's co-workers from the University of Missouri, including his boss, AD Mike Alden, made the trip to Cincinnati to be present at his press conference. If that doesn't tell the story of why President Gregory Williams hired Babcock, I don't know what does.
2) Babcock's unique view of realignment coming from Missouri's perspective will be an enormous help in making the correct decisions regarding conference expansion. He had this to say about the Big East, which I thought was forthcoming and hit the nail on the head:
"Trust and stability," he said. "Right now, I don't know
that the Big East has either. But there is a chance to pull it together with
the addition of teams and see what the Big 12 does. Hopefully things will
settle down and the Big East can build back. But that trust and stability right
now is wavering. We got to get that back."
How do you get that back?
know that I have the perfect answer for it. I think it all has to play out.
Schools certainly should be loyal to the conference, but I also know that Dr.
Williams job is to do what is in the best interest of the University of Cincinnati. So, you really have a dual role
there, I don't know how you build it back until it calms down a little bit and
stabilizes. But it is an interesting time, hopefully it doesn't last too much
3) Babcock also made some telling comments about the Paul Brown Stadium/Nippert Stadium situation. I wouldn't expect UC to be playing all their games at PBS anytime soon.
philosophy is I want to play as many games in every sport that we have on this
campus," he said."There may be times where we need to go over there. And will we do some
things for finances? Yes, but not everything. We are not going to let that be
the sole determining factor in what you do. As an athletic director you got to
see the broad picture and all that."
--- Butch Jones was an assistant coach at WVU while Babcock was there. The two were in touch at the beginning of the process. Babcock talked about how his connection with Jones was part of the allure of coming to UC.
--- You probably have seen enough Q&A's with Babcock to recite his speaking points verbatim yourself, so, we'll move on.
--- The game at Pitt on Nov. 5 will be at 7 p.m. and on ESPNU the conference announced yesterday. Not sure the night game will be any significant advantage or disadvantage other than the crowd being a little rowdier in Heinz Field than they would be for a noon tilt.
--- Pitt will play tomorrow night (Wednesday) at home against UConn on ESPN. They've lost four of five and developed into a train wreck. That said, they showed enough to punish USF 44-17 at home a few weeks back. The potential is there.
Boy, there are few things that scream tradition and football more than games on Wednesday night.
--- Andrea Adelson at ESPNtalks about the wide open nature of the Big East race. UC technically controls its own destiny, but to expect to run the table in the conference might be asking a lot. You just wonder how many times the Cats can tempt fate with comebacks and find ways to win.
That said, they clearly look like the best team in the conference right now. And will be a favorite -- or close to it -- in the majority of the games from this point forward.
It's official and the deal is sealed, Whit Babcock is the new athletic director for the University of Cincinnati. He and is 3 pronged approach: 1) Commitment to comprehensive excellence 2) Preparing student-athletes for life and 3) Engage our community will take center stage in the midst of the conference dice game currently underway.
One of the positives that I hope his hire yields is the working knowledge he has of the Big 12 and their (potential) conference plans going forward. It can't hurt that he at least had some surface knowledge and clear insight as to Missouri's intentions. With all the uncertainty its like we added a piece to the puzzle other Big East schools don't have.
Whit's community piece is a great indicator that he realizes Cincinnatians know their value and their impact. Getting on the wrong side of this city has caused many an early grave to be utilized before its time.
When President Williams (welcome my my new Kappa Brother!) introduced him, one of the attributes he mentioned was great fundraising success and no matter what league the Bearcats land in that will be a key component. And the key to his fundraising success will be our unique community; learn it, respect it and the most critical piece accept it. Cincinnati is different and that's okay with them. They'll be okay with you, if you get Whit their program and merge it with yours.
By now, you've probably read or heard a few things about the University of Cincinnati's new Director of Athletics, Whit Babcock.
He comes to UC after spending the last five years at the University of Missouri and made such a favorable impression there, that seven members of Mizzou's athletic department, including AD Mike Alden, traveled to Cincinnati to attend Babcock's introductory news conference.
Babcock previously worked at Auburn and West Virginia, and graduated from JamesMadisonUniversity where he was the captain of the baseball team.
After answering a variety of questions about his vision for Bearcat athletics at his news conference on Monday, Whit was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me discussing his background.
Where did you grow up and what is it known for?
My hometown is Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley.It's the home of JamesMadisonUniversity - it may be known for that - but there are also a lot of poultry farms around there.In the summer baseball leagues, if you hit a home run, they usually award a butterball turkey to a lucky fan.How about that?But it's probably most known for JamesMadisonUniversity and Civil War history.
What did your folks do for a living?
My dad was the baseball coach there at James Madison and took JMU to the College World Series in 1983.They lost to Texas and Stanford, but still, I'm proud of him for that.That was a great experience for me - growing up in the home of a successful head coach.My dad certainly taught me work ethic and discipline, and my summer jobs were in the equipment room and buildings and grounds over on campus.My mom was a homemaker and really taught me manners, history, and the importance of education.
How long was your father the baseball coach at James Madison?
He was the baseball coach for nearly 17 years.He announced his retirement to go into athletic administration, and his last year of coaching was my freshman year of playing.I was quite an average player.I heard a guy say that the Latin definition of athletic director is that you couldn't play and you can't coach.I'm sure I fit that quite well.
Did you father coach anyone that we would recognize?
He had one year where seven of his nine position players were drafted - that was probably the best year.He had a player named Billy Sample who played for the Rangers and he had a guy named Dana Allison who pitched for the A's for a little while.A lot of his players made it to minors but only a few advanced to the show.
Since your father coached there, did you always dream of attending James Madison?
I was really intent on getting out of town and I really loved basketball.But I was probably a Division II or Division III basketball player, so I decided to stay there and go to school and play baseball.I did move out of the house and live in the dorms - I did not want to live at home any longer like most of us at the age of 18.In hindsight, that student-athlete experience was A-plus and taught me how to deal with so many things.It also prepared me to be around an athletic department where things financially weren't easy.If the only school I had been at was Auburn - that was a great experience too - but can you truly relate to the places where you have to make nickels look like quarters?
What posters of athletes did you have on your bedroom wall as a kid?
Dr. J was one of them.I remember that foul line dunk poster was on my wall.I think I liked the afro and the fact that he played for the 76ers.But he was such a dynamic figure there and brought some style to the game in the 70's.I was a big Boston Red Sox fan so I liked Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice too.
Before looking into the job, what did you know about the University of Cincinnati?
The few times that I was here with West Virginia for football, it was one of the coldest, windiest places that I remember.But I've heard a lot about it since then and when Mike Thomas resigned I thought, 'Man - that's a good one.'I've really bought into the vision that Dr. Williams has put forth, and to be a part of something that's on the rise academically and athletically is really exciting.From the outside looking in, I think it's a program on the rise and one that will be fun to build and take to the next level.
You knew Butch Jones from when you both worked at West Virginia.Did you call him right away when you heard that the job was open?
It was pretty darn quick.Just to say, "Tell me about it.Tell me everything about Cincinnati.'It was really exciting to get the job last Saturday and then watch the football team beat South Florida.(UC's Sports Information Director) Doug Mosley put me on the phone with Butch right there in the locker room after the game.His voice was cracking with emotion and man, he's a special coach.I'm sure we have a number of special coaches - I don't know them yet - but to hear his voice cracking with emotion...I can see why his players want to run through a wall for him.I'm a big fan of Butch Jones.
Is Whit your full name or is that short for something?
My full name is Bradley Whitney Babcock, and I should have a lot more family money with a name like that.It sounds like aristocracy, but I am the son of a coach and a phys ed teacher and a homemaker mom.It's a family name and my dad is Brad so I go by Whit.
Describe the perfect day?
The perfect day?It has to have my family in it and my faith in it.But the perfect day on this campus would be to spend some time with our student-athletes - maybe one or two in particular that as freshman, came in a bit immature or came from a rough background and then to see them as seniors and how they've grown and become young men and women.If they can graduate and beat Louisville on the same day, that would be a pretty good day.
Since I have met and/or been at the press conferences of every athletic director in recent memory (since about 1990) I decided to find a window in my work schedule and attend the press conference of UC's newest AD, Whit Babcock.
Professionally, I really didn't have to be there as my current assignment has me covering high school sports. However, I was once the "UC guy" at my previous occupation, I'm a 1983 grad and old habits are hard to break.
Paul Dehner Jr. and Tommy G have you covered as far as the nuts and bolts and basics of the new guy, so I'll just add my two cents worth and be on my way.
When I moved back to Cincinnati from Tampa, Rick Taylor was the AD. It wasn't an easy job then either. While the station I worked at took jabs at UC, I was always fully supportive of the program and never hid my enthusiasm for Bearcat news.
Believe it or not, former football coach Tim Murphy and basketball coach Bob Huggins would thank me repeatedly for booking them on the sports talk show I produced at the time for Cris Collinsworth and that got my foot in the door for further relationships with UC.
Except for any with Rick Taylor.
When I introduced myself as a UC grad at the Final Four in Minneapolis in 1992, all he heard was where I worked and he grumbled at me.
That impression never left me and I didn't shed a tear when his abrasiveness was gone. (For the record, Bob Huggins was his FOURTH choice to coach basketball here and Taylor often brought that up.)
Taking the place of Taylor was Gerald O'Dell. While his years will go down in infamy for his clashes with coaches and Watergate behavior, the man personally treated me well as a member of the broadcast team.
Like Rick Minter when he was let go as football coach, O'Dell wrote me a personal letter after his departure. So, while I had professional disagreements with both, I wish them both well.
In the end, stubbornness did them both in.
Bob Goin was a tough cookie, but once I got to know him he was supportive and kind and more than once spoke on my behalf. I got to know his family and they were also very kind to me.
History will show he was brought in under difficult circumstances and left under difficult circumstances. What he accomplished is visually apparent today. If there is a book to be written about the man, I'm buying.
Mike Thomas was also brought in under difficult circumstances. He was also friendly to me, but honestly I didn't have the same relationship with him as the others. With him came a number of changes and that tends to be the case when a new "sheriff" hits town.
This is not to speak behind the man's back, it's just the facts as I see them. He did hire two good football coaches in Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, so he deserves high marks for that. He also elevated Bob Arkeilpane who did and does a tremendous job and is a very approachable guy.
Part of Bob's job today was introducing President Williams, who introduced Whit Babcock.
My early impressions of Director Babcock are: a) he's the tallest AD here that I can recall; b) he's got a slight "twang" to his accent (which ain't all bad when you're negotiating athletic conferences); and c) his resume is full of crucial and key connections.
Something new to this press conference was the appearance of Missouri's AD and some of the Tiger staff as Babcock was introduced. Very classy.
I don't read anything in that, but in terms of league affiliations, I hope there is.
At the end of the gathering, I waited around as I have for the last bunch of these to say, "Hello!"
Realistically, the "new guy" is always bombarded by this interest or that interest, this TV reporter and that newspaper guy, or any number of donors on hand for inspection. On the "greet the new AD" food chain, I hover near the bottom.
That said, he did say, "Hi," as he initially approached. As I stopped him briefly to shake his hand, I told him my 10-second background and told him my name was Scott and that I wrote for his website.
He asked for my last name. That's a start.
The coaches and administrators that I've appreciated the most at UC where the ones who would ask how I was or how was my family and then actually listen.
Whit Babcock seems like a pretty good neighbor and I welcome him. He also briefly went to school with UC's departing ticket manager, Meagan Kantor, which makes him a decent guy in my book.
Now, rather than shove another recording device in Whit Babcock's face, I chose to speak to the "Big Bossman" on the man he delivered from the "Show-Me" state.
President Dr. Greg Williams is as in tune with college athletics as any of those I've covered at UC. I've also already interviewed him more than any previous President. Here's the latest:
Welcome to the blog home of the Top 25-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.
Soak that one in for a second UC fans.
Following 4-8 last year, not too many believed this program would see that sentence this soon. Many jumped off the bandwagon. Following the most exciting, dramatic win in the Butch Jones era, there are plenty of arms reaching for the wagon as it blows by on the highway to the top of the Big East.
It's early, but in a weekend that couldn't have gone any better as far as results are concerned, they now sit in the drivers seat as the only undefeated team in the conference with their biggest challenger coming to their own backyard.
--- A quiet clamoring emerged the last few weeks to see the Zach Collaros of old show up. You know, the guy posting gaudy passing numbers in a quick-strike offense.
Sure, Collaros owned a completion percentage of 62 percent or better in every game but one this year and, sure, he'd accounted for 15 touchdowns in six games. But this fan base is spoiled in the area of passing offense.
Following a first half that featured two of most head-scratching throws in his two years at quarterback, Collaros didn't only deliver a return to numbers of old -- he surpassed them with his defining drive as a Bearcat.
Collaros threw for 389 yards for his first 300-yard passing game this season and accounted for five touchdowns.
More than that, he did something he's never done in his career as a Bearcat: He engineered a game-winning drive in the final minute. He did so nearly flawlessly.
Of Collaros' 13 wins in games he started, only three of them were decided by one possession or less. And in none of those were the Bearcats the last team to score. He's seen big moments before, but never 1:27 left down four and 45k ripping their vocal chords to shreds around him.
"I've never really had an opportunity to go down and win a game like that," said
Collaros to Dan Hoard in DH's postgame blog."It's what you always dream
of, you know?There was no panic at all
on the sideline and I really didn't have to say anything.Everybody was locked in and we knew what we
had to do."
This is why senior quarterbacks are so valuable in college football. This is why only experienced QBs win Big East championships. This is why the Bearcats always feel like the game is theirs to win.
He goes 4 of 6 for 69 yards then runs in the game-winning TD with 12 seconds to spare.
ZC represented a microcosm of his team. He was far from perfect, in fact in some moments Saturday he was downright ugly. But when greatness was needed, he provided it, and found a way to win.
--- He was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week. That's the second week in a row a UC player took the honor. Isaiah Pead won it last week.
--- I took a Twitter straw poll after the game of everyone's favorite play in a game full of exciting ones (game-winning TD not included). This was the runaway winner.
OC Mike Bajakian told me last week, which I posted here, that Chisum was playing so well in practice it was impossible to keep him off the field. He caught four passes for 40 yards against Louisville then three for 73 and a touchdown Saturday.
Chisum went to Sandy Creek (Ga.) HS, the same as Calvin Johnson. Chisum broke nearly all his records. And the freshman looked a heck of a lot like Megatron there.
For the record, in second place was Anthony McClung's decleating block on Kenbrell Thompkins 33-yard catch-and-run on the final drive. Nasty.
I'd toss in Collaros to McClung to get UC down to the 6 on second-and-15 following the false start penalty. Just when you thought that could be the penalty to derail the drive, ZC zipped his most powerful strike of the day right on the money.
--- The Bearcats are bowl-eligible. After enduring last season watching from home, that means more than it normally would to these guys.
"We're looking for the big boy," he said. "We want the BCS."
I'm glad he added the second part, he would have been searching for Frisch's a long time in Tampa.
--- The Bearcats are now one of only four schools ranked in the Top 25 in both football and basketball. The others are Texas A&M, Michigan and Wisconsin. The last time both were ranked was December of 2009.
Anybody complaining about that? I didn't think so.
--- For those of you seeking the Pitt game time, we are still awaiting word. It could come today, or there could be a six-day rule extension and make the announcement come next Monday. Keep your eyes fixed on GoBearcats.com. --- Oh yeah, in case you forgot amid the madness, UC hired a new AD Saturday morning. His name is Whit Babcock, he's from Missouri and I spoke with him and posted this Q&A.
--- Some randomness...
--- Jonathan Lipnicki of Jerry Maguirefame just turned 21. Damn, I'm old. I imagine the human head weighed about 15 pounds the next morning. Actually stumbled across the movie this weekend, it involves a now comical number of primary scenes with payphones. --- A list of the world's creepiestplaces includes the Chernobyl Amusement Park. I wouldn't bother buying the gold pass for free parking, probably not worth the value.
--- This guy doingan odd robot dance is pretty smooth. I only wonder what the people walking to their car in the parking lot are thinking. That is, outside of, "Step on it, Harry, that man is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." --- Lastly, in case you missed it from our man Tommy G on the inside, here are the Bearcats singing "Got to get the dub," written by Walter Stewart in the locker room after the big win at USF. And yes, that's Butch Jones and Kerry Coombs in the middle of the action.
According to UC offensive lineman Alex Hoffman, his roommate Zach Collaros is the most competitive player in college football.
"I know that I'm a little biased and that sounds ridiculous to say, but I honestly believe that,' Hoffman said.
"I don't like losing at anything - I don't care what it is," said Collaros."Especially an argument with him."
The Bearcat quarterback's competitive side was never more obvious than in Saturday's dramatic 37-34 win at USF.When the Bulls scored a touchdown with 1:27 left to take a four point lead, Zach was excited.
"I've never really had an opportunity to go down and win a game like that," said Collaros."It's what you always dream of, you know?There was no panic at all on the sideline and I really didn't have to say anything.Everybody was locked in and we knew what we had to do."
"We face Zach in the two minute drill in practice all of the time," said defensive end Dan Giordano."It was nice to watch him run it from the sideline for a change."
The Bearcats began the winning drive at their own 30-yard line with 1:22 on the clock and two time outs to work with.
"The two time outs were huge because we didn't have to force the ball downfield," said Collaros."I was able to throw a check-down to Isaiah Pead for a few yards and I threw a drag to Kenbrell Thompkins that he turned into a 40-yard gain."
"I told Zach that the mark of a great quarterback is going on the road and leading your team to victory in the two-minute drill," said head coach Butch Jones."We executed flawlessly."
On the final drive, Collaros was 4-6 for 69 yards and he hit 3 different receivers.The senior from Steubenville, OH scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 12 seconds remaining.
"He responded like great players respond," said Coach Jones."He's extremely competitive and he led us to victory."
"That showed character and determination," said Isaiah Pead."I felt like we overcame a lot of adversity today and that's what it's going to come down to down the stretch."
"I created some of that adversity myself," said Collaros."On that second quarter interception, I was trying to throw the ball out of bounds - you have to believe me on that.I was not throwing a backhand 20-yard pass.That was supposed to go out of bounds."
Zach more than made up for the ugliest of the 711 passes he has thrown at UC, finishing 26-41 for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns passing, and 21 yards and 2 touchdowns running.His friend B.J. Daniels posted similar numbers for USF, passing for a career-high 409 yards and 3 scores.
"B.J. is a great competitor and I love watching him play," said Collaros."I find myself sometimes on the sideline watching him instead of doing what I'm supposed to be doing.He played a heck of a game, but luckily there were only 12 seconds left when he got the ball back at the end."
With the win, the Bearcats are alone in first place in the Big East at 2-0.They are also already bowl-eligible at 6-1 overall.
"I'm excited to get this program back to a bowl," said Coach Jones."But we're not satisfied - absolutely not.The season is still relatively young, and our team has great confidence.This bye week is going to serve a purpose and we have to do a great job.I think you've seen a number of teams across the country have been sluggish coming off their bye week, so this is a very big week for us."
"This team has an edge about itself and we refuse to lose," said Pead."Every game is a championship game right now because the Big East is wide-open."
"Great character teams and teams with great leadership win games on the road, and to win the conference, you have to win games on the road," said Collaros."It's a great win for us.We're going to celebrate tonight, get into the bye week, and recover health-wise."
He'll probably manage to turn that into a competition.
Well the last game of the season is here as we take on regional rival Louisville in a Bearcat Blackout game! Tonight we celebrate our seniors (Kelli, Kay, Erin, Erin, Emily, Logan, and Lauren) and the accomplishments we have reached over the past 4 (or 5) years. It has been a year of ups and downs but I am so proud of how this 2011 team has competed. We have learned so much from each other and this is the first year we have been a cohesive unit from freshmen to senior classes. It takes a strong, passionate, competitive person to dedicate their college years to a team and a family. I am so honored to be a part of this senior class with such amazing girls. This team has taught me so many things over the years; how to compete when you feel like you have nothing left, how to sacrifice your social life for the better of the program, how to hold each other accountable even when the times are tough, and how to be a true leader. I am privleged and honored to be a part of this Bearcat family and I will take so many wonderful memories with me.
"Your only as good as your last performance so when the opportunity presents itself, be great because you might not get another." Come watch the last performance of 7 amazing seniors as we look to close out the 2011 season with a WIN! Kickoff is at 7pm at Gettler Stadium with a ceremony to honor the senior class starting at 6:40.
The University of Cincinnati filled the athletic director
position Saturday morning. In one of the most uncertain times in all of college
athletics, President Gregory Williams found Whit Babcock, a man with a long
history of excelling in uncertain situations.
currently is in his fifth year as the executive associate director at the University of Missouri. So, yeah, he's heard about this
conference realignment stuff. He also worked at West Virginia when Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami bolted for the ACC.
The new AD wouldn't comment specifically on anything involving conference realignment, but
dealing with it represents familiar territory for him.
certainly look forward to working with President Williams and I believe in his
leadership," Babcock said.
With a long
history in development and fundraising he also arrives as somebody who helped
raise private funding 200 percent while at West Virginia.
In his first interview with GoBearcats.com this morning, he outlined his three
starting points in taking over the program.
we've got to hire and retain quality people and coaches," Babcock said. "We've
got to build and renovate facilities to recruit them in and train them in. That
is something we can't stand pat on is facilities. Thirdly, you need the
financial resources and this is the most important one to provide scholarship
assistance and academic assistance and graduate your kids and get them started
in life there."
joining Missouri, Babcock was assistant athletic director and executive
director of development for West VirginiaUniversity. He also worked at AuburnUniversity as assistant athletic director for
development. At Missouri, Babcock has achieved all-time
highs in donor participation, fundraising, season ticket sales, and
department-wide revenue generation.
collegiate athlete, Babcock lettered for the James Madison University Baseball
program, serving as team captain during his senior campaign. He earned his
bachelor's degree in 1992 from JMU and later received a master's degree in
sport management from West VirginiaUniversity in 1996.
comes highly recommended as an energetic leader and rising star in collegiate
sports," Williams said.
Here is the
entire Q&A with Babcock to get more insight into the views of the new AD
and how he plans on tackling the university's issues.
Jr.: How did the courtship go and has being an AD always sort of been your
Babcock: The courtship was great. It was run by President Williams and very
professional and very confidential and just well done. I was very pleased with
that. As far as AD, dream job, so to speak, I have tried to be selective about
the jobs I have looked at. I am not so much hung up on just having AD by my
name but I really wanted it to be at the right school. When I saw Cincinnati come open I was excited by it. I
have some familiarity with the Big East conferenceand I have been on your campus. There are so
many positives to Cincinnati and I really feel like it has
become a destination school for students and student athletes. And a
destination school for coaches and administrators. I just think there are so
many positives to it so I was so excited when the job came open. I know Mike
Thomas has laid some great groundwork there and I look forward to working with
all you guys to build it and keep it moving in the right direction.
are the characteristics of your ideal athletic department?
PDJ: It all
starts there ...
does, and I have heard the conversations of would you rather have good people
or good funding. I'd rather have both. But I believe good people trumps
funding. But we got to work on the funding part, too, there. And just get the
resources there to do three primary things. I think we've got to hire and
retain quality people and coaches. We've got to build and renovate facilities
to recruit them in and train them in. That is something we can't stand pat on
is facilities. Thirdly, you need the financial resources and this is the most
important one to provide scholarship assistance and academic assistance and
graduate your kids and get them started in life there. We like to say here we
prepare champions for life. The financial resources, that is a big part of what
we want to do. But the simplest answer to your question is I want to be around
good people with passion and energy and integrity.
spent a lot of time in development coming up and raised private giving 200
percent at West Virginia, what is the key to making that
more than me, it's a staff and that goes back to the good people part. I
believe that if you can build good relationships with people, with your donors
and fan base and show them a need and a vision by how their gift can impact the
student athlete and the athletic department and the school as a whole, I think
then you've got lightning in a bottle there. To just go door-to-door and knock
on doors and ask for money that is not how it works. If we can build a vision
and build a relationship and show people a need and show them how we are going
to spend their money wisely then I think you can really get going.
see a similarity to UC compared to other places you have been at all? Or is it
a great question, at least for me it is relatively unique in this way, and my
dad was a baseball coach and I grew up in the home of a successful Division I
head baseball coach. I've always lived in a college town. I have never lived in
one that is a city -- a larger city. So, Cincinnati is unique to me personally from
that perspective. The part of it I liked was, even though it is in the city,
when you are on campus you know you are on campus. It's not a city campus where
you are just, here's a business building, here's a store and now here's a
classroom. I still have that on-campus feel. And I really like how your sports
park is all there together. So, I have been on campus a few times and really
couldn't have been more in the middle of this realignment mess sitting there at
Missouri, because of your unique position
there, feel like you can come in immediately and help steer UC through those
WB: Wow, if
there is somebody out there that claims that they are a conference expansion
expert I would like to know who it is. I don't know that that person exists. It
would probably be premature for me to comment on that. I certainly look forward
to working with President Williams and I believe in his leadership. So much of
it is out of your control and there is so much speculation out there, I guess
if there is any one thing with our fan base it is I know it is frustrating --
for administrators to -- but there is so much out of your control and so much
speculation, you just don't want to get caught up in responding to every recent
rumor or where Cincinnati is mentioned or what is going to happen to the Big
East. But I absolutely believe in President Wiliams' leadership and I look
forward to getting up there Monday and he and I will talk before then, too. And
I have kept an eye on the Big East while I've been here. I think he and I can
work together, but I believe in his leadership but it would be a little
premature for me to comment on conference expansion there.
hear about it endlessly here, but I can only imagine what it must be like for
you guys down there ...
WB: We went
through it last year, too. When Missouri was rumored with the Big Ten and Nebraska and Colorado left for different places. I was at
Virginia, too, when BostonCollege and Miami, so this is my third go-round and
every time is different. It does, it fully immerses you. You got to have good
people around you to handle the day-to-day business of the athletic department,
PDJ: It may
be hard to start thinking about this already, but what do you view as your top
it is leadership of running the enterprise of athletics. I think it's a broad-based leadership component there. Certainly I believe in looking at what can we
do financially and revenue generation just to provide those opportunities and
our opportunities to grow. That is a lot more broad than just going in and
raising prices. I don't count that as a -- that's not the way to answer. We may
ultimately have to do that in some areas, but that doesn't count to me as how
we generate revenue. So I think the creative revenue generation and just
drilling down on all the areas that create financial resources for UC.
Fundraising is a big component of it. But it's broader than that.
you were at least in the initial stages of getting an online network going at Missouri?
very cool. We are working on launching a digital network. And pushing out a lot
of content, exclusive content, the vast majority of it free and really pushing
it out to iPads and phones and connected TV. I feel like it is the way things
are going. So, that's something we would evaluate there at Cincinnati.
I think we
have a lot of valuable content there from Olympic sports to behind-the-scenes
footage to big plays and other things. Even some classic games, taking some old
great games of UC, some of the Oscar Robertson stuff and digitize it. There are
just a lot of things you can do with it.
are you most looking forward to?
started. I tell you I got a few legal pads here I am looking at. Just getting
up there and meeting the coaches, the student-athletes and just getting
started. My goal is to get up there and running as soon as possible. I'm happy
to be a part of the Cincinnati family.
As recently as two weeks ago, the USF Bulls were ranked 14th in the USA Today poll, and 16th in the AP Poll.
Back-to-back road losses at Pitt and UConn knocked USF from the polls, but UC head coach Butch Jones says the Bulls are loaded.
"I think they're one or two in the Big East in raw talent," said Jones."When you look at their defensive front and their secondary, they're very explosive.Then you have B.J. Daniels at quarterback and a great one-two punch at running back between 240-pound Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray.They're number one in the Big East in rushing offense (215.2 yards per game)."
USF's offense revolves around Daniels who ranks second in the league in passing yards (243 per game) and eighth in rushing yards (53.7 per game).While it seems - at least to me - that B.J. has been the Bulls quarterback for a decade, he's actually only a redshirt junior.Daniels was brilliant in last year's USF win at Nippert Stadium, as he passed for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns and ran for two more.
"You have to keep him in check," said Coach Jones."B.J. presents so many problems because he can throw the football and you can't let him set his feet.We have to do a great job of staying in coverage when he scrambles and then rally to the football.It's going to test our eye discipline in our secondary.They're going to spread us out and throw some perimeter screens and then they'll throw the ball deep and test our corners."
While the Bulls rank first in the Big East in rushing offense, they are at the bottom of the league in rushing defense at 125.5 yards a game.A big chunk of those yards came in USF's 44-17 loss at Pitt when Ray Graham ran for 226 yards on 26 carries.Cincinnati's offensive line will try to give Isaiah Pead similar opportunities.
"The things that he does are amazing," said senior guard Randy Martinez."The passion that he brings to the game makes you want to play that much harder.If you hold your block for a little bit longer, he'll break an 80-yard run.If you just give a little extra effort, he'll do amazing things."
"Isaiah just needs to relax and trust his run reads," said Coach Jones."The big thing is to make four yards first and then look to make the big play.That's what he did in the second half of the Louisville game and it paid off with the 50-yard touchdown run."
The Bearcats have won the last two times they've played at Raymond James Stadium, and will need to play well on Saturday to extend that streak to three.
"USF is a great home team," said Coach Jones."They're averaging 53 points at home and 16 points on the road.They're a great football team.We're going to have to play our best and we're going to have to play physical.It's going to be a great challenge for us."
* * * * *
After several days of non-stop rain in Ohio (I'm convinced those exotic animals in Zanesville were searching for Noah's Ark), it was great to step off the plane in Tampa under sunny skies with the temperature in the mid-70's.
Fortunately, the Bearcats were not impacted by the lousy weather all week back home thanks to the indoor practice field at the SheakleyAthleticsCenter.The bubble was inflated earlier than scheduled this year, and the team was able to practice indoors.
"The indoor practice bubble paid big dividends, and hats off to our administration and (Director of Facilities) Brendan Fouracre for everything they did in getting it up early," said Coach Jones."It was critical. We could simulate the elements in terms of temperature, and we didn't have to practice in the driving rain storms."
* * * * *
As the team boarded its Delta charter on Friday morning, I thought it was telling that the seniors were seated in first class while the coaches - including Butch Jones - were seated in coach.
A little thing perhaps, but more proof that the players come first at UC.
You could argue both USF losses were upsets, if you would, you're probably really concerned about Bearcats chances in Tampa. You could argue Rutgers pounding Pitt to be an upset, if you do you probably haven't watched Pitt play football this year.
That said, Rutgers hanging 34 on the Panthers with a freshman QB? Pitt, whose remarkably played football uglier than their coaching search, rolls up 44 against then-undefeated USF? UConn finds a way to lose to Western Michigan at home, but rebound to hold BJ Daniels to 10 points?
Lady Gaga thinks Big East football is weird. The Metric System thinks the conference is tough for people to understand.
Hence, concern for Saturday.
Anytime you hit the road in the Big East, odd events happen. The top three teams in the Big East all hit the road this week. West Virginia enters the Carrier Dome and Rutgers heads to Louisville tonight. UC at USF tomorrow.
As poor as the Bulls played the first two weeks in conference (Did I mention 44-17 at Pitt?) it would be so very Big East of them to pull out the best game of their season Saturday.
The Bearcats better be ready.
And fans should expect the unexpected. That's what happens when UC travels to Tampa. As Adam Niemeyer points out, strange things are afoot at the Ray-Jay. In 2007, 45 points are scored in a first quarter that lasts an hour. In 2009, some backup QB named Zach Collaros leads the Bearcats to a 34-17 victory.
As you know, I don't do predictions for UC games, but as for the rest of the Big East. West Virginia doesn't allow the Big East Road theorem to overcome the We Can't Believe We Lost To Syracuse At Home Last Year theorem. They romp.
The upset of the weekend comes with a Louisville win against Rutgers: 3-2 final, in 2OT. Two-RBI double for Teddy Bridgewater the difference.
Also, Pitt finds a way to throw two Pick-6s and loses to BYE, 14-0.
As for UC, here are this week's Four Stats For Victory:
1. Create three turnovers. The Turnover Margin Express derailed the last two weeks. After opening the season plus-14 through the first four games, the Bearcats are minus-2 since. However, the Bulls have made a habit of turning the ball over in their recent downslide. They threw two interceptions and lost four fumbles in two conference games.
2. Own the lead at halftime. Eventually, these slow starts are going to catch up to the Bearcats. You can't continue to play sloppy football for half the game and pull out wins. That goes double in conference on the road against a team with a winning record. UC established it plays better as the game goes along, but avoiding an early deficit will not only set up the potent second-half run game, but insert the here-we-go-again feeling for the Bulls.
3. Keep Daniels under 55 percent. The downfall of the Bulls recently has been their quarterback's sinking completion percentage. He's only connected on 52 percent of his passes in the Bulls' two losses and 64 percent in wins. That means getting push in the pass rush without letting him out on the edges where he's so good throwing on the run. Sacking Daniels isn't the key -- the line has played well and he's so difficult to corral, USF is tied for the BE lead with only seven allowed. The key is containing him while uncomfortable.
4. Pead > 20 for 120. It's no secret the Bulls can be gashed in the run game. The 226 yards for Ray Graham established that. Finding holes for the best player on the field and letting him run free will make the difference. Pounding them into submission with more than 20 opportunities on the ground in the same fashion UC did against Louisville and NC State will be the order of the day.
--- Containing BJ Daniels will be key for UC, as this story from Bill Koch states. Remember, Daniels threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns while running for 35 yards and two touchdowns in the loss at Nippert last season.
--- Andrea Adelson reminds us that despite two lackluster performances, Daniels remains confident. --- Fun sidenote to Saturday's game: Collaros and Daniels are actually good friends.
"I remember him playing as a freshman and I
wasn't playing, I was a redshirt freshman," Collaros said. "I could
remember being in South Florida
after that game, thinking, man, this guy is lucky. Sitting around is terrible. I
"I think we met at the Big East Media Day. We are the same exact size,
same exact build, so we had something in common there. He's a cool guy, so we
just kind of hung out there and kept in touch ever since."
He said the last time they talked was a few weeks ago during the Syracuse-Toledo game. Collaros says they will usually communicate in some fashion if there is a Friday night Big East game on TV.
As for this week...
"We didn't talk this week," he said. "I think last year we talked during the week, but
I don't think we'll do it this year. I know we'll talk down there."
Just don't expect any of it to be trash talk. They're not that way.
"No, no," Collaros said. "He's a cool guy."
--- John Kiesewetter at Cincinnati.com wrote a story catching up with our guy Dan Hoard. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nobody works harder or is more genuine than DH. The most respected guy in the local game. Period.
UC and the city has been fortunate to have a talent like him for all these years. --- Get jacked up. Here are some highlights from last week's game with player interviews.
--- The USA Today/Coaches Poll came out yesterday and UC was sitting at No. 22. Xavier was 15. Six Big East teams were in the Top 25. That includes four in the top 11 (UConn - 4, Syracuse - 5, Louisville - 8, Pitt - 11, Marquette - 21).
This is the first time UC has been ranked in the preseason during the Mick Cronin era.
Almost everybody has UC somewhere between 15 and 25. Take a look at last year's teams ranked between 15-25 in the coaches poll and where they ended up.
Team Open Close NCAA/Seed Lost Washington 15 Out Y/7 R32 Illinois 16 Out Y/9 R32 Baylor 17 Out No --- Butler 18 Out Y/8 Final Memphis 19 Out Y/12 R64 Temple 20 25 Y/7 R32 Georgetown 21 22 Y/6 R64 Texas 22 10 Y/4 R32 Tennessee 23 Out Y/9 R64 Virginia Tech 24 Out No --- Wisconsin 25 13 Y/4 R16
In case you didn't already know being ranked guarantees you very little, you should now.
That's right, only four of the 11 teams ranked between 15 and 25 finished the year in the poll. Only two of the 11 made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament.
NONE were ranked higher than a 4 seed.
The good news? All but two of the 11 still made the NCAA tournament. And another was a prominent snub (Virginia Tech, again).
Stretching for good news? Ranked No. 22 last year was Texas who finished No. 10 overall and a No. 4 seed in the dance.
I'll be sure to relay these numbers to Mick as he tries to keep his team grounded in dealing with success and accolades.
--- Been a giant Jeff Pearlman fan for a long time, ever since I read "The Bad Guys Won". He's taken some heat for his Walter Payton book -- predominantly from those who haven't read it. Here's his strong defense.
Collaros made his initial mark running the football at South Florida, as UC returns to Tampa for the first time since, the return
of his rushing ability represents a significant story line.
CINCINNATI - The rules for the Louisville linebackers seemed simple enough.
One followed Zach Collaros on the zone read while the other followed Isaiah
the beginning of the fourth quarter on the 50-yard line, both followed
resulted can be confidently referred to as the defining play of UC's first Big
East victory of the season. Fitting, really, considering the zone read on the
legs of Collaros has become the defining play in the scheme of this year's
success of a running game owning more yards than the passing game to this
point, what defenses have to prepare for begins at Collaros and Pead running
toward the line with an option of the ball going in either direction.
always been a huge part of our run package," offensive coordinator Mike
Bajakian said. "When you can create situations where defenses have to defend
the possibilities -- it makes them defend the actual run play, then the
quarterback and you add maybe a bubble throw to that same exact scheme and they
have to add a third element to the run game."
None of it
would mean much without the running ability of Collaros. He's always been able
to run with the football. Heading back to USF - the site of his 75-yard run
where he broke on the scene --reminds
every Bearcats fan of that. As this year has progressed, though, his legs have
developed into a more prominent aspect of the gameplan.
three weeks of the season, Collaros ran 14 times. In the last three games he's
run 37 times - including 13 times Saturday against Louisville.
ran 121 times last year, but for the most part, those were the result of
scrambling for his life. Most of those ended in negative yardage. For example,
in three different games he ran at least seven times for at least minus-17
"I think I
am just taking what the defense is giving us," Collaros said. "Last year being
as banged up as me and Isaiah were for most of the year we had to rely a lot on
the throwing game. For example, last week Louisville was dropping eight, seven guys into
coverage. If its not there, I will hit Isaiah on a checkdown or take off and
try to get what I can. I think its just really taking what the defense gives me
and not try to force things."
his running ability is used more as a running back and less as a scrambling
quarterback. His 204 yards on 51 carries are two more than he gained all of
last season. He's averaging four yards a carry with four touchdowns in the last
the spot, the more likely the Cats have been to call on his services. That was
apparent Saturday when on the biggest call of the game, Bajakian turned to
Collaros to run off left tackle on fourth-and-goal for the touchdown.
23-year-old quarterback jokes about how he's not quite as athletic as he once
was, but Collaros didn't look it as he found the opening and sailed through the
air over the goal line. Butch Jones tells Collaros to get down when he runs
into traffic. But doing so would be denying Collaros' most elementary
instincts. And what has always made him an effective runner.
"If I know
if it is third down and we got to get the first down I got to take a hit," he
said. "I am not real big into lowering the shoulder, but I got six games left
in my career and we want to win every single game."
Collaros runs with swag. He doesn't own the speed of a Mike Vick or even the
elusiveness of his opponent this week, BJ Daniels. But, more often than not,
when Collaros carries, the job gets done.
"I think he
runs with swag," said Pead, who likely invented running with swag for the
Bearcats. "He's elusive in his own way. He's not a slow guy. He'll lower the
shoulder. He'll run by you. He'll give you a move. Zach's a football player
success on the ground plays hand-in-hand with that of Pead - quite literally.
When the ball goes into Pead's stomach on the zone read, the explosive running
back doesn't know if he's running with it or not.
decisions haven't been perfect. Collaros wishes there were some he wouldn't
have given away and some he wishes he would have. The combined 138 yards per
game suggest the good outweighed the bad.
and his ability to run, I won't always be the key on every run," said Pead,
averaging 104 yards per game. "Predominantly we want to hand the ball off, but
we got Zach if he wants to pull it. I have to play every fake as if I'm getting
the ball. But if he pulls it, it is bittersweet."
Saturday in Tampa, it will only be bitter for the Bulls. Collaros
would be fine taking it himself or watching the defense follow him while Pead
sprints to the end zone. It all counts the same way.
Collaros said, "if I could hand the ball to Isaiah 95 percent of the time I
wouldn't be mad because I know what he is going to do."
The Big East conference held both its men's and women's media days in New York City with the women's side of things taking part today. Key players and coaches from every Big East program took to the big apple to take part in the festivities.
The most surprising news from the early goings this morning was the Lady Huskies being viewed as the second best team in the Big East to start this season. Notre Dame and last season's NCAA tournament stand out Skylar Diggins were voted the preseason favorite to win the conference. You can see the preseason poll here and enjoy a snippet about each program.
Cincinnati may not have anymore believers this year than they did last season. The Bearcats were voted to finish second to last, an identical ranking from last seasons completed Big East standings. Jamelle Elliott and the squad believe they will not have a losing season and finish higher in the Big East standings.
Coaches also voted for the preseason All-Big East team and honorable mentions while in NYC. Diggins was picked as the preseason player of the year. UCONN's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis won preseason freshman of the year honors. UCONN also led the way garnering three players voted as preseason stand outs. Two Lady Huskies were viewed as all-conference performers, while one was listed as a honorable mention. No Bearcats were voted as preseason all-conference performers or honorable mention.
UC senior Bjonee Reaves has an interview in which she discusses playing in the Big East and what she plans to get done during her senior season. You can watch Reaves' interview here. You can also follow this link to view all the videos shot today in NYC.
Want more live Big East women's basketball news and coverage? Be sure to follow the conference on twitter @BIGEASTWBB. The 2011-12 Big East media guide is also available for download.
Plenty to get to today. Big East media days churned out a pile of basketball content, the UC-USF fodder is kicking into high gear and I've got extra nuggets after chatting with Isaiah Pead, Zach Collaros, OC Mike Bajakian and Butch Jones yesterday while collecting stuff for a couple of pieces on the offense.
Let's eat... --- UC will leave for Tampa on Friday and Zach Collaros will walk back into the stadium where he first made a name for himself. It's been two years since Collaros ran up the middle 75 yards for a touchdown after replacing injured QB Tony Pike. His career has been a whirlwind of expectations and gaudy numbers ever since.
One of the great moments in the history of recent UC football, really.
This game was actually the first UC contest I covered while working my previous job at CNati.com. I drove from my job at a newspaper in South Georgia to Tampa and remember thinking -- am I the only one who doesn't know who this Collaros kid is? Turns out I wasn't.
Immediately after, everybody did.
"I remember (current NY Giants DE Jason) Pierre-Paul before the play pointing at me and saying something and next thing you know Chris Jurek had a great block and (Jacob) Ramsey had a great block and somehow I outran their secondary."
For Collaros, that night, that win, that run, made for one of the most special days of his career. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun," he said. "I was fortunate to have some family in the stands that came down. After the game, all the text messages and phone calls I received from people, that was a great feeling."
Collaros admitted there will be some nostalgic feelings walking back into the building that launched his career, but he's better than to let it affect him.
"It is going to be a cool feeling," he said. "I got a lot of family heading down. But I can't get caught up in stuff like that. We are 5-1, they are 4-2, this is a league game and every game from now on is a championship game for us."
--- Most on the national scene still have been hesitant to bestow praise on UC. The pundit bandwagon is still relatively empty. And that's about right considering, outside of NC State, none of the wins necessarily catch eye of those that scan scores.
A victory at USF could start to do that. Pead likes the situation right where it is at now.
"I haven't been hearing too much talk about us, which is good," he said. "We are just a hungry dog. I think if the national attention starts to come we will still be grounded, humble, knowing we have to respect everyone but fear nobody. That is how we feel."
Nationally, the Bearcats are viewed as underdogs this week despite USF's recent woes.
--- Pead should be licking his chops considering what Ray Graham and Pitt were able to do against the Bulls defense. Graham racked up 226 yards in the Panthers 44-17 victory.
USF has been better against the run in other games. If you look at their four games against real opponents, they haven't been as awful as the Pitt game would suggest. Opponent Attempts Yds Avg Notre Dame 29 117 4.3 UTEP 32 95 2.7 Pitt 58 307 5.3 UConn 48 118 2.5 TOTAL 167 637 3.8
Those numbers aren't bad. It also should be noted UConn hasn't run the ball well on anybody. They are averaging only three yards per carry behind their young offensive line.
All things considered, if Pead doesn't go for more than 100 yards and a touchdown, it would be an upset.
--- Tom Zebold at USFBulls.com sees UC and USF as two very similar teams. If you look at two teams with quality running backs and a dual-threat QB, then yes, they are similar. USF doesn't have quite the defensive line the Bearcats do and UC lacks the special teams threat of the Bulls' Lindsay Lamar.
Lamar hasn't been as good this year as last year. He averaged 26.4 yards per return last season with two touchdowns.
This season he's averaging just 18.4 yards on 22 returns without a score.
--- Andrew Force wrote a story about Kenbrell Thompkins growing into his role as a starting receiver. WR coach TJ Weist talked at length about KT finally finding his game shape after being slowed by injuries toward the end of the offseason. Thompkins hasn't been a superstar by the numbers this year. He's second on the team with 24 receptions totaling 274 yards.
Much of that dropoff comes from the increased utilization of the running game. Passing numbers across the board are down. Some comes down to how well ZC is seeing the field and spreading the ball around when he does throw it.
DJ Woods (23-284) and Anthony McClung (25-325) receive equal opportunities.
Plus, of late, freshman Alex Chisum has become a key member of the attack.
Chisum caught four passes for 40 yards against Louisville. According to Bajakian, Chisum couldn't be denied the field anymore.
Remember, Chisum broke almost every one of Calvin Johnson's receiving records at his high school of Sandy Creek (Ga). He received attention from SEC schools. He's one of the more polished receivers coming in as a freshman as you'll see.
"Alex, as a freshman, is getting better and better and better every week," Bajakian said. "He's worked himself into a position where it is hard to keep him off the field. He's smart, he knows multiple positions and he's running routes much more effectively as the season has gone on and he's got a firm grasp of the offense. He's playing with a little confidence."
--- UC needs to kick the first half struggles, Andrea Adelson writes. The trend spans over the past two games where the Bearcats scored 13 first-half points. --- AD Bob Arkeilpane discussed the advantages of the Paul Brown Stadium experience with Bill Koch. Even though 40,971 wasn't what the Bearcats hoped for Arkeilpane points out the PBS experiment needs to be viewed through a two-game lens and not individually. Should the Bearcats post another 58k against WVU as they did against Oklahoma, that would averaged out to about 50k a game. It would be a huge boon for the department.
He also points out the Louisville contingent disappointed. They didn't even sell their 3,000-ticket allotment. That won't be the case with the Mountaineers.
--- OK, switching gears to basketball. Big East media day was yesterday, as I posted here the Bearcats were ranked No. 5 in the coaches poll.
The best writer in college basketball, Dana O'Neil, wrote this piece about UC (third post down) and the journey to stay on top now that they've returned the program to the upper tier of the Big East.
The page also includes her interview with Mick Cronin, which appears to have taken place as a WWE chair-hitting seminar began in the ballroom. --- CBSsports.com's Jeff Goodman swung through town recently and caught up with Yancy Gates for this story on hitting his breakdown point last year and the consequential resurgence. --- Cashmere Wright, disrespected, IMO. CBS ranks him as the 29th-best PG in the country. Heck, my Bobcats ball hog D.J. Cooper even came in at No. 21. Assuming he stays healthy, which Cronin claims Wright is now, I think Wright becomes one of the premier point guards in the country this season.
Nobody realizes what Wright battled last year. He turned in the most gritty performance of any player on the team -- he just didn't tell anybody about it.
Considering he averaged nine points, four assists and two turnovers a game with a nasty, nagging knee injury, he deserves recognition. He only turned the ball over more than three times in a game twice in 18 Big East games last year. The situation only got worse at the NCAA tournament.
was weird, his swelling was really random and hard for everybody to get a grip
on," Cronin said. "It swelled up at the wrong time and then he had migrane problems at the
NCAA tournament. I don't know what is worse, the day between the games, he had
migranes, we couldn't bring him out into light. He had been in dark the whole
day. We had to get him into a rehab facility with a hooded pool over top
because light couldn't get into his eyes."
Well turn out the lights, the party's over as Don Meredith use to say on Monday Night Football; and that applies to UC as they begin a stretch run that will surely reveal who this team is and where they land in the Big East standings. The next 4 games, 3 of them on the road, will be match ups testing the Bearcat claws to the fullest. Their dates with USF, Pitt, West Virginia and Rutgers will either reestablish the program as solid or leave questions in the hands of haters. I have no qualms about what I would like to see: 4-0 or 3-1 would be a fantastic conclusion, but even 2-2 says you are one of the better teams in the Big East when 3 of these games are on enemy soil.
With the russian roulette conference carnival going on UC has so much to play for. It appears they're going to stay in the Big East and I would imagine they want to stick their flag in the sand and say we own this conference no matter who joins. They also want to continue competing for blue chip players and maintain their television attraction to the networks and finally, convince the ever elusive fan base that their support is warranted. Wins do that; losses don't. UC has to make a loud and definitive statement that no matter what conference, what allies, what schedule, they will be reckoned with no matter who stays or joins.
But I really think the bigger question is what does the future hold for UC Football post Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros. In addition the loss of JK Schaffer means they'll need new leaders on both sides of the football. I know the coaches have their idea of who they are, but it would be nice to see someone step up to let us know that I will carry the torch of UC football beyond this season. It is imperative for the good of this program that new names and faces make themselves known before the season is out. In doing such, a major bowl bid should be there for the taking. As bowl committee's go, there is no questioning the following of Bearcat nation. Just ask New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl committee.
So now they get ready to rumble, fight, scratch and claw our way through the heart of this conference schedule. It's no doubt going to stretch UC to the limits but that's why you play in a conference of this size, with this kind of competition to prove you belong. It is the number one reason teams are jumping around like grasshoppers from conference to conference; competition. Except the difference between the conference jumpers and UC is a matter of dollars and no sense of loyalty.
That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat...
There are many factors that make a college decision difficult for recruited student athletes. If you're good enough then many institutions will be calling your name. Places you may not even be able to point out on a map could be on that list. Local colleges or universities would also recruit you because they strive to keep local talent at home. Schools that have programs with rich tradition are also always appealing because they have what it takes for you to be nationally recognized. Each student athlete's wants are different. Their backgrounds are different. Even personal situations play a key role in determining the destination of a recruited student athlete. Once the right fit comes along, however, they always know.
For Cincinnati women's basketball players Dayeesha Hollins and Lesha Dunn UC has become the right fit and after transferring from two drastically different programs they have reached their final destinations.
Speedy sophomore Dayeesha Hollins is a Cincinnati native whom played high school basketball at Winton Woods High School. Top tier programs in the Big Ten heavily recruited Hollins, who was a finalist for the Associated Press Ohio Miss Basketball award. She committed to Michigan in 2008.
"I don't regret going there at all," Hollins said. "I really loved the people there and I had a great experience, but I also don't regret leaving there."
Imposing junior Lesha Dunn is from Toronto, Canada and just finished up playing two years of community college basketball at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. The 6'4" center was also heavily recruited out of high school as schools like Syracuse, South Florida, and Massachusetts among others were interested.
"I wanted to go to a big program straight," Dunn said. "Adversity hit and I wound up there. It was fun I met a lot of good friends that I can keep for a lifetime. I just had to roll with the punches."
Hollins had tremendous success as a freshman in Ann Arbor. She averaged 12.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in her single season in the maze and blue earning her a spot on the All-Freshman Team. Her yearning for her hometown and her family ultimately led Hollins to her decision to transfer to UC where she is expected to have a big role and start where she left off while a Wolverine.
"I know it was only three hours away but I needed my family a lot and needed that support," Hollins said. "I'm going to be one of the primary scorers, so I have to get out there and do what I need to do, get my teammates involved, and be a scoring point guard like I was at Michigan."
Dunn's reason for continuing her career at UC is not the same as Hollins. Dunn finished her two-year stint at Trinity Valley CC and was looking to jump to the next level, as all junior college or community college players tend to do. After averaging 6.9 points and 5.0 rebounds helping her team amount a 31-2 record and no. 3 national ranking, Dunn chose UC over Rutgers, UTEP, Memphis, and Mississippi State among others.
"I've always been successful in red so I knew I would have success here," Dunn joked. "If I came here I wouldn't just be a number. I would come here and play and actually help out the program. I felt at home on my visit and you can't find that everywhere."
Head coach Jamelle Elliott likes having transfers in her program because she knows that because they are required to sit out a season by the NCAA that they will have a year of practice under their belt. She does not treat them like freshman, however, buying into the program can still be a challenge.
"They are able to spend a whole year within your system, practicing every day, so that when they are eligible and able to play it's not like they're freshman for the first time," Elliott said.
Transfers are a blessing in disguise for coaching staffs because they are able to land already seasoned players that only strengthen their programs. Acquiring Hollins and Dunn is equivalent to having two five star recruits with proven experience. While Hollins may be further along than Dunn they both present upgrades at their positions.
"She [Hollins] came poised, ready to go. She had the experienced, had the talent, had the work ethic," Elliott said. "She's been a huge, huge addition to our program and she's probably the quickest basketball player I've seen with the ball."
"What she [Dunn] brings from a physical standpoint is something we don't have on our team," Elliott said. "She's definitely a presence inside because she's long, she's pretty agile, and has great fundamentals, so I think she's going to be a huge addition."
The Bearcats are poised to have a winning season in 2011-12. Hollins and Dunn hope their contributions move the team in the direction of a more prominent team in the Big East.
"We won't have a losing season," Hollins said. "I just feel like we're going to be a totally different team. People are going to be surprised at the things that we're doing."
"We simply won't lose that much," Dunn said. "I'm not looking at this to be a Cinderella story. All we want is more success."
I want to start off with a brief apology to my routine addicts out there. You know who you are. Must eat the muffin before the cereal and always use the same bowl with oversized spoon? Never put on the flannel pants for bed before untucking the corner of the sheets? It's OK. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Anyway, you're probably used to reading a Tuesday afternoon lunch edition with reaction from the UC football media luncheon. If you know much about myself or this blog you know I also work for CBSsports.com covering the Bengals. And, well, let's just say yesterday was a little more hectic than anticipated over at Paul Brown Stadium. You may have heard something about it. It pretty much took over my Tuesday -- and my Wednesday for that matter -- but don't worry, I promise to make it up to you. (Do I sound like the deadbeat dad yet? Maybe I'll show up tomorrow with a pony before I take another work road trip)
Point being, I am headed to UC's media availability today, to get everyone caught up on the Bearcats. Hope you've been enjoying the Mick Cronin conversations in the mean time. I know I found them pretty enlightening.
Let's eat.... --- Speaking of basketball, today is the Big East Media Day. UC was picked fifth in the coaches poll. Also, Yancy Gates was selected to the All-Big East Second Team.
What does this mean? Very little. UC was picked 12th in last year's poll and finished 6th.
One of my favorite things to do is look back at last year's poll and predictions and see how right/wrong everybody was.
Here's the 2010 preseason poll:
2010-11 Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Pittsburgh (12 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (1)
3. Syracuse (2)
5. West Virginia
6. St. John's (1)
7. Notre Dame
11. Seton Hall
13. South Florida
There were a few hits and misses. For hits, the coaches did pick PItt to win the conference, which the Panthers did with a 15-3 mark.
As for misses, take a gander at the number of teams off by four or more spots . Villanova (picked 2nd, finished T-9th), Georgetown (picked 4th, finished T-8th), Louisville (picked 8th, finished T-3rd), Notre Dame (picked 7th, finished 2nd), UC (picked 12th, finished T-6th).
That's five of 16. There was a 30 percent chance you are misjudged in these rankings by at least a four to five win margin in conference.
Also, last year's preseason POY wasn't Kemba Walker, it was Georgetown's Austin Freeman. And the Rookie of the Year was Syracuse's Fab Melo (10 min, 2.3 pts per). Yikes.
Moral of the story: Take those preseason rankings and light them on fire (in a safe environment, of course, those of us at the Breakfast are trying to prevent forest fires).
--- The Big East held a conference call yesterday regarding realignment and their plans to increase the teams to 12. They also will escalate the exit fee to $10 million from $5 million as soon as one team joins the conference through expansion.
Friday morning, I was able to sit down for a long
conversation with UC hoops coach Mick Cronin. You may have heard of him. He's
coming off his signature season running the program where the team went 26-9,
11-7, made the NCAA tournament and lost in the second round to eventual
national champ UConn. The rebuilding portion of his massive project appears to
be on the downward side of the mountain as he enters Year Six. The new job of
holding a sustainable winning model began Thursday with the team's first practice.
Before starting that, however, we touched on anything and everything UC
basketball. We discussed the always galvanizing topic of the non-conference
schedule, the games he tried to get and the games he thinks are close. Also, he
estimated how much closer he is sitting to the cool kids table in recruiting.
From there topics ranged from season ticket prices to the importance of his new
contract to why Doug Gottlieb has no idea what he's talking about. And, of
course, we discussed the important pieces of this year's team and what could
curtail them from meeting lofty expectations.
A breakdown of these topics will come in three parts over the next few days. The
first post focused on Cronin's view of the non-conference schedule and a number
of other popular topics coming out of last season. Today's Part II delves into
Cronin's forthright talk about his new contract and what it means in the big
picture of UC basketball. Part III will focus on the 2010-11 Bearcats and the
outlook toward a return to the NCAA tournament. Without further delay, here you
April, Mick Cronin received a three-year contract extension worth $1.25 million
per season. The deal keeps him at UC through the 2016-17 season.
contracts for college basketball coaches come all the time. On the heels of big
seasons, coaches will sign astronomical deals keeping them at schools for
another 10-15 years. Most have opt outs and coaches are still very capable of
being fired or leaving.
contract meant a little more. For the last few years his stability at the university was tenuous. The fan base was antsy for a winner. Attendance was
down. The team was laboring to make it over the NCAA hump.
Mike Thomas and president Gregg Williams always backed Cronin and stood stalwart
behind his rebuilding plan. Still, Cronin remarked toward the end of the season
he felt like he needed to win and make the NCAA tournament last year to hang around.
He may or
may not have been right. We'll never know because he did win as UC advanced to
the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished 11-7 in the toughest conference
made him a hot commodity in the coaching carousel rumor mill this past
offseason. N.C.State put on a full-court press and other
schools made inquiries as well.
contract question lingered over Cronin's office like a dark cloud the last few
years. With the issue finally settled, it would seem he'd feel a more defined
sense of ownership and control of the program going forward. After all, it's a whole
lot easier to build for the future and make unpopular moves that would benefit
in the program for the long haul with five more years on the contract instead of one.
to Cronin, however, the feeling was the opposite. Even when his status was
being questioned by the base the last few years, he never let his contract or
uncertainty affect him - at least not publicly. And that continues to be the
"For me, (it's
no different)," he said. "If I let that stuff affect me I wouldn't be here. I
am just being honest. I had opportunities to leave for a lot more money. If
that stuff ever affected me, then I wouldn't have been able to keep the team
focused and keep building the program. I don't think about that stuff. I am no
different than our players, the minute you take a deep breath and start
thinking, oh, this is great, then you lose your edge."
thoughts on having no thoughts about his contract continued. The loss to Connecticut still burns him and he thinks about
that more then he ever would about his deal.
quickly became apparent UConn winning the national championships made losing to
them "much, much worse."
"I felt if
we could get by them we had the easiest draw to get to the Final Four. With all
do respect to everybody. And they were the hottest team in America with the hottest player in America and he beat us. Ultimately, that
game came down to one guy. He was too much to handle.")
the contract is easy to dismiss when suppressed by practices, workouts and correcting
Cronin, nothing has changed.
"I am competitive,"
he said. "I want to have a great year. I want to have the best program we can
have. I don't think about my contract. I think about my practice gym and how we
are raising money to get our practice gym acoustically operative and decorated
to showcase our history of our program. Future thoughts about where our locker
room design needs to be and what we are going to do with our arena and
recruiting. Those are things I think about. The contract, I don't want to sound
arrogant, that is just not something that crosses my mind."
unless someone crosses it for him. The only situation in which his contractual
situation came into play was while hitting the recruiting trail. The negativity
in recruiting never subsides. There will always be a way an opposing coach can
question another team a recruit is considering. It happens all the time.
have relayed the negativity coaches have pumped into kids' minds about him and
the University of Cincinnati. Only then, does his contract cross
against people here locally and in our league," he said. "Last year, I was
going to 'get fired' and the rival assistant coaches were just teeing off on
it. Now, the same guys and some head coaches are now telling recruits that I am
just 40 and I had job offers last spring and there is no way I'll be here. That
I am one of the hot, young, best coaches in the country and, yeah, they got a
really good team and are ranked but he is not going to be there.
"So now, I
have gone from getting fired to I'm a great young coach, but I'm going to take
another job? I got a 5-year-old daughter and I'm from Cincinnati and I'm going to take another job?
But that's probably a look for our fans to what I deal with."
statement provides a glimpse into why Cronin still works in his LindnerCenter office. This is where he wants to
be. His family is here. He's from here. He loves what he does and where he does
it. As we learned this offseason, more money or supposed greener pastures won't
lure him away from that.
fortunate to be here," he said. "I'm where I want to be."
Growing up in the nation's capital, assistant women's basketball coach Katie Rokus has always been around great athletic talent. From her days in high school where she was a two-sport athlete playing soccer and basketball, Rokus knows what it takes for a program to reach success and that's what she hopes to help do during her first season as one of head coach Jamelle Elliott's new assistant coaches.
"She's a ball of energy," Elliott said. "Being from the Washington D.C. area, she's really familiar with the AAU coaches in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area as well as Philadelphia and New Jersey. More importantly to be a good recruiter you have to work hard and she works extremely hard at what she does and it has been a great addition already for her to be a part of our staff."
Similar to last week's assistant coach spotlight of Aaron Swinson, Rokus got involved in athletics in a different sport than the one she now coaches. A soccer player during her early years, a member of her community who decided that her abilities might translate to the basketball floor turned on Rokus to basketball. Sure enough, that showed to be a turning point in her athletic career and her professional career, which still has to a lot with the sport she dominated.
"I made a basket every game and I got hooked," Rokus said. "From that point on I played every single day and I just became obsessed with it. That was around sixth grade."
Rokus was able to use athletics as a motivator when she began high school. She looked to soccer, but primarily basketball as a sense of belonging and reason to focus on academics as well. Rokus was salutatorian of her senior class in 1999.
"It gives you something to work towards every day, it gives you a focus," Rokus said. "Ironically it actually forces you to manage your time better, so at an earlier age your forced to really balance things to be successful."
Her academic background and achievements also work well with her title as assistant coach. Rokus is able to stress the importance of an education to her players while being an admirable role model in that department. Rokus is in charge of academic development within the team.
"I always liked school and it was actually a good balance because sports are hard and for me when that wasn't going well or when I was hurt it was easy to focus into that," Rokus said. "One of my main areas is overseeing academics and I try to express to them quality of study not quantity and that really works for them."
Experiencing adversity and overcoming that can be pivotal to coaching a team that is coming off a second-to-last finish in the Big East a year ago. During her time as a player at the University of South Carolina Aiken her and her fellow freshman inherited a 5-22 program. After their freshman season they brought the program to .500 winning percentage and then after her sophomore season the team eclipsed 20 wins, was ranked nationally, and made an NCAA tournament appearance.
"It was a really fun experienced we we're ranked academically and athletically," Rokus said. "It was the right fit for me no doubt about it."
Her career at USC Aiken was instrumental in her coaching career. She was hired by her former college coach to become an assistant coach at the University of Maryland - Baltimore County. Rokus was there for the program's first America East Conference title and NCAA tournament berth in 2007. Her teams at UMBC also led the conference in grade-point average, something that she hopes to duplicate at UC.
"If you have a staff that is working well together and you're your own team no one individual stands out more than the other," Rokus said. "I can't specifically say what it was that I did that had an impact other than completely buying into what we were doing and constantly translating that message to our players."
Rokus comes to Cincinnati after leaving her position at George Washington University where she developed and showed her skills as a talented recruiter. In two of the last three seasons, Rokus helped GWU acquire top 50 recruiting classes. Already on trips recruiting for the Bearcats, Rokus can use her experience to not only bring in the right talent, but also choose the athletes that are right for this program.
"Every situation is different and recruiting is such an inexact science," Rokus said. "You really just have to do your homework and figure out what it is that the kid is looking for. Do they want to be part of a program that's changing or do they want to go to those established programs? It's just finding that right fit."
A little hesitant to actually come interview for the job she now holds because of the lengthy distance from the Washington D.C. area, Rokus immediately fell in love with UC, however, and loved everything it had to offer.
"Not only does the campus sell itself, but with coach Elliott and what she is trying to do, I wanted to be a part of that," Rokus said. "Everybody has the same message and I just couldn't turn it down."
Rokus is the next person affiliated with the women's basketball program to preach the importance of reaching success. She understands the program Elliott is trying to build and is already impressed at where everything stands.
"Success and that be winning games," Rokus said.
"I think we are successful in every part of our program so far except for that and I definitely, definitely want that."
You know, I don't like to be the 'I told you so' type. The gloating sounds arrogant and, quite frankly, it's unbecoming.
That said, when it comes to Derek Wolfe, I told all of you people. (Here's the May 4 Breakfast) Maybe not you people that read this blog specifically, because you were well aware of Wolfe's ability. This is more directed to all the pundits that buried him on the third or fourth or even off the All Big East teams.
Rightfully, SI and the Big East media placed Wolfe on the first team.
I would continue, but my Googles are about to explode. You get the point. While the evidence was out there, people ignored it. And they ignored DWolfe.
Maybe Louisville swiped their scouting report from Chip Patterson.
Wolfe had 11 tackles, 3 TFL and a sack on Saturday. That's 11 tackles for a defensive tackle. Is that even possible?
His 1.67 TFL per game (10 total) are now tied for 8th in the country and lead the Big East. His 0.83 sacks per game (5 total) also lead the Big East (tied for 12th nationally).
As for total tackles per game? Yep, he also leads Big East defensive lineman with five per.
Let's see, what else could we judge a defensive tackle by? Fumbles forced? Yeah, he's done that twice -- tied for the most in the conference. Actually, he hasn't blocked a kick yet this year, so I guess that's ammunition for Patterson, Steele, Adelson and all the rest.
There were a list of four or five players consistently ranked ahead of Wolfe in the preseason rankings. Let's see how they stack up:
He leads in every category and for the most part by a wide margin. Nobody has been better than Wolfe this season and Saturday was his signature game.
JK Schaffer enjoyed best view in the house for Wolfe-fest:
unreal," Schaffer said. "To see a D-tackle dominate like he did...I could feel him out there dominating because the lineman weren't
surging to me."
Wolfe is supposed to be clearing the way for Schaffer to make all the tackles, but it didn't quite work that way.
Apologies on the audio issues on this interview, I'm not exactly working with the latest in Sony entertainment here, but here's Wolfe after the game.
--- In case you missed my postgame column, here you go. It also includes video of my interview with Schaffer.
--- Butch Jones committed news after the game with an interesting comment. He was sure to praise all the fans that showed up at Paul Brown Stadium (40,971), but for the first time made a call to more folks to support the team, specifically at PBS.
West Virginia continued to hold steady as the lone Big East team in the Top 25 at No. 11. If UC beats both USF and Pitt both teams will be ranked for the showdown on Nov. 12.
--- Speaking of USF, their dramatic fall continued with a loss at struggling UConn. The Bulls are looking like a fraud with their only quality win more of an indictment on the sloppy play of Notre Dame than the Bulls taking any significant step forward.
The 16-10 defeat came to a Connecticut team that's 3-4 overall with losses to Vandy, Iowa State and Western Michigan. Also, USF's thumping at the hands of Pitt looks even worse after the Panthers first season under Todd Graham spiraled deeper into the abyss with a 26-14 loss at home against Utah.
After averaging 45 points a game the first four weeks of the season, USF totaled 27 points the first two weeks of Big East play.
QB B.J. Daniels, who looked like the star USF hoped he would develop into, looked rather pedestrian in two Big East games. After four consecutive games with a completion percentage better than 60 percent, both games dipped below that threshold, hitting 52 percent of his passes.
--- Isaiah Pead was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week.
The yards per carry watch: 6.78. That's good for sixth in the country among running backs (min. 10 carries per game).
As for those above him:
Player/School Rush Yds Yds/carry Henry Josey, Mizzou 74 717 9.69 LaMichael James, Oregon 95 852 8.97 Asher Clark, Air Force 68 556 8.18 Robert Turbin, Utah State 109 754 6.92 Trent Richardson, Bama 132 912 6.91 Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati 92 624 6.78
You always know it's just a matter of time until he pops one deep. Pead loves using the line, "we took their will away" referring to how UC's offensive line wears people down into the fourth quarter. It certainly looked true again Saturday.
Take into consideration his numbers the first three quarters versus the fourth.
First three quarters: 12 rushes, 52 yards, long of 12, 4.3 per carry Fourth quarter: 8 rushes, 99 yards, long of 50, 12.4 per carry.
Even take away the 50-yard burst and you have seven rushes for 49 yards.
Take Pead's splits on first half/second half this year into consideration:
First half: 61 rushes, 360 yards, 5.9 ypc Second half: 31 rushes, 264 yards, 8.5 ypc
As the game goes along, Pead and this offensive line grow stronger -- or at the very least, stay the same as the opposing defense wears down. And that was no slouch defense they ran up 151 yards against. Louisville entered the game 10th in the country in rushing defense.
--- UC sits at second in the ESPN Big East power rankings just ahead of Rutgers. Adelson points out UC hasn't beaten a team with a winning record yet this year. That opportunity comes Saturday at USF (4-2).
--- Rutgers plays at Louisville Friday night. If they combine for more than 20 points, I will call it the upset of the season. --- Also, Friday afternoonI posted Part I of the preseason conversation I had with Mick Cronin. It's pretty interesting stuff, he talks about the non-conference schedule, the misinformed rhetoric of Doug Gottlieb and a possible future series with Indiana among other things.
--- UC has found a niche with players from Senegal. First, Ibrahima Thomas and now Cheikh Mbodj. There is a great biography that follows four Senegalese players on their journey to play hoops in the US. Great stuff. Here is the trailer.
It takes place a year to the date of last year's game.
Last Oct. 22, South Florida (they like USF, and they're actually in Tampa which is not near South Florida) came to Nippert Stadium and beat the Bearcats 38-30. The evasive BJ Daniels threw for two scores and ran for two more.
That loss started the second half of UC's season where the Bearcats slumped and were victorious just once in the last six tries. 3-3 turned into 4-8 with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In that loss, Zach Collaros threw the ball 53 times for 463 yards and three touchdowns. USF's BJ Daniels was just 13-16 for 286 yards and two scores, but was far more effective.
Naturally, that leads to the key to this game which should be obvious to anyone that's played football, seen a football, played electric football, fantasy football or flag football.
Of course, it's easier said than done. You MUST contain BJ Daniels!
Two years in a row, he's shaken, squirmed and juked away from Bearcat tacklers and either made plays with his legs or found someone as alone as Tom Hanks in "Castaway" when a defender bit on one of his fakes.
Raymond James Stadium has to become Pamplona for the Bearcats. Defensively, if you don't stop the Bulls (mainly Daniels) you WILL get gored.
Offensively, UC must elude the Bulls diving and dashing and snarling after them. (My advice--don't wear red.)
This can all be accomplished and has been accomplished. If you go back two years ago, the "sub from Steubenville" gave USF a bit of their own medicine as the Bearcats racked up a prime time win.
The biggest key in Tampa is for UC's defense to play as effectively as they in their last couple of games. The Bulls won't carve you up passing like Tennessee's Tyler Bray did, but Daniels does have big play capability.
UC might also want to take a page out of Pitt's playbook when Ray Graham racked up 229 yards on the Bulls at Heinz Field as the Panthers rolled USF 44-17.
Sure, I like to see the ball in the air and points aplenty, but the numbers show that Isaiah Pead will eventually crack the code given the right number of attempts. Pead is running as good as any Division I back around.
There should be no need for Collaros to throw for over 400 yards. To stop USF's progress, UC should impede with Pead. Even if it takes short passes, the "prophet" Isaiah needs the pumpkin to continue preaching the gospel to his followers.
Obviously, if they stuff the box to take away No. 23, Nos. 1,3, 6,12, 18 and 80 are viable weapons.
Winning at Raymond James won't be easy, the Bulls are averaging 53 points in three games there. However, if it gets to be a shootout, UC has that experience.
If they hold the Bulls down defensively, all the better.
The Bearcats had seen the situation presented at halftime many times before, but under Butch Jones, they'd never seen this response.
CINCINNATI -- Zach Collaros chased Mike Evans 63
yards down the far sideline. He came nowhere near catching the Louisville linebacker. As Evans crossed into
the south end zone of Paul Brown Stadium, the air fell out of the Bearcats fan
2010, those deflating plays caused the Bearcats to curl up and go away quietly.
half response reeked of 2011.
A team who
spent an offseason preaching character and response to adversity dug itself an
opportunity to illustrate the progress in front of 40,271 fans begging for the
conversation to change. By the time a
25-16 defense of the Keg of Nails came to a close, the mantra of character and
mental toughness proved to be more than rhetoric.
wasn't 2010. From inside the locker room out to the field, this felt different.
did," senior JK Schaffer said. "Last year guys probably would have been hanging
their heads and chattering back and forth a bit, (saying) 'Why did he do that?'
We didn't flinch."
they did the exact opposite. Facing what would have been a momentum-killing,
devastating open to the Big East season in front of the third-largest home
crowd in UC history, the Bearcats left the big picture thoughts in the same place as its
2010 attitude: The rearview mirror.
character win, through and through," Butch Jones said. "That defines what we
are. That was a win that occurred in January, February and March with team
chemistry and toughness."
More precisely, it occurred last September, October and November, as well.
In the 2010
opener at FresnoState, UC blew a 14-0 lead and allowed
two touchdowns in the final 2:23 before halftime. The response? They
didn't score again and faded to a 28-14 loss.
At N.C.State, UC allowed a 72-yard drive in the
final two minutes to see the Wolfpack pull out to a two-touchdown lead. The
Bearcats let up two quick scores out of the locker room and didn't post points until six minutes left,
trailing by 23.
Hosting Syracuse, UC let the Orange pick up a fumble in the end zone
during a disastrous second quarter, but only trailed 17-7. They were outscored 14-0 in the second half
of a demoralizing 31-7 defeat.
then there was West Virginia.
Collaros drove the Bearcats down the field attempting to flop momentum in a
game slipping away, an unfortunate bounce allowed a Mountaineers interception to move the ball the other way. UC then disappeared into a 37-10 loss on the way
this team, this coach, these fans, had seen this exact scenario before.
Jones, they had never seen this response.
"We said it
when we started this journey in January that our team would be defined by how
we handle adversity and how we persevere," Jones said. "Good teams find ways to
win games when they don't play their best."
doubt, the Bearcats didn't play their best. A game that opened with three
possessions, one first down, three fumbles and a blocked punt only depreciated
from there. A missed assignment allowed a 58-yard gain, missed tackles kept
drives alive. If not for a stingy red zone defense forcing three field goals,
the game could have spiraled out of control.
interception put an ugly decoration on a rotten 30 minutes.
no panic," Collaros said. "No panic at all. We couldn't really get into a
rhythm out there. We have great leadership on this team. Especially from the
senior class. We just came in here, looked each other in the eye and said we
are going to get this done and we ended up doing it."
Cincinnati's defense held Louisville to 110 y ards in 36 plays
after halftime. Instead of opening up a frenzied passing attack, UC pounded 17
rushes to 11 passes after the break.
With 12:19 remaining in the fourth quarter and Isaiah Pead leaping to the latest explosive highlight of his career -- this a 50-yarder up the middle, with a ankle-breaker for folks at ESPN -- the first
half was forgotten and Louisville was the team testing its character.
The ensuing blur of penalties, crowd noise and wrath of Derek Wolfe (11
tackles, 3 TFL and a sack), ensured they were already done.
response was calculated yet emotional; precise yet powerful; improbable yet
Most importantly, the latest sign that the results of 2010 look more and more like a exception rather than the rule.
tell you what, when we got in the locker room, you would have thought we were
winning, because heads were up," Wolfe said. "Nobody's heads were down. We knew
we were going to win this game."
Friday morning, I was able to sit down for a long conversation with UC hoops coach Mick Cronin. You may have heard of him. He's coming off his signature season running the program where the team went 26-9, 11-7, made the NCAA tournament and lost in the second round to eventual national champ UConn. The rebuilding portion of his massive project appears to be on the downward side of the mountain as he enters Year Six. The new job of holding a sustainable winning model began Thursday with the team's first practice.
Before starting that, however, we touched on anything and everything UC basketball. We discussed the always galvanizing topic of the non-conference schedule, the games he tried to get and the games he thinks are close. Also, he estimated how much closer he is sitting to the cool kids table in recruiting. From there topics ranged from season ticket prices to the importance of his new contract to why Doug Gottlieb has no idea what he's talking about. And, of course, we discussed the important pieces of this year's team and what could curtail them from meeting lofty expectations.
A breakdown of these topics will come in three parts over the next few days. Today we'll focus on Cronin's view of the non-conference schedule and a number of other popular topics coming out of last season. Part II will delve into Cronin's forthright talk about his new contract and what it means in the big picture of UC basketball. Part III will focus on the 2010-11 Bearcats and the outlook toward a return to the NCAA tournament. Without further delay, here you go:
--- Few topics rile up the fan base quite like the non-conference schedule talk. The 2011-12 version looks pretty similar to the 2010-11 edition. In particular, the non-conference home slate lacks the star power many fans would hope see at Fifth Third.
Here's the slate, with their KenPom rankings in parenthesis. FWIW, there are 345 teams in college basketball:
Alabama State (295), Jacksonville State (279), Presbyterian (263), Northwestern State (258), Marshall (86), Miami (189), Radford (331), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (339) and Chicago State (344).
There is also a game against Oklahoma (137) at US Bank Arena.
The lack of a power team at home doesn't come for lack of effort, though.
"I really tried as hard as I could to get a bigtime
game on ESPN or CBS," Cronin said. "I was trying to get a name team in a primetime game. Which, fortunately for us, there was a time when
maybe you were forced to play Xavier, when they were in the MCC -- fortunately for both of us, we have a built in
game against a ranked team. So, you got one. I think Oklahoma is
going to surprise people. Lon Kruger is one of the best coaches in basketball. They
only lost one player off that team and signed a bunch of guys. They are going
to be more formidable than people think - and so will Marshall."
Cronin's biggest target for the non-conference big fish was in the Big East/SEC Challenge, where the Bearcats drew a trip to play Georgia. Other options would have been Kentucky and Alabama, both ranked in the Top 25.
said, I lobbied the Big East to match us with Kentucky in the Big East/SEC shootout," Cronin said. "I
lobbied hard for it."
UK will host St. John's and Alabama will host Georgetown.
Cronin also worked closely with ESPN chasing after another Big 12 opponent in Texas A&M, who was a 7 seed in last year's NCAA tournament. He said the game was close to happening.
"Then they had a coaching change and that kind of fell through," Cronin said.
Hope is certainly not lost that UC won't be landing a few bigger non-conference games in the future. While playing too many can be detrimental to the season-long health of the team, he would like to make a bigger splash outside of the Big East.
like to start playing Kentucky,OhioState and Indiana," Cronin said. "In
defense of some of those schools, Kentucky
for one, they have a lot of rivalry games they have to play. They play North
every year. How many of those do you really want to play? We all know the deal
with OhioState. I
think it would be a great game for both teams, but it is what it is."
Cronin continued along the regional rivalry train of thought, though.
"My goal...is a two-year deal, home-and-home," he said. "I have a good relationship with the
coaching staff at Indiana and they have been busy rebuilding
their program. They are close. That's a game we have talked about a little bit.
That's the thing people have to realize. The other side has got to think it's
good for them, too. What happens with those types of games, the (opposing) coaching staff has
got to feel like if you lose to them it doesn't hurt you because it is a
The great news for UC and the fans being, they're close.
"Hopefully we are at a point where we are viewed
that way," he said. "Well, if we lose to them they are a tournament team it is not going
Still, with three road games in December at Georgia, Xavier and Wright State, there are challenges.
"It's not walk in the park," Cronin said.
The coach understands the frustration from fans, but he also walks a fine line between entertainment and developing a basketball team. Take a look around the Big East, very few teams play challenging non-conference schedules. In fact, pretty much none of them.
"I understand, you want entertainment, you want
to go see a good game every game," he said. "But a fan understands it is a long year. Our
schedule is brutal. Look at January. You have to develop a team so you can play
well in January, February and make a run in March. That's what this is about.
It's about developing your team into a winner, if it is about entertainment
let's just go to four basketball conferences and let 64 teams beat each other
up every year." --- On the back end of the conversation about schedule and what it takes to land bigtime games, Cronin touched on a topic that came up occasionally last season, which was media disrespect.
While in most instances, that can be tossed away to mean very little, in the case of recruiting and building a marketable brand that CBS, ESPN and the like want to put into major matchups, that plays a major role. You can argue had there been a more positive spin earlier on what UC was accomplishing it might have made a difference come time to matchup the BE/SEC Challenge.
we were unfairly talked about last year and I thought it scared our fans a
little bit," he said. "I just kept quiet about it because you have to focus on winning
games, but it was ridiculous."
He went on to discuss the fact that Missouri, who was ranked all season, showed how they compared to the Bearcats in the NCAA tournament. Remember, UC didn't crack the Top 25 despite their success only briefly prior to playing Xavier then returned near the end of the season.
Then as tournament time came around, some pundits were still criticizing the Bearcats.
"We were nowhere near the bubble last year,
at any point, despite what Doug Gottlieb said," Cronin said. "I know Doug, despite what he
goes on there and says, when you are a six seed you are nowhere near the
bubble. Ever. Ever. Because everybody from seven to 12, 90 percent were at-large and
some had play-in games. There are 20-25 teams you were ahead of. That means we
were anywhere from 20-25 on the board. We were nowhere near the bubble."
--- In the end, the area it hurt the most was in recruiting. A favorite analogy of Cronin's is when he's recruiting the game is all about who is sitting at the cool kids table. Recruiting is a popularity contest.
Hence, why Cronin felt burnt with the lack of respect received, particularly in the polls. "What hurt
us last year was we had a great year, but I thought we were treated unfairly in
the media," he said. "The voting in the Top 25 was a joke all year. Missouri was ranked all year and we were
not. If anybody watched a game in the NCAA tournament, we were playing with two
injured starters in a game we basically dominated. That tells you how ridiculous the
rankings can be at times. It can become a popularity contest, but I think now we
They did. And make no mistake, this offseason, the Bearcats were as popular as they have been in six years. They are currently being selective in their recruiting because they have very few scholarships available.
"No doubt about it with younger kids," he said. "They
know when you win. That's why this year is a big year for us.Sustained
winning is important. How much fan support you have is important. Kids want to
know are you playing to packed houses, are you playing on television? Which we
are playing on television a whole lot more now. That is going to help us a lot.
Our attendance at the end of the year last year was tremendous. Hopefully we
can continue that."
-- Ah, yes, attendance. Another topic Cronin hears about all the time are the breakdowns of the season-ticket packages vs the three-game packs and deals of that sort.
Are the packages more affordable than season tickets? Yes. But more goes into it than that.
"When you buy a season ticket at University
for men's basketball, you are supporting women's basketball and every other
sport we have. Your UCATS donation and price of that ticket, you can't equate
it to the three-game package, the three-game package is going to be cheaper.
Trust me in the economy I completely understand.
"Why I bring it up is, fans say
the expense of a season ticket. I am telling the short answer, when you buy a
season ticket to men's basketball there is a price built in supporting the rest
of the sports here. WE have over 500 student athletes that need your support.
That is just the fact. The hardcore facts. They are
supporting them by buying season tickets to men's basketball. That is a trade
off. In this economy, it is a tough reality when you are in a city with a lot of other
It's been a rough couple of games for the Bearcats in Big East play but tonight we start our turn around. We play Seton Hall at 7pm on Gettler. This game is part of UC's Homecoming Celebration so we are expecting a great turn out! The focus this week in practice has been competitive and sharp. I expect great things from the Bearcats tonight! If you are not busy and in the Cincinnati area, make sure to check out our game!
Happy Homecoming to everyone. May your weekend be merry and your front yard not be trashed. Should be an action-packed few days all over the city. In case you are still wondering what the heck is going on and where it is going on at: here are the details. As you should know, UC vs. U of L, Saturday, noon, Paul Brown Stadium. PBS is officially transforming into Bearcats central.
The Cats have already been down to practice at the stadium and will do so again. It really has become a bit of a home away from home for them. They talked about it on this video from CoachButchJones.com.
As for the game, the "experts" are projecting a 15-point UC victory. With Louisville dealing with a new play-caller in his second game, a freshman QB making his second start and an offensive lineman who was playing defense two weeks ago, they appear to be in shambles -- at least on offense. On defense, they are one of the best UC will face this year.
On that note, here are this week's Four Stats For Victory: 1. Three takeaways. The Cardinals are tied for last in the conference in turnover margin at minus-4. Meanwhile, the Bearcats are second in the country at plus-12. The Turnover Margin Express needs to take advantage of an offense begging to turn it over with youth everywhere and position groups pressing to score touchdowns. A defensive TD for UC would make it three in the last four weeks. Doing so seems a distinct possibility.
2. Three spins for ZC. Zach Collaros has gone five games into the season without throwing for more than 300 yards. He did so four times last season. The ascension of the offensive line, breakaway ability of Isaiah Pead and turnovers leading to short fields contributed to that, but still, everybody knows ZC can fling it. The Cards have done a good job against the run this year. They are 10th in the country. They can be susceptible to the pass, though. This could be the game where the keys are handed to Collaros to fly this team to victory. He throws for 300 -- as long as INTs are limited -- this is a win for UC.
3. No special teams TDs. In games where a home team is heavily favored, the ultimate hiccup comes from unforeseen special teams touchdowns. The Bearcats have done a good job preventing those this season and the Cards are without one. In fact, Louisville only has two KO returns longer than 30 yards all season. Making sure both trends stay the same will keep the game in the hands of the offense and defense, where UC wants it to stay.
4. Red zone defense at 50 percent or better. Louisville's offense in the red zone has been a dumpster fire this season. In 11 trips they managed only five touchdowns and two field goals. That means 37 percent of the time they come away empty. Yikes. Take UC by comparison, in 28 trips to the red zone they own 20 TDs and four FGs. Not allowing the Cardinals any satisfaction -- particularly early on -- will build their scoring frustrations even more and allow the trend to continue. --- Andrea Adelson at ESPN with a feature on the development of JK Schaffer -- frontrunner for BE Defensive Player of the Year.
--- I'm actually headed down to UC to talk with Mick Cronin (look for much more from that coming on the blog). It's a breath of fresh air to be able to talk basketball in the middle of all this football madness. An even bigger breath of fresh air to talk about a UC team with a projected preseason Top 25 ranking for the first time under Cronin.
Speaking of rankings, a few more came out yesterday.
1) Unfortunately, Patriots DL Mike Wright was placed on IR Thursday. He racked up 10.5 sacks in his last 26 games and became a force on the line for Bill Belichick. Unfortunately, an early-season concussion has become too much to overcome. Best wishes to Mike in his recovery.
2) Jason Kelce isn't wasting any time getting in the middle of things in Philadelphia. He stood up to some Eagles fans doing, well, what Eagles fans do, and being negative. They showed up across the street from the practice facility with a sign reading "Andy, the time's...to go"
For the first five games of a season a steady stream of pocket passers lined up across from the Bearcats. That won't the case the next two weeks. Far from it. How the Bearcats defense adjusts could be the difference between winning and losing.
CINCINNATI --The Bearcats defensive conerns
became abundantly clear following the loss atTennessee. This team needs to rush the quarterback. It needs to do so
next three weeks, the defensive line and linebackers spent their time playing
capture the flag. Full-speed ahead, eyes centered on the object stationed in
the middle of the pocket.
wasn't going anywhere.
Clayton Moore tried to run, but forgot to take the ball with him.
N.C.State's Mike Glennon moved about as well
as Mike Brown. Endured about as many hits as the Bengals owner does on sports
talk radio as well.
Miami's Zac Dysert could move out of the pocket a little
bit - more often than not moving backward.
last three games the Bearcats sacked the quarterback 14 times. The job came
with simple rules. See that spot five-to-seven yards deep in the pocket? Get
two weeks, the game changes.
playing capture the flag, they'll be playing capture the fly.
were not mobile like these guys," DL Derek Wolfe said.
Few in the
country are as mobile as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and South Florida's B.J. Daniels. Bridgewater scrambled 25 times in the last two
games and that's not counting the numerous moments the elusive freshman dipped
around a rusher to throw on the run outside the pocket. Anybody who watched
Daniels throw three touchdowns while running for three more the last two games
against UC knows all too well his athletic ability.
The days of
chasing the statue have been temporarily shelved.
"If you are
going to work a move its got to be perfect," Wolfe said. "Because if not he is
going to put the moves on you and you are going to look stupid on TV."
passer and forcing sacks has become as much a part of UC football's current
surge as defenders watching Isaiah Pead's No. 23 grow smaller in the distance.
The 9.3 points allowed across the last three games solidify that.
The key to
rolling momentum into the opening two weeks of conference play will be how the
defense adjusts to containing these mobile QBs. Chasing and adjusting to
extended plays represents one of the few tests the unit has yet to take.
consideration the success athletic, mobile quarterbacks enjoyed last season. The
two most obvious were N.C.State's Russell Wilson and Daniels. Wilson scrambled around and threw for 333
yards, three TDs and no interceptions while taking off eight times for 33 more
yards. Daniels ran for two and threw two touchdowns in a 38-30 USF win at
quarterbacks enjoyed successful nights on the Bearcats defense last year, but
those were particularly impressive.
thought from the players on this defense is they are more prepared to take on
the athletic quarterback challenge this year than previously.
runs like this: with experience comes discipline; discipline equals contained
about discipline," Butch Jones said. "It's discipline on your points on the
quarterback and it's something we stress from Day One. It's just the discipline
of the rush; it's the secondary with their eye discipline and not coming out of
sounds much the same as it does for any other week.
to stay technique-sound and stay on your points," DB Chris Williams said.
"Whenever we have a quarterback that can do different things as long as we stay
technique-sound and defensive line plays their gaps, we should be able to
contain a quarterback on offense."
sack leaders like Wolfe and Dan Giordano, who both have four, adding to the
total involves rushing in their lanes and not getting caught up making moves
outside their gaps.
other guy likes to sit in the pocket, you can kind of get up field and you can
run around a little more freely," Wolfe said. "With a guy like Bridegewater and
Daniels, all four guys have to be at a point. All it takes is for one guy to
get off point and he is out of there."
he's out of there, improvisation like Bridgewater and Daniels were recruited for can
leave any perfect defensive gameplan on the editing room floor. Much like it
did last year.
what hurt us last year," Bomar said. "We have made adjustments so we can be
more successful on the defensive side of the field. We aren't going to let
anything like that overcome us this time."
Why is the homecoming game not at home? That is a question I have been asked a number of times over the last couple of weeks and I don't have an answer other than maybe the University thought they could make the annual event more profitable moving it to a bigger venue. But with the way the University of Louisville is playing I would think the I-71 traffic may not be what it could be if they had a better record. One thing is for sure they have a considerable number of greater Cincinnati kids on their team including Stephon Ball, son of former Bengal Eric Ball; Preston Brown from Northwest; Dominique Brown, state champion quarterback from Winton Woods and so many more. That no doubt will guarantee a contingent of Cardinal faithful regardless of their record.
This game may be the last ironically these two teams could play while living in the same conference. Many believe U of L is headed out of the conference, potentially to the ACC; either way to see these two schools in different conferences is heartbreaking for someone who remembers them going back past the Conference USA days. So close in proximity, same color palette and raiding each others back yard has contributed to a great rivalry and a Keg of Nails as the reward.
I hope wherever Louisville goes, UC follows; I can't say with any certainty that it will happen but I would think any conference commissioner worth his weight in Bowls will see this built in rivalry has instant value. Time will tell and I hope sooner than later. Until then we'll just have to enjoy what we have; a battle on the Ohio and a tradition of memories to last a lifetime. No matter who the coaches or players are, the fans on both sides know you have to root heavily against each other.
While we don't know and really feel slighted that the homecoming football game is not on campus, we have to revel in the fact we're good enough that Paul Brown stadium is now a viable option. I don't think the attendance will be anywhere near the numbers the Oklahoma game provided but lets hope they exceed the capacity of Nippert Stadium. Otherwise the debate fuels itself and it will be hard to put it to rest.
Rest assured though, that this homecoming will be a first at Paul Brown stadium; and you can say you were there regardless of who you're rooting for.
"It's a team game," said receiver Kenbrell Thompkins."Our whole thing is that winning takes care of everything.As long as we're winning, it doesn't matter how many receiving yards or catches we have, we just want to win."
Still, it appears that we've been so spoiled by UC's aerial pyrotechnics over the last few seasons that we are no longer dazzled by a quarterback who is completing 63% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions after five games.
In truth, the Bearcat passing attack has been very good, but there is room for improvement.
"We've had our moments where we've been in a good rhythm, but we're nowhere near where we could be," said quarterback Zach Collaros.
"It's not just one thing," said receiver DJ Woods."It's receivers running the right routes, it's the blocking by the lineman, it's the reads by the quarterback - everybody is a part of it.But it is our job as receivers to get open for Zach and make plays."
They'll get that chance on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
In recent years, the Louisville Cardinals have been uber-aggressive on defense and challenged opponents to beat them with downfield passing plays.
"They have a lot of confidence in their defensive backs," said Woods."They play a lot of Cover 1, so we have to beat man coverage.It's nothing too special - we have to do the same thing that we did last year and make plays when it's one-on-one."
"They're an attacking defense and they like to play man-to-man coverage," said Collaros."The thing about man-to-man coverage is that you have to win one-on-one battles.So it's our O-line vs. their defensive ends, and it's our receivers and tight ends vs. their cornerbacks.If you win those matchups, you're going to win the game."
The Bearcats have won three straight in the rivalry and two of Zach's biggest games have come against the Cardinals.
In 2009 in his first college start, Collaros was 15-17 for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns, posting a perfect NFL quarterback rating of 158.3.Last year, he passed for 275 yards and a career-high 5 touchdowns.
"Last year they actually ended up playing a little more zone than we expected," said Collaros."Especially toward the end of the game because we had burned them a couple of times.So we're not exactly positive what they're going do against us this year, but through their first five games they've played a lot of man-to-man."
Perhaps Louisville will drastically alter its defensive strategy for Saturday's game, but one thing never changes in the annual Battle for the Keg of Nails:It will be hard-hitting and hostile.
"Four quarters of smash-mouth football," said Thompkins."If you're not expecting to get hit, you're in the wrong sport."
"It's always going to be like that," said Woods."Louisville doesn't like us, and we sure don't like them."
* * * * *
I hope you'll join Coach Jones, Jim Kelly, and me for the "Butch Jones Show" on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.
Why is it that the University of Connecticut seems to be in the mix for a national championship year after year in women's college basketball? It could be the legendary coaching that makes up the staff in Storrs, Conn. or it could be the highly talented recruits the Huskies seem to hoard like they did wins while breaking John Wooden's UCLA Bruins record streak of 88.
Jamelle Elliott and the University of Cincinnati women's basketball program may not have the benefit of the rich tradition UConn has, but they do have a new member to their staff that has an expertise in molding young players and bringing out the best in their game.
Bearcat nation, please welcome Aaron Swinson, who is the step in the right direction when it comes to building a talented group of women to start the evolution of a perennial program in the Queen City.
"One of the things I was most impressed with is his player development as well especially with the post players," Elliott said. "He's a gentleman and he's always bringing great insight no matter what we do whether it's on the court or off the court."
Swinson comes from a very competitive family. Growing up in Georgia, the newest addition to the program was initially interested in football after he idolized Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson and the type of attributes he possessed.
"When I saw that number 29 with the Rams I knew football was going to allow me to get tough," Swinson said. "I went out on the basketball floor and brought that toughness from the football field and that's when I knew that was my passion."
As a youngster, Swinson was forced to sit out when his family members were playing basketball due to his uncles' idea that he was too small. That idea seems like a farce based on the six foot five frame that allowed Swinson to compete in professional basketball.
"From that point on, it started building up to me picking up a basketball and doing these little small things that would make me better," Swinson said.
His experiences playing high school basketball lead him to have a chance to get a free education and play South Eastern Conference basketball at Auburn University. Swinson's high school coach, who he calls his mentor, was pivotal in developing his skills - which is the same thing he is trying to do with the 12 women wearing the red and black.
Swinson's body of work speaks for itself. While a Tiger, Swinson was a three-year letterwinner and two-time captain. He was a two-time all-SEC performer and ended his career ranked second with a .609 field goal percentage, right behind his former teammate while on the Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley. He also average 16.9 points during his career at Auburn and amounted 1,386 points, good enough for 12th all-time.
"When I got to Auburn there was that one fit that I knew this had to be the place for me," Swinson said. "With Coach Tommy Joe Eagles and his staff and all the players that I played with I knew this is where I wanted to be and it was a great experience."
The former Tiger had many stops playing professionally after his four years at Auburn. During the span of 11 years, Swinson played ten years internationally in Spain, Italy, France and Argentina. He earned MVP honors and won a championship while playing in Continental Basketball Association with the Yakima Sun Kings. He also enjoyed a brief career with the Phoenix Suns of the NBA in 1994.
"My third year over in Europe I was playing with a team, Valencia, right there in Spain and I was able to be around people like Tim Perry and Reggie Fox and they taught me how to be a professional athlete," Swinson said. "With me being so young and energetic, I wanted to dunk and break every backboard they were like 'Hey, look this is how you're supposed to do things, we need you to help us.' And we were very successful with that mentality."
Swinson then got into the field of coaching and player development leading him to the job he has now. He got his start in women's athletics as a varsity girl's basketball coach at Holland Hall Preparatory School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Actually applying for the vacant men's coaching job, Swinson was able to get his start coaching there.
"I didn't want to really coach, I thought I could maybe help develop players," Swinson said.
After his time coaching high school basketball, Swinson was able to get a job as an assistant coach for the Tulsa 66ers an NBA Development League team. While in the NBA D-League, he was able to begin developing players for the next level
"Ramon Sessions being one of the guys that I mentored a whole lot," Swinson said. "He actually got an opportunity to stay in the league and make a lot of money and that was my passion."
Gaining coaching experience to go along with his understanding of playing the game has allowed him to implement his expertise. Before arriving at Cincinnati, Swinson was an assistant coach under his wife, Charlene Thomas-Swinson, at the University of Tulsa. He was important in developing Larrissa Williams, a Conference USA defensive player of the year. Now alongside Elliott, Swinson hopes to have the same impact on the Bearcats.
"I'm going to do everything I can to help this program," Swinson said. "This is what this community wants to have."
Swinson knew coming in what it means to wear the C-Paw logo. Compared to Tulsa's small community, Cincinnati not only has an bigger office for Swinson to stretch his legs out, but friendly people that make him want to be here for a long time.
"I knew what the BIG EAST was all about and I knew the success that Coach Elliott came from," Swinson said. "For her to have me be a part of this, I need to do something to help out."
With all the talk about what school is going to end up in which conference, it's sometimes easy to overlook what's going on in the here and now on campus. These are exciting times for female student-athletes in Clifton, and if you haven't been following, here's a quick look:
The women's soccer team has a big Friday-Sunday BIG EAST doubleheader at home this weekend, first with Seton Hall Friday, then Rutgers Sunday. Friday, all soccer alumni are invited back (for free!) to see what Coach Michelle Salmon has done with the youngsters. Talk about tough competitors, this team has played six, count 'em, six double OT contests. Two of the team's freshmen, Kristina Utley and Mackenzie Grause, have been conference Rookies of the Week. Bodes well for a bright future.
The volleyball team just lost its first conference game of the season and will go on the road Friday to face an undefeated Louisville team. Expect good things during tournament time from Reed Sunahara's group, as well as Janet Carl's golf team. These two coaches have proven track records for getting the most from their student-athletes.
And the women's basketball program is stirring up interest on campus with an open practice for UC faculty and staff, along with Basketball 101. Coach Jamelle Elliott has some exciting enthusiastic assistants by her side who promise to make this season a fun one, and what better way to bring in new fans than to show just how hard these ladies work?? Can't wait for the exhibition game against NKU November 5.
S before we get too wrapped up in the 'what might happen,' let's enjoy what's happening now in women's athletics. And go see 'em play-you won't be disappointed.
With the Big East opener Saturday, it's time to take a closer view at the conference outlook and how realistic the chances are of UC walking away with its third conference title in four years.
Anybody who visits Andrea Adelson's blog at ESPN can read coverage of the entire league and find perspective on the everybody. You can read the power rankings, the midseason reports or any number of Big East related items. But none of those focus solely on UC's chances.
In theory, just about anybody can win the Big East, but at this point I whittle it down to four legit contenders: WVU, USF, UC and Rutgers. They've established themselves as the clear upper half to this point. For anybody wondering, I've been selling Pitt since Day 1 and will continue to do so. They are struggling with many of the same unfortunate issues of transition UC experienced last year. It will take at least a season to get everyone on the same page. --- That said, those title contenders begin and end with West Virginia. This blog will continue to fight the stigma that WVU is that much heads and tails better than everyone that it is theirs to lose. But they are the favorite.
Even Zach Collaros offered as much.
(the favorites) every year in the Big East," he said. "They have been doing it for however long, before we
were winning games. They always have the highest recruiting class and all that
stuff, it comes down to who plays better on any given day. From the looks at
things and what people are writing and saying, West Virginia might be the favorites, but we are
happy being under the radar winning games."
They sit in the favorite position because of their prolific offense. Though, it should be noted they aren't scoring as many points a game as the Bearcats. The man lighting a couch on fire would then point out their schedule has been tougher. Has it?
How do the FBS defenses played rank compared to each other? And let's throw USF in there since they lead the league in total yardage
WVU opp DRank UC opp DRankUSF opp DRank
Marshall 69 Tennessee 33 ND 51
Maryland 84 Akron 74 Ball St. 112
BGSU 78 NC State 88 UTEP 111
LSU 5 Miami (OH) 58 Pitt 68
Average 56 Average 63 Average 92
Not exactly a resounding difference between UC and WVU (we'll get to USF later). Granted, the Mountaineers did score 21 points on an LSU defense that may be the best in the country, but you can't discount UC posting 22 against a Tennessee defense that's among the better ones in the SEC at Rocky Top.
The Mountaineers are moving the ball all over the field against these teams. They are averaging more than 500 yards per game on an average of 76 plays at 6.6 yards per play. UC is averaging 440 yards a game on an average of 69 plays at 6.3 yards per play.
Yet, thanks to short field created by the second best turnover margin in the country, they are scoring five more points a game than WVU.
ZC will take those numbers all day.
"A lot of
people talking about how our numbers are down total yardage, you know we can't
help that," he said. "The defense has given us such short fields, we are not complaining.
They keep doing that and we will keep doing our jobs scoring points."
Take further into consideration UC plays West Virginia at Paul Brown Stadium and you have as good a chance to knock them off as any team in the league.
The only problem, of the other three aforementioned frontrunners, games against USF and Rutgers will come on the road.
--- How about South Florida? What to make of the enigmatic Bulls? If any offense numbers of the first half can be exposed as inflated, it would be the Bulls. They are averaging 505 yards a game. Notre Dame gave away its points through turnovers, while the other two FBS teams (plus running up 70 against FCS FAMU) are both ranked in the bottom 10 nationally. Then they posted the stinker at Pitt.
BJ Daniels improved dramatically this season. The Bulls are legitimately better. You can't take away the Notre Dame game from them -- but you can think about it. If ever a team lost a game more than the winning team won it, that was the game.
So, what are the Bulls hanging their hat on right now? Running up the score against three defenses undeserving of being on the same field and being walloped on national TV by a struggling Pitt team.
And that defense which held its own a year ago, has take a step back while UC stepped forward, at least to to this point. If you only count games against FBS opponents this year, South Florida ranks 7th in the Big East defensively. UC is fourth (mainly thanks to the turnover disparity).
The Bearcats will travel to USF after the Louisville game this week. The Bulls already have a loss in the conference. A UC win down there could all but put USF away in the title picture. Looking back, the USF loss at home was the most critical swing game of the 2010 season. Such could be the case again this year.
--- Rutgers presents a unique case study. The Fighting Schianos own an aspect to their team that they feel can dominate anyone and that's their defense. They get in their own way too often with penalties, but teams are averaging but 15.2 points against them this year.
(Sidenote: High score of 26 points against Rutgers this year? My strong Ohio Bobcats. Matt Lauer gives that a dramatic eyebrow raise)
The offenses haven't exactly been juggernauts: North Carolina (72), Ohio (38), Syracuse (100), Pitt (76), Average (72). But they certainly have looked stout, especially at home. Which brings us to the most important element of The Rut.
They face all of the aforementioned contenders in Piscataway. Oct. 29 vs WVU, Nov. 5 vs USF and Nov. 19 vs UC. Three games in four weeks will define their season.
They are already 2-0 in the Big East with wins against Syracuse and Pitt. They control their own fate maybe more than any of the big four teams considering the schedule.
Of course, they are now starting a freshman at quarterback in Gary Nova. And anybody who reads this blog has seen the stats on inexperienced QBs winning Big East titles. (Hint: It doesn't happen)
--- The Bearcats are as confident and enthusiastic for the start of Big East play as you can be at this point. And looking around, rightfully so. Everyone has holes. Should the turnover margin express keep trucking along through the conference season, UC's game against WVU could decide the BE title.
Of course, all that can change by Monday. That's life in the Big East where very little separates the programs.
"When you look at the Big East this year, it's everything we thought would
happen when we were in Newport (media days)," Butch Jones said. "Everyone is pretty much the same. It's a
week-to-week conference. There are no my-bads or off days. One bad day can take
you from all your dreams and goals and aspirations and we found that throughout
a very short period of time that anyone is capable of beating anyone."
At the end of 2007, UC played in the Papajohns.com Bowl. Sure, it was a minor bowl, but folks could make the drive, we had some good barbecue and Ben Mauk had a tremendous game defeating Southern Miss.
Yeah, it reeked a bit of Conference USA, but a win's a win (and that is your last Bearcat bowl win folks).
As it turns out, that was also my last game on radio. At that point, I did the pregame, halftime and postgame shows (and as I recall, Dan Hoard was battling a cold that day so I got to sign that one off).
Anyway, at halftime, the bowl organizers brought "Papa John" in the booth. He was wearing a bright red shirt. He grinned as a handler told us he was there for his halftime interview and we were to pump up "Papajohns.com".
OK...I knew this was the same guy that Louisville's stadium was named after, but in the festive mood of bowl season, I was ready to comply.
Then, it struck the "suit" bringing "Papa John" around that he was supposed to be in the ESPN booth which was next door.
Suddenly, "Papa John" lost his pleasant grin and he grimaced at our presence. There was no, "Thanks anyway," or even a "See you later". "Papa John" and company whizzed out of the door like a driver who didn't get a tip.
And...He took the boxes of pizza with him!
Based on that, because he's a Louisville guy and because he stiffed us on our halftime pizza, I have personally boycotted Papa John's ever since.
Besides, what's with that stupid pepper anyway?
Of course, in these shaky conference times, I suppose we should be kind to Louisville. Maybe, if the Cards and Bearcats can keep a conference together or team up elsewhere, I might try a small slice again.
By the way, this is a rivalry. The legendary Keg of Nails is at stake.
( I hear the "Spikeburger" is better than the pizza/Thanks to roadfood.com)
More importantly, this is a territorial war involving much more than an empty wooden bucket that used to serve as my microphone stand way back when in Rick Minter's office.
Louisville recruits Cincinnati. In particular, Charlie Strong has made a strong presence in town and has whisked away some local football talent.
Most notably, Dominique Brown of Winton Woods, who flip-flopped like a political candidate after declaring for UC, and Preston Brown of Northwest.
Beyond that, Gregg Scruggs and Stephon Ball of Cincinnati St. Xavier are there. So is seemingly eighth-year senior Josh Chichester of Lakota West and Colerain's Tyon Dixon. Throw in a number of Northern Kentucky products and there's a substantial amount of Tri-State talent that did the I-71 shuffle.
Now, I would never fault a player that gets a full ride anywhere. Truth be told, if most of us had athletes at either University, we'd be very proud.
However, for those that have some loyalties to their town and school, it doesn't and shouldn't sit well that Charlie Strong passed "Checkpoint Charlie" on the Brent Spence or "Big Mac" bridges and toted some players back.
The key in Saturday's game is to not let any of these local kids who went South be a factor in the game. I remember that same Papajohns.com Bowl year when Louisville came to Nippert and got a win. Elder's Eric Wood was the Cardinals center and he rubbed Cincinnati fans' noses in it by strutting the Keg of Nails all around.
Petty as it may seem, I didn't like it. I don't want to see it again.
There are many intriguing matchups in this year's Keg of Nails contest. Can UC's pass rush contain freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater? Will the running game be able to establish itself against the Cards' 10th-ranked rush defense? Will the Cards' OC change stagnate their sluggish offense even more?
Eh, whatever, save those for another day.
Let's talk side stories. This game is full of them.
First off, we have a game where two of the more prominent recruits of the Cincinnati area in recent years -- both of whom spurned UC for Louisville -- return to play in the city for the first time since leaving.
The first is former Winton Woods QB Dominique Brown. Brown led the school to a state championship in 2009. He at one point committed to Cincinnati, but ended up heading to Louisville.
The sophomore enjoyed his first career start last week for the Cardinals at RB. He led the team with 18 carries for 47 yards and caught three passes for 33 yards.
Second, Brown's close friend Preston Brown, who was a standout at Northwest, also left the Cincinnati area for Louisville. He committed the same day Dominique declared his allegiance to the Cardinals. Brown enters Paul Brown Stadium starting at LB -- and Louisville's second-leading tackler.
Some UC fans who involve themselves in the recruiting madness felt slighted by the Browns jumping to the Cards. Then there was a player like LB Maalik Bomar.
Bomar played with Dominique at Winton Woods. They were teammates. When Preston Brown came to visit UC, Bomar was his personal recruiter. He showed him the ropes and welcomed him in.
Now, they play for an archrival and Bomar won't hold back his feelings. This one means a little extra. "We got guys that left the home city and say they
have a new city," Bomar said. "You are coming into my backyard? You are going to get what you deserve."
The evil genius that is Twitter, not shockingly, helped exacerbate the chatter.
"I have seen
some of the comments our fans have said that Preston Brown shouldn't have left
for playing time but should have come here, whatever," Bomar said. "Now (Preston) is saying he has
haters, or whatever, it is comedy to see this. Kids talk so much instead of
being about play. We'll see where it gets him Saturday."
Bomar said he is refraining from utilizing his Twitter, rather waiting for Saturday to talk. All of these comments came across more in good fun than any actual disdain. But his point came across clear enough Tuesday.
These situations aren't exclusive to Bomar or Brown or even this season. They are at the core of what great rivalries are all about. These are two teams recruiting the same turf and fighting to prove decisions right or wrong. On an annual basis.
No Bearcats hail from the Louisville area, but you better believe many of UC's players owned offers from both schools. The availability of recruiting information makes these cases much more visible than even five years ago. And when fans get involved, the decibel level rises.
But these types of battles are what keep the fire alive in Keg Of Nails as well as so many other rivalries across the game. (At least those that haven't been ruined by realignment).
This game holds extra importance. Believe that. "Absolutely," Bomar said. "This is a program game. It means a lot to us." --- The other prominent story of Saturday's game will be the Bearcats' first of two trips to Paul Brown Stadium. Bill Koch posted a blog on it as it dominated the Tuesday conversation.
Playing Homecoming games off campus hardly represents the ideal situation, but such is the case right now with UC football.
The players love Nippert Stadium. They love playing home games there. Just ask them.
"(Paul Brown Stadium) is a
great atmosphere; always cool to play at a place where pro players play and a
lot of great players have played," Zach Collaros said. "I have said it before and I will say it
again, we love Nippert Stadium --especially
people that have been here for a while. We never had the bubble or anything, so
we practiced there, we condition there, we do everything there. There is
something special to being able to play at Nippert. But we are going to take
advantage of Paul Brown, that atmosphere will be great, especially for our
The atmosphere was more than great last season when UC shoved 58,253 into the stadium for a game against Oklahoma. That attendance number represented more than three of the final four home games of the Bengals season. That also equals about 17k more than either of the first two games this season.
The magic number to warrant a game being played at PBS as opposed to Nippert is 45,000. That means UC would make more money off the move downtown. We'll see if this game delivers the same type of crowd. Regardless, it does present a recruiting chip few teams can tote into a living room.
All that matters to the top HS players are playing in the NFL. Playing college games in an NFL Stadium plays into that dream.
"It does legitimize the program or however you want to say it," Butch Jones said. "It is critical. It is all about first impressions, if we want to continue to elevate the program we have to get players out to watch us play. For prospective student-athletes to know you have the opportunity and luxury to play in an NFL venue...it is a great selling point."
Maybe you can view games at PBS as the new-school of UC football and games as Nippert as the old-school left behind.
In the same respect that cramped practices inside The Nipp bring out the "nostalgia" of 2009, whereas the new world of Bearcats football come inside the bubble looming above Jefferson Ave.
The same argument made for the dependance of smartphones, Facebook and technology killing the social relationships and old-fashioned conversation could apply here.
Everyone can wish for the good-ole days and resist the Interwebbings and the iWorld, but they'll be left behind in the process.
You want to be a bigtime football program, you have to step into bigtime venues and bigtime atmospheres. That's the bottom line truth of college football in 2011. You can fight for the quaint alternative, but those don't compete in big business.
The University of Cincinnati women's basketball team held
their first week practice of starting last Sunday and from the get-go the team
seemed ready to work. On hiatus since last season's loss to West Virginia in
the Big East tournament, head coach Jamelle Elliott has put together a new
staff and added three incoming freshmen to go alongside 8 veteran players and a
transfer from Michigan, Dayeesha Hollins and a junior college transfer, Lesha
Dunn. The Bearcats look to improve in the third year of the Elliott era.
concerns was a constant theme during last season with a number of players
unable to contribute during games and at practices. The beginning of this
season has a new feel to it as injury concerns are extinguished and all 12
Bearcats have been participating in practices. The only limited participation
was from Elese Daniel who is coming off an ACL injury and Chanel Chisholm who
is coming off a knee scope. Both players practiced sparingly during Sunday's
first practice and plan to see more action as the preseason evolves.
year was between seven and nine players that we had on the court that could
practice," Elliott said. " Today we had 12 guys at a time that were ready to
get in, get better, do the drills, and do the things that we need to do to be a
was very happy that the first three-hour practice of the year and the rest of
the first week was a successful one. The returning players showed that their
off-season workouts allowed for high energy levels on the court. The freshman
showed some conditioning concerns, but they were able to get through their
first week of collegiate practices for their career, a good step in the right
direction for Elliott and her staff.
had great attitude, the communication was good as they talked for the most part
pretty well," Elliott said. "Overall I was really happy with what I got out of
these guys today at the first day of practice for three hours."
women will continue to be pushed, as practice continues to be a daily gig.
Elliott has stressed that her players must work a hard as possible in order to
get into game shape.
they are tired they need to continue to focus mentally and continue to
encourage each other vocally," Elliott said. "When they are tired I want them
to not think about themselves but think about their team."
only distraction to the women's basketball program has been the recent
evolvement of recruiting violations that occurred last season. The program, now
on probation, received these allegations stemming from a number of
impermissible phone calls to recruits from an assistant coach. That coach is no
longer with the team and Elliott and the program does not support the incidents
that occurred almost a year ago.
this was brought to my attention I needed to set a tone for my program that
this wasn't going to be something that my program stood for," Elliott said. "We
have moved on from it and obviously I have two new members to my staff here now
and were just hoping that we can move on."
Welcome to everyone's favorite weekly feature, the brief Tuesday Breakfast before I head off to the media luncheon.
Have a feeling there may be more discussion about the powderkeg of the college football landscape than the Keg of Nails today, but I could be wrong. People have asked me all the time during this how much all the realignment and conference stuff is affecting the team. From everyone I talk to, it affects the team about as much as the Derek Jeter-Minka Kelly relationship rumors. They hear about it, but that's about the extent of it.
That goes double for the veterans driving this team, because it won't even affect them. Maybe they follow it because their Twitter feed is filled with it, but beyond that, they could care less. They care about beating up on Louisville on Saturday. Which works out nicely for the coaching staff.
--- With the official announcement of TCU moving to the Big 12, the Big East announced it will consider adding six more football schools to get itself to 12 teams.
The schools mentioned in the ESPN article are UCF, East Carolina, Army, Navy, Air Force, Memphis and, of course, the move to FBS for Villanova.
While it was discussed, no raise in the exit fee has come out of the recent meetings, so a decision for one of the current schools to leave would still cost $5 million. I would put the world "only" in front of that figure, but my fingers won't allow me tot type it.
As has been the case for a week now, everyone waits on Missouri. The Tigers had a 45-page document outlining their options leak yesterday. It said they can make up to $12 million more each year with a move to the SEC and listed possible future Big 12 members as Louisville, BYU, TCU, WVU and Notre Dame (excluding football). --- Commissioner John Marinatto issued this statement on TCU's acceptance of the Big 12 invitation:
"Although never having competed as a member of the
BIG EAST Conference, we are disappointed with the news that TCU is joining the
Big 12. As noted earlier today, our presidents met via teleconference this
morning to focus on the future and have authorized us to engage in formal
expansion discussions with additional institutions. We anticipate taking action
in the near future."
--- UC playing Louisville this week makes for an interesting backdrop, as Bill Koch writes today. The two have been great conference companions for a long time now. Of course, much like all of college athletics rivalries it seems, all of that is in jeopardy with the latest developments. --- Cincinnati and Rutgers are the two biggest surprises of the non-conference Big East season, Adelson writes. They are both doing it with defense. Considering the struggling Louisville offense is coming in here this week, it's yet another opportunity to follow the model.
The stats back that up: team-leading 35 tackles, 3.5 TFL, .5 sack, 3 INTs, 6 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
The guy does it all. --- Rush The Court broke out a list of 10 Players You Don't Know But Soon Will. For purposes of this blog it should be called Nine Players You Don't Know And Sean Kilpatrick.
RTC had this to say about SK:
"Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati- Mick Cronin has many key
components from last year's surprise team back in the fold - namely
Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright - but he should be most
excited about the return of Sean Kilpatrick. Straight out of Notre Dame
Prep, Kilpatrick emerged as one of the premiere outside shooting weapons
in the Big East during his debut campaign, a time when most freshmen
struggle badly to find the bottom of the net. Kilpatrick earned all-Big
East rookie honors and finished with a robust 38% mark from deep.
Kilpatrick also ranked third on the team in scoring, fourth in assists
and ended his year behind only Dion Dixon in offensive rating.
Kilpatrick is a viable candidate to make a major jump in his second year
--- Some randomness...
--- I can only imagine the reactions of my friends who still work for Gannett when they read stories like this one. The CEO left and took a $37.1 million retirement and disability package. Under him, about 20k jobs evaporated.
Us scribes are a selfish bunch. We don't root for teams, we root for early deadlines. We don't root for dramatic victory, in fact, we hope that Hail Mary gets knocked down so we don't have to rewrite the lead. Actually, a 55-10 blowout sounds even better.
In the same way that most UC fans bemoaned Saturday's bye week, I can only say I truly enjoyed it. Backing away for a weekend, at least, was a delightful breath of fresh air. So, sorry you endured a Saturday without Bearcats football, surely it felt empty. I won't be commiserating with you.
That said, it is nice to be back in a game week again. We'll be back with the Tuesday double-dip morning-afternoon blogs with the media luncheon and, of course, coverage emanating from Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday to go with the daily Breakfast.
--- Speaking of Saturday's game -- soapbox time.
This can be another showcase week for a program that, by the eye and scoreboard test, appears to be on the rise (probably more of a bungee bounceback than anything, yet I digress). Not only is this Homecoming but another chance to fill Paul Brown Stadium. Granted, Louisville isn't a Top 10 team as Oklahoma was last year. The way their offense has been playing, I don't know if they'd be in the Top 10 in the Big East (I'm sure there's a Georgetown intramural squad throwing it all over the lot).
But this game is important for many reasons. Homecoming, yes. Big East opener, yes. Rival game, yes.
Yet, chiefly, Saturday represents another opportunity to impress. Nobody knows what will happen with realignment. Dissecting or prognosticating will make your head spin. But know this, perception and program strength means more in the knee-jerk, musical chairs season of college football than ever before. That means more than winning. When your biggest blemish as a program is a small stadium and an impression of a 3/4 filled one at that, making a statement at the turnstile as a fan base can make a difference.
My goal is not to convince people to go to games or tell them how to spend their money. Rather, I'd like you to understand the value in attending a game like Saturday at PBS.
This big-time venue, particularly a packed one, can leave a lasting impression about the strength of the school/program. Whether that means in moving conferences or staying or whatever, that's more important than its ever been right now. The fan base standing together to support the team, the program and show this university and its following should be seen as one of the premier entities in college football holds more importance than ever today.
Filling up PBS wouldn't change years of attendance numbers, but it would send a message. A loud one. If there were ever a time to loudly interject into the football conversation, that time is now.
Do with your money however you please. Nobody is telling you what to do. Only, realize that attending Saturday's game could be giving more than a few dollars back to the University of Cincinnati.
And, step down from soapbox. Sip Aquafina. Wait for slow clap.
That never comes.
--- Paul Daugherty took another view on the conference situation. He waved the white flag. Fair points, but a little premature.
--- Want to make your head spin like your filming a prequel to The Exorcist? Here you go. --- ESPN may have had their hand in an dirty, scandalous aspect of conference realignment? Why, I never... --- Enough of that, Louisville week. The Cards lost 14-7 at North Carolina after -- at the very least -- taking play-calling duties away from their offensive coordinator after four weeks. They scored seven points, on a busted defensive play.
--- I think this coping mechanism of a headline from Card Chronicle about sums it up: "The Future Is So Bright, You Can't Stand To Watch The Present" --- Freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater looks like the truth out there, but he's plays like a freshman. Physical abilities that will put some ying in your yang-yang, to quote Kerry Coombs, but still learning how to lead and avoid critical mistakes.
--- Numbers to ponder: UC ranks first in the Big East in scoring at 45 points a game.
Louisville ranks last at 16.4. That number is a full seven points less than second-worst UConn. Yikes.
Not only do they have but 11 touchdowns through five games (five fewer than UConn), they only made two FGs to go with them.
The problem hasn't necessarily been moving the ball -- the Cards are 5th in the conference in total offense, they just can't seem to convert those yards into points for the life of them. They drove inside the UNC 30 five times on Saturday and didn't come away with a single point. Double Yikes. --- While we're talking Big East, Pitt continued down my predicted path of demise. This game was closer than 34-10, but still, Rutgers put a second-half beatdown on the Panthers, who pulled Tino Sunseri at halftime for a freshman. In case you are still wondering, the decision backfired.
Though, from a basketball standpoint, if UC could find its way, the hoops grouping would still be strong.
"While we lost two of our traditional
schools, we still have 14 very strong members from a basketball standpoint,"
Cronin said. "Eliminate Pitt and Syracuse, and we still have nine teams that
were in the NCAA tournament last year. By my count, that's five more than the
ACC, which is the conference everybody seems to want to play in."
His intentions are clear and understandable considering the high-profile nature of BE hoops. "We want to remain in the Big East," Cronin said. "At some point you've got to
add members, that's pretty clear. It isn't rocket science. If the service
academies come in for football only, they bring great value to your television
contract, they bring great value academically and they bring great followings.
In the Big East, we already have tremendous media markets. We just have to be a
viable football conference."
--- Ah, staying a viable football conference. There's the rub. Interim AD Bob Arkeilpane put out a statement saying that UC is "fully engaged" in the situation. Here's more of what he said.
--- The year 2013-2014 season will be a decider of whether UC/Big East/whoever-12 are dubbed winners in this. That is when the BCS will evaluate who the automatic qualifiers are. As long as UC ends up in an AQ league -- or a part of whatever the postseason system ends up as -- the rest is all a matter of dollars and cents. --- If you want more inside chatter on where everything stands, here is a nice, succinct first nine minutes of a podcast with CBSsports.com insider Brett McMurphy. He's been on top of the realignment story, particularly from the Big East perspective, since Day 1.
--- P.S. All of this could change tomorrow. Enjoy.
--- Freshman Shaq Thomas will redshirt this season. He will be eligible to practice with the team at the end of the fall semester. His initial eligibility waiver has been approved. That was in question before.
Here are Cronin's comments:
"We are very happy that Shaq has been cleared to
attend the University of Cincinnati," Cronin said. "He is a wonderful
young man as well as a great player. Obviously, we wish he could play
this season, but the circumstances dictate he must focus on academics. I
know Shaq plans on using this year to work on improving each day. It is
nice to know we will have one of the best freshmen in the country
playing for us next season."
comes to UC after playing two seasons at NIA Prep in Newark, N.J.,
where he averaged 28 points and eight assists during the 2010-11
campaign. He was tabbed a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com
and listed as the 81st-best player nationally by Rivals.com.
Cronin and the Cats can only hope Thomas' situation ends up the same as Sean Kilpatrick's redshirt. SK spent the year becoming a much better player and was an instant impact guy last year.
--- BTW, the UC hoops caravan with Cronin will be at Salem Gardens Oct. 17 from 6-8 p.m. in case you are looking for some face time with the coach. You should definitely ask him about his non-conference schedule, he'll love that. (*Sarcasm font)
--- While UC won't be holding an official "Midnight Madness" because it falls on homecoming weekend and they don't want to take away from the other events, there will be a practice open to the public the next week. A bit of a belated Midnight Madness, if you will.
It will be Oct. 21 from 6-8 at 5/3. There will be a 20-minute scrimmage. Students will be selected for a 3-point shooting contest, you know, all that good stuff. Should be fun.
Headed out to practice yesterday. It was the first since the Miami game and coaches were definitely making up for lost time getting after the players and making sure they weren't letting themselves go.
Both line groups were running extra after practice and there was no lack of urgency from the staff because of a bye week. After, I spent some time talking offense with OC Mike Bajakian.
He always offers great insight into the attack and I used it as an analysis of where this unit is at as they head into conference play.
Looking at the non-conference numbers, this is arguably the best a UC offense has played in non-conference in recent history. The numbers top even the Brian Kelly quick-strike attacks.
Here is the non-con breakdown over the last five years. (Only includes first five games of season, no bowl games or late-season games in Hawaii)
--- A few things noticed about this year, not shockingly it is the first year the Bearcats have run for more than they passed since pre-BK. And it's not even close. Outside of that strong 2007 attack that posted almost 1,000 rushing yards while piling up 1300 through the air, this is far and away the most balanced the offense has been in recent history.
--- Along those same lines, you want to know the difference between last year at this time and this season? Running the football and holding onto it. Those yards lost due to fumbles are the difference in 24 yards per game.
I'd argue the offense played just as good, if not better than last season, only held onto the ball more.
--- The only concern to come out of these numbers? Remember, an overwhelming majority of UC's turnovers last year came in conference play. In particular, UC threw 13 interceptions in the conference schedule last year compared to just one this season.
While it appears Zach Collaros has adjusted and is making better decisions -- we haven't come close to opening the interception issue, yet.
--- Boy, it's hard to forget how electric that 2009 offense was. They were throwing the ball and knew there was nothing you could do about it.
--- If not for the two picks against Miami, you could have made an argument this was the best combination of production/efficiency in the last five years. Probably beyond. Those turnovers dinged that argument, though.
--- Assessing this offense at this point was my primary point of conversation with Bajakian yesterday and it was pretty clear he'd been pleased with the progress -- at least until the turnovers in Miami.
"There's always room for improvement. I'd say up until this last game -- the biggest improvement we wanted to make this season was ball security, which we had done until Miami. It allows us to refocus on that as a priority. We are always trying to move at a faster tempo and establish a tempo. We can never be fast enough until we run 100 plays in a game, we are not moving fast enough."
For the record, according to the available numbers (cfbstats.com), UC is yet to run 100 plays in a game, but came relatively close. They ran 90 against USF and 86 against Rutgers last year. They ran 80 against N.C. State for the most this season.
For all my recreational tempo judges out there that want to keep track of the pace, the bigger judge of UC's tempo is when they snap they ball. "If we are snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds on the play clock, we are moving pretty well," Bajakian said. "If it is 19 or less, I would like to be moving faster, again depending on certain situations."
--- As for those turnovers, the Miami game will serve as a good teaching point and reminder heading into conference play about forcing the ball. When you haven't thrown many interceptions, becoming overconfident in throws can happen occasionally.
Regardless of the reason, any chance to re-emphasize the offseason mission during the season serves as a blessing in disguise for Bajakian.
"Especially where they occurred -- down in the red zone," he said. "We always talk about when we are down in the red zone we have three points in our back pocket. We need to walk off the field with a minimum of three points. Assuming we don't gain another yard in that game, we took nine points off the board. We got to keep that in the back of our mind. We have done a good job up until this point, especially down in the red zone. It was a setback we need to correct."
--- Another popular topic of conversation has been the season of D.J. Woods. He played exceptionally well against Tennessee, but outside of that hasn't had the breakout numbers some might come to expect. At least of late, he had three receptions for 22 yards against N.C. State and went without a catch against Miami.
Defenses are poised not to let DJ beat them -- and it's a big part of why Isaiah Pead and ZC are.
"It's a combination of a number of things," Bajakian said. "I don't look too closely at the stats, but when he doesn't have as many catches other guys have more. It's part of the benefit of having multiple weapons at the skill positions. We want to make the defense defend all of our skill guys, whether DJ Woods, Kenbrell Thompkins, Anthony McClung, Adrien Robinson, Travis Kelce, Isaiah Pead. If they are going to take away one, they are going to leave another open."
Chalk that up for the biggest reason McClung leads the team with 23 receptions and on pace for north of 60.
--- Bottom line of all this: UC is more set up to be a versatile, efficient offense than almost any time in recent history. The combination of run/pass/protection/ball security bodes well for the conference season.
All that said, much can change when the conference games begin. They did last year.
"We've always placed an emphasis on being a balanced offense. I don't think you can let the defense gang up on one particular area of your game. We've been able to play balanced football."
Hope your bye week has turned you into a more productive citizen and you have plans to now spend your Saturday volunteering at a local soup kitchen or entertaining at a retirement community.
Oh, you're still going to sit on your couch and watch football all day? OK, then I guess I'll keep feeding you football news. In fact, UC offers up the only media availability of the bye week this afternoon, so I'll head up there and return with some nuggets from players and coaches tomorrow.
Let's eat... --- Plenty of takes on what the heck has gotten into this Bearcats team up front. Bill Koch talks about the hard edge and physicality on the lines. Andrew Force takes on the the spread offense and how Butch Jones is showing you don't have to be pass-happy to succeed in it. --- I do like that Jones has stayed out of the fan attendance conversation. He always expresses his appreciation for the fans which are in attendance at Nippert, regardless of number. Winning games will bring fans.
Telling people what to do with their money irks me. Calling out people that have long supported the Mountaineers program when you are the new guy playing in your fifth game irks me even more.
--- The schedule works out nicely for UC. Not only do they enjoy a bye the week before opening Big East play, Louisville, fresh off a loss to Marshall, will be returning from a tough game at North Carolina this weekend. Already banged up (QB Will Stein and RB Victor Anderson fighting injuries), it could be a depleted group of Cardinals coming to Paul Brown Stadium.
--- Basketball season officially begins in 10 days. One of the first public events of the season will be the Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast Mick Cronin will be attending along with Chris Mack, Charlie Coles, Archie Miller and Billy Donlon.
The always entertaining Phil Martelli will also be there. They'll talk about the season and all things college hoops while raising money for a fantastic cause. It's from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 2 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati. Tickets are $75 and will be available starting Oct. 7.
There's more information here, but if you have the morning open it would be a great event to support. Plus, you can be the first person this year to ask Mick about his rotation! He'll love that.
--- Speaking of basketball season, I was up in the UC offices yesterday
and came across the UC basketball poster for this season. Strong to
Here it is.
--- People love finding snubs from the Wooden Top 50 list. Yesterday, I mentioned Yancy Gates on here.
"Comment: It's no coincidence that Cincinnati
solidified its place in the NCAA tournament last February just as Gates began to
tap into his immense potential. The previously erratic 6-foot-9 senior averaged
16 points in Cincinnati's last nine regular season games and scored in double
figures in all nine of those games. Projecting a significant leap from Gates is
risky since he has produced similar numbers in all three seasons at Cincinnati,
but if he can build on that late-season stretch, he has the talent to be as good
as any big man in the Big East."
With all due respect to Miami University of Ohio as the cradle of football coaches, I have to say UC is a great place to cut your teeth in coaching if you plan to become a major head coach in college or the NFL. We may not be the only ones who can say that but I started looking not only at the recent coaches like Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly, but Urban Meyer and Mike Tomlin who have been a branch on UC's coaching tree. ESPN broadcaster Mike Gottfried, Illinois head man Ron Zook have also passed this way as well adding validity to my claim.
(for a inside look go to this link:) http://www.gobearcats.com/sports/m-footbl/archive/coaching.html
As one of my good friends always says your blessing can also be your curse. You needn't go back any further than Brian Kelly who galvanized the campus, alumni and community faster than free chicken at KFC. We loved him for who he was but hated him for what he dreamed; being head coach of Notre Dame. I can never understand why people hate someone for taking their dream job other than not being able to realize their own. After much scrutiny and near exile he appears to have the fighting Irish on track. Good for him and good for us because it allows us to breed yet another top notch head coach in Butch Jones.
Time will tell whether Coach Jones ascends to the upper echelon of college coaches in UC and/or the NFL but if he does, that means we succeeded again in picking solid leaders. I know coach speak always says this is the place I want to be but there is always another overlooked voice called the coaches wife/family. If a coach has a chance to be close to home or the family's home the decision becomes harder to stay. If a coach has an opportunity to lead a top flight program after they have done well here it's hard to say no as well. The bottom line is athletic directors should always have a short list in their pocket next to the breath mints.
UC has produced some great players and coaches over the years and that has put the university in good company. But in football it's not the company you keep, its keeping them part of the company that's the challenge. Easy come easy go is the rule rather than the exception and don't bother mentioning contracts because they are only worth the paper they're printed on.
Lets celebrate the coaching lineage that is UC football dating back to Sid Gillman and more recently Brian Kelly. It gives UC sports another feather in its cap as to why its a top flight university for sports. Now with a bubble practice field and a solid conference affiliations, sans the fallout of 2011, we may be moving to a place considered elite thereby ensuring a coach really does want to come here to stay, not just stay on the path to something better.
Thanks to all the loyal readers for allowing me to have a life and take the weekend for my good friend's wedding in Asheville, NC. By the way, if you ever have an opportunity to go to Asheville, do it. Oh, and take your guitar. Yellow Springs thinks Asheville is a town full of hippies and hipsters. Don't forget your skinny jeans.
But truly incredible views and plenty of great places to go. For those of you who take regular trips to Gatlinburg, this might be a fun change of pace to avoid all the commercial junk that has overwhelmed that area. Unless, you really want three different options to bungee jump as part of your vacation.
Enough talking points from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, let's eat...
--- What if I told you before the season the Bearcats would finish non-conference play 4-1 with a defense ranked in the Top 45 and be second in the country in turnover margin.
After yelling "Blasphemer!" at me for five minutes, you'd probably be pretty excited.
The ugly nature of the defeat in Tennessee dampens what was a solid non-con season for UC. Question the level of competition all you want, the Cats handily put away the teams they were supposed to. They have overachieved the expectations on the final score of every win.
And take a look around the Big East, not too many teams can say that. In fact, pretty much none can.
They lead the Big East in scoring margin (28.4), points scored (45.0), are second by a fraction of a point in points allowed (16.6). All that comes with the starters resting four quarters due to blowouts.
Yes, UC's opponents have struggled. The four teams they beat have a combined record of 5-13 this year. In fact, those schools are a combined 0-5 against other BCS schools.
WVU owns the same credentials as UC --- four wins, one against an average ACC opponent and a loss to an SEC school. Granted, Tennessee is no LSU, but the Cats also didn't play at home.
Also, the Mountaineers struggled for a half against hapless Norfolk State. Their victory at Maryland was nearly a season-changing debacle as the Terps charged back late.
This is not an attempt to bash WVU, not in the least, but to make a statement that they are heads and tails above UC at this point dismisses the numbers and the eye test. Because they were cast as the preseason favorite they have been grandfathered in despite almost half a season of real, tangible game tape to judge every team by.
In the end, this means little. WVU will come to Paul Brown Stadium and it will be decided on the field -- not to mention myriad other games between now and then -- but let's not go calling the Mountaineers the class of the Big East at this point.
--- I talked before the season about a need for UC's defense to own a calling card, an identity. That meant being dominate on the defensive line. That's where they owned the talent to be a group that strikes fear into an offense. That is happening right now. UC's front overwhelmed the RedHawks all game and never was it more obvious than in the goal line stand.
By the way, with those two negative rushing yard performances by the defense, they now rank 7th in the country against the run. --- In case you missed it UC-Louisville will kick off at noon on Oct. 15 at PBS. A night game would have been desired, but with the Bengals playing 1 p.m. the next day, that makes for a pretty crazy turnaround and schedule for all those who would have to clean and prep the stadium.
The same situation occurs when West Virginia comes to town, but if ESPN gets involved in that game, it could move to the evening.
--- The Columbus Dispatchgives some run to Isaiah Pead. More good stuff from No. 23. --- Doc wrote about the rivalry between UC-Miami not working. Yes, UC currently owns the longest winning streak in the history of the rivalry. But when its been going on for well over 100 years, that thing isn't going anywhere.
--- Cool behind-the-scenes video of the game from CoachButchJones.com.
--- Conference realignment fate continues to hang in the distance. Mizzou curators are meeting at noon today to discuss their future. The latest domino could come out of that. Either way, stay tuned to that situation, its a big swinger that could lead to more Big East poaching.
--- Hey, remember basketball? Hoop, 94 feet, played indoors? Well, practices are right around the corner and the Wooden Top 50 Watch List came out yesterday. Yancy Gates was not on it. I'm a little surprised, but its not a complete shocker considering the inconsistency of his early season play last year. Personally, I think everyone will be wondering where he was on the list once his senior season is over, but I'm obviously a little subjective on that.
The only effect this would have at all would be the first opportunity for Mick Cronin to play the no-respect card. That thing sure worked wonders all of last season and it's hard to argue with results. That will be a bigger challenge considering most rankings have UC opening in the Top 20 if not higher. Still, awards and lists like this come out all the time with UC absent. Disrespect can be found or manufactured just about anywhere.
--- Some randomness.... --- There's nothing worse than sitting around the house, flipping through the channels when a bear barges into the house. I hate that. They always have the worst timing.
--- Top five guys who screwed things up for everyone. It's true, one guy puts poison into pixy stix on Halloween and kids everywhere have to wait to shove 13 mini-3 Musketeers down their throats.
--- This is the onlylogical explanation to why they don't just start in the water for triathlons. It seems like a dangerous beginning to a pretty long day. --- My alma mater, Ohio U., used to have a joke of a football program (whose laughing now, the Fightin Solich's are 4-1!), but that meant people showed up with five minutes to go before half and left right after half. That's right, because the band is pretty darn entertaining.
They have really stepped their game up. They went Party Rock Anthem this weekend, apparently. Somewhere, Arsenio Hall is smiling. And I assume pumping his fist.
Sorry for such a long time in between posts! School, student teaching, and soccer have been kind of hectic the past few weeks so I apologize. This weekend we played South Florida and Marquette. After 110 minutes of pure intensity, passion, and rage we tied South Florida on Friday night. We dominated the game statistically and were unable to put a second goal in! Logan scored her first goal of the season, a freaking rocket from her left "club" and had one of the best celebrations of the season (aside from Schmidty's celebration after her UCONN goal!). Players 1 thru 31 all contributed to the result on Friday and it was upsetting we didn't come out on the winning end but trust me there will be good things for the Bearcats in the future. We have a fight about us that we won't give up. I am looking forward to the next few weeks of Big East play as we try to push our way into the Big East tournament! Make sure to check back this weekend to see how we did after we travel to Georgetown and Villanova!
The winless Miami RedHawks - who had lost five straight games to Cincinnati by an average of 29 points - were about to take the lead in the third quarter.
After committing two redzone turnovers in the first half, the Bearcats were only able to build a 6-0 lead, and when Miami quarterback Zac Dysert surprised UC with a long pass on the first play of the third quarter, it looked like Nick Harwell was on his way to the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown.
But Bearcat safety Drew Frey caught the speedy Harwell from behind and tackled him inside the one yard line.
"The only thing that goes through your mind in that situation is 'Get to him, get to him, get to him.'" said Frey."It was a desperation play, and luckily, I was able to get to him before he got in."
"We were busted in coverage and made a mistake and those things can be fatal, but Drew ran back and made a great play to stop the guy short," said defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs."That kid is fast and Drew didn't give up."
Still, Miami had it first-and-goal from inside the one.The Bearcat defense has a rallying cry for that situation.
"We always say, 'Give us a place to stand and we're going to make something happen.'" said linebacker JK Schaffer.
"Defensive line coach Steve Stripling said that us once, and now we say it all the time," said defensive tackle Derek Wolfe."Give us a place to stand.I don't care if you give us an inch; we're not going to let them in.Our sideline was going nuts and that was just feeding us."
Two Miami running plays lost a yard.Offensive pass interference on Harwell pushed the RedHawks back to the 17 yard line, and after an incomplete pass, Miami had to settle for a 34 yard field goal attempt.When Mason Krysinski hooked it wide left, Miami came away empty.
"I think that summarizes the character that we have on this football team," said head coach Butch Jones."All we need is an inch.That was a big turning point and you could feel it on our sideline."
"Last year we don't stop 'em," said Coach Coombs."This year, those kids believed they were going to stop 'em and they rose up.There's no question it was the turning point of the game."
When Isaiah Pead scored a touchdown less than two minutes later to give the Bearcats a 13-0 lead, it felt like the game was over.Cincinnati went on to win 27-0, marking the first time in the 123-year history of the rivalry that either school has won six straight times.
"We were challenged," said Coach Jones."We knew that Miami was a good football team.Their front seven on defense is as good anyone we've faced all year.But there wasn't any panic and that's a great thing."
"That's the difference between this year and last year," said Schaffer."We're making improvements, we're playing good defense, and I couldn't be more proud of my teammates."
"We relish those opportunities now where our backs are against the wall and we've got to make plays," said Frey."I feel like it's just an attitude and I've think that we've got it this year.That was a collective effort."
* * * * *
The Bearcats have a bye next Saturday, but I hope you'll join Coach Jones, Jim Kelly, and me for the "Butch Jones Show" on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.