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December 2011 Archives

I have to imagine everyone wakes up this morning like myself, still wondering how the heck UC ended up beating Oklahoma last night.

For all the ugly and unsightly aspects of Thursday's game, the refusal to lose and will to win were something to behold. UC needs to figure out how this offense will work against quality competition. And they badly need some reinforcements back on the interior. But, there is a part of me that thinks winning a game against a Big Six school when you play that poorly may go a longer way than beating them when you shoot the lights out.

That's partially what my column was about postgame. Here's the link.

So much more to touch on from last night, let's dive in.

--- I had the pleasure of watching the game last night next to a Hall of Famer in Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News. Always amplifies the experience. And, of course, a great piece from the victory.

--- Here was a summary with some notes and quotes from Bill Koch.

--- As I mentioned before the game,
it seems hard to imagine this team where everyone had been shooting so well to end up having a truly horrendous night from beyond the arc. Everybody couldn't go cold, could they?

Apparently, yes.

Maybe it was the rims, maybe it was the shooting background, likely it was the opponent, but 3-point shooting went bone dry.

It took 9:05 for UC to hit its first 3-pointer, they missed all but one of their first 12 shots from the field -- a fast break dunk by Dion Dixon.

This offense will not work if guys shoot like this. Of course, no offense will work if a team shoots 28 percent from the floor and misses 44 (!) shots.

The offense predicated on the dribble-drive had plenty of dribble but no drive. UC couldn't penetrate the lane. Oklahoma switched off, helped and UC froze. While the Cats started to figure it out as the game went along, then they missed layups and couldn't finish against athletic big men guarding the lane.

"We took some bad shots, we didn't get the ball moving," Cronin said. "I don't know how we were only down five at half. It was too easy for us the last four games offensively. Shots were going in. And when shots weren't going in we panicked a little bit."


For the majority of the night, it amounted to four players standing outside the arc, watching the other dribble. That's a good recipe for scoring a season-low 19 points in the first half.
"We were doing dribble-drive, person who pass the ball got to cut we were just standing there watching the other person dribble the ball," Cashmere Wright said. "It was kind of throwing off the process of what we do."

--- Really, nobody could shoot from deep.

Oklahoma entered shooting 41 percent from 3 on the season. They were 5 of 16 for 31 percent.

Of course, UC entered 40 percent on the season and hit 7 of 30 for 23 percent.

--- How much of the falloff stems from playing a legitimate team and how can be attributed to a poor night shooting?

Oklahoma challenged more shots than has been the case the last four games when the Cats buried 47 percent from 3-point range and averaged 93 points a night.

That said, UC lined up a ton of open looks. These were looks they hadn't missed since the Crosstown Shootout. And they couldn't make any. The offense needs work. It must find some kind of way to attack the lane consistently, but I'd be willing to bet UC doesn't have another game this season where it shoots less than 23 percent from 3-point range.


--- There may have only been 4,439 people at US Bank, but it sure sounded like more down the stretch. The joint was rocking. There was no doubt about it, the crowd made a significant difference in not only urging on the Cats, but rattling the Sooners.

The momentum was palpable.

Mick Cronin and the players stood at midcourt after the game and saluted the crowd -- Wright even jumped into it for a bit -- they weren't huge, but they made a huge difference.

"Our crowd was huge tonight, was a big, big factor," Cronin said. "Seemed to me, felt like 15,000. Was a great feeling to be honest with you, something I would love to continue to see, that kind of energy from our fans spurring on our team. True homecourt advantage and our kids really fed off of it."

--- Jermaine Sanders reverted to the spooked, nervous freshman we'd seen the first eight games of the season. He was 0 for 5 from the floor and 0 for 2 from the stripe. And they were ugly. At some point he'll learn to relax out there. When he does, he'll be a strong player. He'll be the guy everyone saw the last four games.

That said, I'm pretty sure when Cronin recruited Sanders, he didn't look at him in the New York HS championships and say, "That kid is going to play 5-man for me in a close high-major conference game."

Sanders did very well in the middle defensively, actually, considering he has no business playing there.

Cronin said he'd been practicing him there the last few days just in case of a situation like the one that occurred where Justin Jackson fouled out and Kelvin Gaines found foul trouble and wasn't contributing much.

--- Speaking of Sanders being nervous -- did any of you notice with 1:22 left and UC down by two, who ended up shooting the two free throws to tie the game?

Sanders went up for a rebound, was elbowed in the side. Whistle blows. Himself and JaQuon Parker are near each other when Sanders lands. Only, Parker steps up to the free throw line instead of Sanders. The officials never noticed.

Parker (80 percent on the season) drained them both.

Anybody in the building think Sanders was making those two?

They pulled the old switcheroo. (Which, of course, leads to this classic Seinfeld clip)

--- I asked Mick after if it's easy enough just to say the reason they won this game was heart and grit.

He responded back with another oft-overlooked aspect.

"And making free throws helps," he said.

Free-throw hater guy loves to point out when the team misses their free throws and the difference it would have made in the game. Mick Cronin -- and every coach, really -- hears from them all the time. And UC hasn't been particularly good from the stripe all season (61 percent) and were bad in the first half (1 of 4).

Yet, they made 13 of their final 14 on Thursday including 7 of 7 in the final three minutes.

Meanwhile, the other OU missed the front end of two 1-and-1s. Ballgame.

--- For this team, getting to 40 deflections is the defensive equivalent of touching 100 points. If that happens, they will win most of their games.

Thursday, they finished with 33 or 34 deflections (Cronin wasn't exactly sure the number, which is charted by the assistants). More importantly, they racked up 16 deflections in the final eight minutes.

That is insane hustle put into numerical form. Considering if that pace extrapolated out would equal 80 deflections -- double the ideal -- needless to say the defense was suffocating down the stretch. 

--- Some people have a chip in their brain that changes the mindset in crunchtime. I admire the heck out of those people. It may seem easy, but that is far from it. When you are 1 for 12 on the game and seemingly haven't done a thing right offensively and you attack the bucket twice in the final minute to put your team ahead, that takes a special mental makeup. Cashmere Wright showed a little extra we hadn't seen from him before Thursday.

He couldn't remember the last time he hit a game-winner like that and put it up there with his tops all time.

"Right now it's got to be No. 1 for me, especially with the game on the line, "he said. "I actually came through for my teammates, that is the biggest deal for me right there. I actually came through and helped my teammates I ain't left them out there. They held on for me and I actually came through and made the right play at the end of the game."

--- Even though Wright struggled from the floor, I should point out he had five assists (damn good when a team shots 27 percent from the floor) to just one turnover. That now gives him 31 assists to five turnovers since moving to the four-guard attack. 

--- For as small as the Bearcats were, shrinking to essentially five guards the final 10 minutes and giving up four to five inches on the interior at times, they fared pretty well on the glass.

Remember, the other OU was tied for second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 44.4%.

They grabbed 14 of 37 misses at 38 percent. Those numbers skyrocketed in the final 5-10 minutes when UC really struggled to keep them off the glass without any height inside, but that number is manageable.

UC ended up with 13 of 44 misses for 30 percent. Those 13 all seemed to come at the most opportune moments, as well.

My goal numbers before the game were for UC to hold Oklahoma under 40% and UC to grab at least 30. They did. And give serious credit to SK (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Parker (11 points, 9 rebounds) who scrapped against 6-8 and 6-10 athletes all night and came away with more than their fair share. 

"They say that we are the smallest team in the country, but if you got heart than you can rebound with anybody," Kilpatrick said.

Pittsburgh is the best offensive rebounding team in the country, so they'll need a repeat performance Sunday night.

--- Stat of the night: When was the last time a team missed 44 shots against a high-major opponent and won? That's not rhetorical, if you can find the answer I'd love to know. 

Somebody get Elias on the line.

--- Quote of the night: Not a ton of jokes or one-liners this game, most that came up there were pretty serious after what they had just witnessed. I thought just a summation from Mick really told the story of how remarkable the comeback was:

"Just trying to get them to believe in each other and keep digging and keep fighting. That's what you have to do in the Big East. That's just life in our conference. I just couldn't be more proud of the guys right now to be honest with you. Played nine minutes with five guards to finish the game and come from 10 down to win against a team with good players and a great coach."

Winning on a night when nothing went right meant more to UC than just another victory.

CINCINNATI - Somewhere, a tempo-free, number-crunching statistical analyst of college basketball tossed his pen at the computer screen.

What occurred at US Bank Arena on Thursday night defies numbers. It defies logic.

A team that lives by the 3-point shot died by it in shooting 7 of 30 from behind the arc.

They shot 28 percent from the field and missed 44 shots. They were outrebounded 46-37. Trailing 49-37 with under six minutes remaining, the Bearcats best player in Cashmere Wright had three points and one of the smallest teams in college basketball shrunk by four inches as 6-foot-5 freshman Jermaine Sanders was forced to play center.

The offense was stagnant. The bench didn't score a point.

Cincinnati lost almost every major statistical category.

Yet, when the final horn sounded, the score shown a statistical improbability: UC 56, Oklahoma 55.

Sitting at the press conference after the game, Mick Cronin could only say what everyone was thinking.

"How did we win is what I am really wondering right now," he said.

Sometimes in the new age of college basketball we become so caught up with stats and odds, percentages and probabilities, the churning of calculations cloud the bigger picture.

How did the Bearcats win Thursday night? The answer requires putting down the stat sheet and throwing away the box score.

Heart. Grit. Will.

No more. No less.

"That's what UC basketball is about," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We grind out a win any way we can. We scrap."

To win a game when absolutely nothing goes right means more than one slash in the win column. When a team that couldn't miss from 3-point range the last four games does nothing but clang and a group without a center loses its only two forwards, but finds a way, the mentality changes.

As has been the theme with this team all year, from what appeared to be a dark hour emerged a emboldening confidence.

"When all that happens and you still win it is a great feeling for your kids because as a coach you are always selling play hard and good things will happen," Cronin said. "When it actually comes to fruition it helps build belief with what you are trying to build up with your team."

There will be nights like this in the Big East as conference play begins Sunday. Most this ugly will end in defeat. But just knowing that on nights when the shots don't fall and breaks don't go your way, this team can find a way against all statistical reasoning to will a win.

Heart and hustle won't win the Big East title - refining an offense still learning how it should operate will be necessary for that. Yet, as was learned Thursday, heart and hustle will win you a few games you might not have deserved.

"Believe in each other and keep digging and keep fighting," Cronin said. "That's what you have to do in the Big East. That's just life in our conference. I just couldn't be more proud of the guys right now to be honest with you. Played nine minutes with five guards to finish the game and come from 10 down to win against a team with good players and a great coach."

It did so by following its leader in Wright.

On a night when many key players weren't good enough, Wright was bad. Entering the final minute of play he was 1 of 12 from the floor. He didn't just miss 3-pointers (0-4), he missed jumpers. He missed layups. At one point following another missed layup he shook his head and yelled out an almost primal scream while lining up to play defense.

Frustration set in. As did his support structure.

"I have great teammates," Wright said. "These people next to me kept talking in my ear telling me it is going to be all right. You just have to keep grinding and keep pushing and just make it through."

With under a minute left and trailing by two points, Cronin turned to Wright. The junior delivered with an and-1 in the lane that delivered the first lead of the second half.

Then, trailing by one, Cronin drew up another play for his point guard. Forget 1 for 12. Forget all the missed layups and the airballs. Cronin went to his leader with the same stubborn will to win his team showcased for the final six minutes of the game. Wright rewarded him with the game-winner.

"I told him down the stretch, you can't hang your head," Cronin said. "You are the leader of this team, the ball is going to be in your hands. And if we don't win tonight, I am not changing. We got 18 more. It's your team."

Even as the walls caved in on Wright and the Bearcats, the path to success didn't change. They stayed the course. And it's the reason they won.

"My shot wouldn't fall, I was getting there the whole game just missing the shots," Wright said. "My teammates said deep being aggressive and keep doing your thing and you are going to be all right."

And they were. Such was the lesson for this entire Bearcats team as they thrust forward into conference play. Believe in the philosophy, believe in yourself and believe you can win regardless of what the statistics might say.

Telling players to believe those words is easy. Making them understand it is harder. On Thursday, that lesson was driven home loud and clear.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.29.11

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I want to focus mainly on tonight's basketball game against Oklahoma, but before I do that, I can only say that the Liberty Bowl has really turned into a great setup for UC. With all the events these guys are a part of, I'm officially overflowing with jealousy.

The opening night had the welcome party with singing, eating and what I can only imagine being the most intense game of Madden Monte Taylor has ever played. The whole night seemed like a blast.

Then there was last night where the guys hooked up a trip to Rendezvous, which I can only tell you is as close to the down-home, Southern cooking experience you can find without mama asking you to clear the table afterward.

Then, they had a suite for the Memphis-Oklahoma City basketball game. JK Schaffer and Randy Martinez went down on the floor to be honored at halftime. They received an authentic Grizzlies jersey with Cincinnati on the nameplate.

Speaking of Martinez, Randeazy Cam is really hitting its stride with two more episodes posted.

As for some of the news, the starter at QB will be announced today. I'd be shocked if it wasn't Zach Collaros.

Also, as Andrea Adelson points out, UC plays the role of underdog yet again.

OC Mike Bajakian held a press conference with the media yesterday. All the offensive info you could want.

For those of you on your way down to Memphis or if you are already there, Tommy G announced the location of tonight's Tweetup. It will be at 7 p.m. CT at Local Gastropub (@localgastropub) 95 S. Main Street. UC-OU game will start at 8 p.m. CT.

On that note, let's eat...

--- Bill Koch had this preview story talking about two teams in search of credibility. He's dead on. This is big for both teams to give one final difficult non-con test before taking on brutal conference schedules. Everybody on here knows what UC will face in January in the Big East, but the other OU (9-1) will enter a run of six ranked teams in their next 10 games to open Big 12 play.

Other OU coach Lon Kruger called UC the toughest opponent they've seen and up there with St. Louis, who thumped them by 20 earlier this year.

--- For reference and for entertainment purposes only, UC wasn't the underdog Mick Cronin was preaching they should be earlier this week -- as least not by the Vegas numbers. They opened as 4.5-point favorites.

The major reason for Cronin's concern -- and briefly outlined here earlier in the week -- is Oklahoma's prowess on the glass.

For UC being what Mick calls "the smallest team in Division I" right now without Gates or Mbodj, the board warriors coming to town isn't the greatest matchup. They rank nationally only behind Pittsburgh in offensive rebound percentage (44.4).

They rank fourth in the country in overall rebounds per game.

What happened in the game they lost to STL by 20? The Billikens held them to just nine offensive rebounds on 35 missed shots (26 percent). What was probably their best win of the year? A 15-point win at Arkansas. That day they grabbed 10 offensive boards on 24 missed shots (42 percent).

"As a team if we don't play unbelievably hard defensively with our scrambling and scrapping and everything we can do to get a rebound...we are not going to have a chance to win," Cronin said.


Take a look at the offensive rebounds allowed by UC since switching to the four-guard offense. And remember, this is against teams that don't have near the athletes Oklahoma will be bringing in tonight.

Opponent   OppOReb OReb% 
Wright State        4    18%
Radford              17    41%
ARPB                11    35%
Chicago St.        12    29%

On the contrary, the Cats have experienced a mixed bag of earning second chance points on the offensive boards. Yet again, this came against teams ill-equipped to stop them athletically.

Opponent   UCOReb OReb% 
Wright State       12    52%
Radford               8     32%
ARPB                19    58%
Chicago St.        10    30%

Keeping the number of offensive boards under 40 percent for Oklahoma and and over 30 percent for UC will be the deciding number. The Cats don't have to win the battle, they just can't be dominated in it.

How do you accomplish that with two players taller than 6-foot-4? Very carefully.

"The key is where they get shots from," Cronin said. "Shooting five feet and in they are going to play volleyball. You saw that against any team we played in the last four games. We can't let the ball get deep. The ball gets deep and teams are shooting five feet and in they are going to have two rebounders as well as the guy shooting and we are just not going to be tall enough, it becomes a matter of height. We got to make sure we keep the ball out of the paint the best we can, that way it gives us a chance to block out."

--- As for matchups falling in the Bearcats
favor, they should be able to post points. Of course, they need to keep shooting the way they have from deep for that to happen, but there's little reason to believe that should cool off considering not just the hot streak, but how many different players have been hitting shots for them.

With their strength of schedule rated 232nd by KenPom, Oklahoma has allowed less than 59 points only twice (South Carolina State, Sacramento State -- both rated in the bottom 15 percent of NCAA teams). They have allowed 70+ four times in their 10 games.

Teams can score on the other OU. The way UC is playing on offense, posting 75+ should probably be the threshold number to shoot for. Whether that happens or not is one of the great mysteries of tonight's game and why I think it's one of the more intriguing contests of the season. In many way, we don't quite know what to expect.

Neither do the players.

"They are a high-major team and I want to see where we are with this offense and how we are playing," Dion Dixon said. "We know who we are as a team and we play together, we don't wonder where we are at, I just want to see how it is going to work when we play them."

--- Forgot to mention this yesterday, but Mick opened his press conference Tuesday letting everybody know that assistant coach George Jackson, who has missed the last few games, is doing well and recovering. He was not hospitalized. Cronin hopes Jackson can rejoin the team in the near future.

--- Of course, don't forget, the game is at 9 p.m. on ESPNU at US BANK ARENA tonight. If you show up at Fifth Third, you can't say I didn't remind you.

Mike Crispino and Tim Welsch on the call for ESPNU. I'm sure you've been awaiting their voice all season.

--- Notes from the Notes:

Did you know UC has won 16 consecutive games at US Bank Arena? The last loss came in 1997 against Temple. Of course, it was the setting for the liftoff, eye-opener from last season when the Cats throttled Dayton over Thanksgiving weekend.

SK is riding a streak of 10 consecutive games in double figures, Dixon has nine straight.

Cash has knocked down 16 of 31 3-pointers since moving to the 4-guard attack.

--- When UC hosts Syracuse on Big Monday, many UC fans may be watching with their hands covering faces and eyes peeking through the fingers.

The top-ranked Cuse are ridiculous right now. Not only are they great, they are deep. Last night, Kris Joseph was 0 for 6 from the floor and didn't score a point. Scoop Jardine only managed five points. They were playing a Seton Hall team at 11-2 and among the biggest surprises of the non-conference season.

They routed the Pirates by 26 points -- and it wasn't that close.

Playing the Orange is a slap to the face. Any and all deficiencies exposed immediately.

--- I'll admit I thought Georgetown would be down this year. I was wrong. The way they have picked up without Austin Freeman and Chris Wright has been remarkable.

They showed some serious poise holding off a late 11-0 Louisville run for a 71-68 victory at the Yum! Center against previously undefeated Louisville. Talk about a tough place to get a win.

Along the same lines, love the heart of the Cardinals team, but they have some bad-decision makers at the center of their offense right now. Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric have to do a better job of not forcing shots.

--- The Dagger with a look back at the best college basketball moments of 2011. The Kemba crossover on Pitt's Gary McGhee makes me jump up every time I see it.

Some randomness...

--- If you can get Rajon Rondo
for Russell Westbrook you do it. He was arguing with Kevin Durant last night at the Grizz game? He probably was stating his case that Vandy would win the Liberty Bowl and KD had to put him in his place.

--- Columbia House gave away
CDs and tapes back in the day like they were going out of style. How the heck did they make so much money? Because 14-year-olds don't read fine print.

--- If you see a man charging at you wielding a cow femur, you'll want to get the heck up out of there.

--- Manute Bol photo gallery!

--- Forgot about this baseline dunk in the same vein as Micheal Jordan that Dion broke out last year at Oklahoma. Hope to see more of that tonight.


A Happy New Year

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During this holiday break there's not much of a break for the Bearcat women's basketball team, as is usual for a lot of basketball teams during this time of the year. While we won't see the 'Cats in action back home until next week, they're playing this week in the Hokie Classic--follow the action on gobearcats.com. But when they come back home, the Bearcats will have a new look, and perhaps a new attitude, heading into BIG EAST play.

First, Dayeesha Hollins should be closer to full strength. After injuring her shoulder in the Louisville game, Dayeesha had to sit out for a couple of games. She was able to play in the 'Cats last home game before Christmas, though, and with any luck will be closer to returning to her pre-injury form in January.

Second, Jeanise Randolph is returning from her back injury. She also got some minutes in during the Longwood contest to knock the rust off her game a bit before BIG EAST games in January. Jeanise's low post presence was missed, especially during that tough Louisville game, and it will be good to see her back in action.

Third, and it's a combination of the two aforementioned points, the Cats should be healthier overall. Bumps and bruises are the cost of doing business in basketball, but after a few days of holiday break, with any luck those will start to heal. Besides, you don't feel them as much when you're coming off a win!

January and February are important months for Coach Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcats, becase it's during those two months that we'll see how the first two months of games prepared this team for the rigors of conference play. While the BIG EAST is in flux, and some of these teams we'll see this year won't be back after realignment, it's also a great opportunity for the 'Cats, both now and in the future.

South Florida comes to visit Fifth Third Arena on January 3rd. Make plans to be there and support the Bearcats on what might be their most important conference season to date.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.28.11

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Recorded the latest episode of the Inside the Bearcats podcast yesterday. With Tommy G stationed down in Memphis, it seemed a perfect time to catch up with him on all the happenings of the football team down there.

Of course, we focused on all the important topics like player swag, rib acquisition and dance moves, but there's plenty of UC/Liberty Bowl talk in there as well.

Make sure you check it out when you've got some time. Here's the link.

Let's eat...

--- As for the latest news coming out of Memphis, all signs point toward Zach Collaros starting Saturday, as Tom Groeschen wrote. TG said he wouldn't be surprised if Collaros was named the starter later in the week, though Munchie Legaux is currently splitting reps with the senior QB.

A big game for Collaros in a victory would put a great bow on a fantastic season for the Bearcats. And for ZC's career. One last time proving to be as competitive, dedicated of a player as imaginable.

And possibly part-Transformer.

--- Great news from the ticket sale
s front as reports have sales now around 10,000 sold. The UC base really came out and made a statement that they will support the team with this response. Great to see. Place those types of numbers next to the 17k at the Sugar Bowl in 2009 and you have a program building a reputation for travel and one bowls in the future will be fighting over.

Of course, there are still 2k of the ticket allotment available, so head on over to Bowl Central or call 1-888-CATS-TIX to grab your NYE vacation package. Of course, you can always send some other UC staff if you can't go yourself through One Team, One Ticket.

--- In case you were not sure if you wanted to go or not, the weather is supposed to be 60 and sunny Saturday in Memphis. I'm just sayin.

--- Busy Tuesday over at Bowl Central as Tommy G was cranking out the hits. We had a conversation post-practice with Butch Jones. The team is practicing at the University of Memphis and it stayed dry enough to hit the outdoor field.

Also, the debut of Randeazy Cam as Mr. McSaucy roamed around UC's facilities during the first full day in Memphis. The game room that the team has access to needs to be in my basement. Like, yesterday.

--- Word has officially
leaked that UC will be wearing the matte black helmets on Saturday. The decals are yet to be placed on them. Spread your own rumors about what that might be.

--- The players competed in the Xbox challenge as they played out the Liberty Bowl on the sticks. UC ended up winning. And there was much rejoicing.

Then three Cats sang Lean on Me karaoke. I'm not sure what to make of this video.

--- More press conferences,
practices and revelry coming today, so keep it locked to GoBearcats for all the happenings.

--- The Cardinals may have lost to NC State last night, but with Teddy Bridgewater and 16 of 22 starters back next year, they are going to be a force in the BE.

--- Great day for Bearcats in the NFL yesterday, mainly with the local team. WR Armon Binns, who has been grinding on the practice squad all season, was activated to the 53-man roster as WR Andre Caldwell was placed on IR.

In all likelihood Binns will be inactive this week against Baltimore, but one step closer to the show for the man responsible for the most famous catch in program history.

Not only that, taking his place on the practice squad was former teammate Vidal Hazelton. He opened the season with San Diego, but didn't make the team. He'd been sitting around and landed the spot after coming in for a tryout on Tuesday. Wish nothing but good things for Vidal, who had nothing but bad things happen to him the last three years of his football career.

--- Speaking of Binns,
Dan Hoard wrote about the guy who inherited his number at UC and the hopes he will post the same types of highlights and stats.

--- Hoped Connor Barwin and his 11.5 sacks would make it into the Pro Bowl, unfortunately, the AFC OLB position is a tough one to crack (Terrell Suggs, Tamba Hali and Von Miller). He ended up as a first alternate, so there's a chance he'll end up in Hawaii anyway with the way people tend to pass on the trip.

Regardless, guy deserves every accolade considering the season he's had coming off his brutal leg injury.

As the crack UC sports information staff pointed out yesterday, the combination of 11.5 sacks for Barwin and 10 for Philadelphia's Trent Cole are the most from a tandem from the same NCAA school this year. Consider the season Mike Wright had rushing the QB last year before being beset by injuries this season and UC is becoming Pass Rush U.

--- Spent yesterday afternoon at UC with the players and Mick. The common theme coming out it from Cronin was this:

"We are huge underdogs," he said. "Let's not get confused, guys."


Cronin repeated his hypothesis a few times during different portions of the press conference. This could be a motivational tactic for his team to hear as much as anything or he may really believe it. Or maybe he's just covering himself in case OU wins. Regardless, he very clearly sees this as one of the stiffest tests this team will see in the non-con.

As for UC being an underdog...eh. KenPom, going off the tempo-free season numbers, places them at 66 percent to win. Although, that doesn't take the suspensions into account.

From my angle, most lines will probably list UC as a favorite, particularly at home against a team, even though 9-1, still unproven. Their loss came against St. Louis and their only quality win came against a mess of an Arkansas program. Of course, most would point out UC still lacks a quality win as well.

--- Regardless, big primer for BE play for the Cats. In regards to how the new-look team will fare against an athletic bunch like the other OU? Cronin had this to say:

"Throw out the scores of the last four games. We've been able to erase a lot of mistakes with blocked shot the last four games that I don't think is quite going to be the case Thursday. night. We've got to continue to have tremendous effort, which we have had, but that is not going to be enough, you also have to have defensive execution. There are plays where we broke down but the other team either turned it over or didn't make the right pass and if you are playing Oklahoma or Pittsburgh or whoever is after that, it is going to be a basket."

--- A few other interesting
quotes from Mick yesterday. First, he was talking about this offensive style and how it fits him as a coach and how he realizes now he probably should have gone to this offense from the start:

"It's the way I'd rather play," he said. "You guys used to interview me when I got the job, (asking) 'how would you like to play?' But when you are building a program you got to give yourself a chance to win so you can recruit."

This on Cashmere Wright:

"Right now, the way Cashmere Wright is playing, it's off the charts. If he can continue to play the way he's playing right now, from making shots to leading his team and teh way he is taking care of the basketball, if he can continue to play that way that is the biggest part of what we are doing right now if you really look at his production on the offensive end. Just off the charts."


When Mick talks about off the charts, he's talking about this: Wright has a 6.5:1 A/TO rate since the suspensions. That number is actually 18:1 if you look at the last three. No, there are no A/TO charts that included 18:1.

--- Bill Koch wrote a story about the evolution of the new offense on the brink of its first major test. Bill also posted his top 10 stories at UC this year.

--- Remember me pointing out how vulnerable Pitt appears right now -- Notre Dame handed it to them in South Bend last night, 72-59. They aren't in a slump, there is something seriously wrong with the Panthers and the time is now for UC to pounce on a rare road victory at The Pete.

--- Georgetown at Louisville tonight.
Will be worth a watch.

--- During the podcast yesterday, we listed off our favorite individual moments of the 2011 UC athletics year.

Here were my top individual moments:

5. Isaiah Pead TD run at Tennessee. Despite the game not going well, in that particular moment, when Isaiah took his first touch to the house for the second straight week, it evoked a feeling of confidence unlike any other this year. (Even if it turned out to be unwarranted)

4. Beating Mizzou in NCAA Round 1.
Not only the first NCAA tourney win in the Cronin era, but the guys were playing loose and enjoying the experience as much as anybody could imagine. They were fun to watch at that point.

3. UC routs NC State. The environment was electric and what Nippert Stadium is all about. And the team was even more electric in one of the most dominating performances against a BCS conference teams we've seen in a long time. It was the moment where we knew this team was different.

2. UC beats Georgetown. It felt like a coronation and celebration of the completion of a rebuild. The fans were live, the team played one of their best games of the season and the mighty Hoyas had no answers. Players standing on scorers tables after the game popping the Cincinnati jersey and circling 5/3 high-5ing all the fans. It was a pretty special moment for the UC basketball program.

1. Get the Dub. Personally, nothing has made me laugh and smile this year more than the Get the Dub celebrations. On top of the fact that it 100-percent exemplifies the camaraderie and chemistry of this team, it also features a serious head coach letting go with his players and unveiling some dance moves that are not quite ready for America's Best Dance Crew. And, damn, is that song catchy.

Tommy G tossed in the football win against UConn and beating Austin Peay. Why Austin Peay? Well, it's hard to beat a day when your son is born in the morning and you turn around and call the season opener that day. 

I'd love to hear from you. Let me know what your favorite moment of 2011 was, whether for personal reasons or obvious achievements on the field or court. Also, let me know the players/games/events/moments you are most looking forward to in 2012.


Send those to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) and I will post the responses in a piece over the next week.

Some randomness...

--- The TSA wants you to watch your weight. Put down the cupcake.

--- Apparently, the future of the Internet is about to get really creepy. What exactly would you call whatever is going on here now?

--- Snooki as a fight promoter, I can see. Snooki as an author, well, that's a different story (And one almost certainly with spelling errors).

--- I'm a bit of a sports sign snob. I demand creativity and correct use of words. For the last time, stop rhyming Hotto with Votto. Hotto is not a word.

Anyway, here were the best signs of 2011.

--- Anyone who reads this blog knows my love for Community. (Still not in a good place with the news. #DeOccupyNBC). Scenes like this Christmas rap are what makes it so great.



UC's noteworthy nine

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This time of year, we all like lists.
As the new year approaches, we list what we're going to do (then generally chuck it come February).  Or, we list what we didn't get over the holidays.
In difficult situations, we're asked to list what we do on our jobs so that some bean counter without a soul in a distant state can justify our existence.
Keeping with the theme, and with UC's date at the Autozone Liberty Bowl with Vanderbilt fast approaching, I've decided to list UC's nine recent bowls (all of the ones I've physically attended/worked).
Sure, I've kind of done this before in various forms, but maybe some of you missed it.
However, I'm a big proponent of "to understand the future, you should study the past".
For those that think the Lindner Center has always been on campus as well as the Sheakley "bubble", here you go (worst to best):


9) 2001 Motor City Bowl--this was UC's second consecutive trip to the Pontiac Silverdome and second consecutive year playing and losing to a team from the MAC (Toledo). The Bearcats also had a halftime lead (13-3) for the second consecutive year followed by a lackluster second half.  There's also the somewhat non-publicized fact that a number of assistant coaches walked out of a bowl practice in protest prior to the contest (things we can say now that we knew then--trust me, there's plenty more.) Bearcats lose to the Rockets 23-16.

8) 2000 Motor City Bowl--this predecessor wasn't as bad because it was the first time up.  However, after the royal treatment in Boise at the Bearcats "return to bowling", the Silverdome had all the splendor of a Bengals preseason game at old Riverfront Stadium.  The staff there barely knew there was a bowl game, the place had no special "feel" to it, and UC lost to Marshall after leading at halftime 14-9.  Outside of a visit to the "Moose Preserve" a local hangout that served game meat like buffalo, this game was about as depressing as the Detroit economy. Final: Marshall 25, UC 14.

7) (One more stinker here and the news gets better)  2002 New Orleans Bowl--the upside was this was in New Orleans which has considerably more to do than Troy, Michigan.  This was the culmination of a long season as it was the 14th game. The Bearcats had their brawl with the islanders in Hawaii the month before, then beat UAB and made up a game (hurricane postponement) at East Carolina Dec. 6. That gave them a mere 11 days before the early-bird New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17.  The Bearcats led after one quarter, 7-3, but then were flat afterward.  Holding back on the passing game 'til it was too late, Gino Guidugli was picked off five times in obvious throwing situations.  Oh well, the food was nice and all.
North Texas over UC 24-19.

6) 2007 International Bowl-- The despair of losing Mark Dantonio after a 2006 season that saw UC beat then  No. 7 Rutgers at Nippert, turned to joy when Brian Kelly was hired from Central Michigan with the immediate duty of coaching the bowl game.  What transpired was gutsy and miraculous, Kelly immediately hired Colerain's Kerry Coombs and then some of his staff coached Central Michigan, and some coached the Bearcats.  Jeff Quinn guided CMU to a bowl win as the interim coach and then was in Bearcat garb for this game in Toronto with the rest of the staff.  Kelly also took the Dantonio offense and used it with Nick Davila and company in Toronto.  The result was an early surge in the game and then an eventual win over Western Michigan 27-24. Heck, if you're going to go north for a bowl, you might as well go over the border.

5) 2010 Sugar Bowl-- New Orleans,here we are again.  AGAIN, fun town.  Particularly on New Year's Eve when you get to meet friends from Florida that you haven't seen in awhile.  Not so fun when their Gators chomp you up like live bait behind the guy that everyone insists is no good (Tim Tebow, 31-35, 482 yards and three TDs).  Unfortunate here was the timing of Brian Kelly's departure to Notre Dame, with the team being coached by guys that were also out the door for the most part.  An unfocused effort against a very focused Urban Meyer and Tebow was  a recipe for disaster. Gators roll 51-24.
Gators roll. May we have seen the last of those awful white helmets.
uc sugar bowl.jpg
4) 2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl-- This was in Birmingham, which pales in comparison to New Orleans, but has decent areas like Hoover where my youngest kids got to meet Bart Starr at the Hotel Wynfrey.  This was the end of the Ben Mauk year and the quarterback overcame season-long pain to play some very exciting football games.  Mauk threw for  334 yards and four touchdowns in UC's 31-21 win over Southern Miss. The Bearcats took a respectable 8300-plus people to the game.  It was Ben Mauk's last college game and my last game on the radio. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it.

3) 2004 Fort Worth Bowl-- Even though it was in Texas, it was bar none the coldest UC bowl game I've been to. This was also Gino Guidugli's last college game and he went out with a bang throwing two touchdown passes and taking game MVP honors, all just a month after suffering a broken hand.  Guidugli played under considerable pain and showed great courage leading his team to the 32-14 win over Marshall.  Because of the cold and ice, many UC fans had flights canceled and had to find alternative ways home.  My wife and I consider this one of most memorable Christmases as we were in that category until former UC administrator Paul Klaczak arranged for us to have a seat on the team charter.  We were picked up that evening by our four sons at UC and made it to the in-laws for Christmas Eve and back to our house for Christmas Day (even though the power was out).

2) 2009 Orange Bowl--Couldn't beat the location for this one.  Kids got to go to the beach, players stayed at the famous Fontainebleau, South Beach, etc.  However, as per the agreed upon rules, there was a game.  Despite a tremendous response from Bearcat fans, UC struck early on a Tony Pike to Mardy Gilyard pass and then struck out.  Flat.  Virginia Tech had been there and done that and it showed as the Hokies eventually mowed down a UC squad that could've been better prepared in my opinon.  20-7 Hokies win, but Cinderalla crashed the dance finally and made it to a New Year's bowl.
Fontainebleau_Hotel_Resort.jpg
(The Fontainebleau where P. Diddy had a New Year's Eve party while the Bearcats were there. Tom Bodette has never stayed in something like this.)

1) (A win in either the Orange or Sugar would've knocked this one off,  but it still leads on my list) 1997 Humanitarian Bowl-- OK, it doesn't sound like much.  But, when you consider the  nearly 50-year bowl drought that predated it and the ingenious maneuvering that then-AD Bob Goin did to get the Bearcats in a bowl, it was special.  It was scenic as we first gandered at the blue turf that we've all become familiar with in Boise.  And, though many made fun of it not knowing any better, Boise, Idaho is beautiful.  With the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the background and an American flag unfurled on the field before the game, I witnessed not a dry eye among many of the Bearcats that had played and had never made a bowl game.  Some had played in the  last UC bowl game (1951) while others toiled in other eras without a conference and without a chance.  The game meant something to every UC fan alive at the time and UC didn't disappoint, beating Utah State 35-19.
scott-humanitarian bowl.jpg
(Me with Darryl Royal (gray t-shirt) behind me, Artrell Hawkins, No. 21, and Jason Fabini next to him. This team had five NFL draft picks:  Hawkins, Fabini, Brad Jackson, Darryl Ransom and Rod Monroe.)

After this weekend, I'll have a 10th bowl game under my belt and perhaps this list changes some, you never know.   I've done a lot of games at the Liberty Bowl Stadium and it'll be fun being back.  

I'm hoping somewhere Jerry Glanville has left Elvis a ticket and I hope I hear the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  While you're looking that up, enjoy this and best of luck to Coach Jones and the 'Cats



The latest edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast features our first out-of-state remote guest as we check in with UC New Media and Broadcasting Director Tom Gelehrter in Memphis, Tenn., with the team for the Liberty Bowl.

My disappointment with his slow start to the 60-rib quota opens the pod and we dedicate much of the time to our favorite followers, the uni-geek contingent. It includes some special teasers for Saturday's new uniform additions.

Also, we chat the increasing likelihood of Zach Collaros taking the field, the possibility of gadget plays then close by reflecting on the year in UC sports with some of our favorite moments, including one 72-10 blowout that TG will never forget.

As always, check everything Tommy is doing down in Memphis at the Bowl Central page on GoBearcats. Here is the breakdown of the podcast:

Minutes 1-3: Pleasantries live from Memphis and the discouraging discovery that TG has yet to eat a rib and is relying heavily on the presence of Mo Egger to spark his quest for 60.

3-6: Uniform swag! Plus, details from the first practices at the University of Memphis.

6-9: Randeazy Cam, the history of the player-run camera, and footage nobody has ever seen and probably never will see from the best of Digger Cam from the Papa John's Bowl.

9-12:
The players are getting new backpacks, shoes and Best Buy shopping sprees. Tommy appears to have pilfered some leftover shoes from the Bearcats training room.

12-14: The latest update from Tommy after talking to Butch Jones about ZC. Even some speculation on when/if a starter will be named.

14-18: Other storylines to keep an eye on, including completely unfounded speculation of gadget plays.

18-26: Top moments/game of the 2011 year in athletics, including a funky No. 1. Then heavy speculation hovers around who could end up in the middle of the Get The Dub Dance circle should UC indeed get the dub on Saturday.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Binns Gives Chisum His Number...And Stamp Of Approval

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A.J. Green is not the only wide receiver from Georgia who is having an impressive first year in Cincinnati.


Chisum celebrates.jpg


Bearcat freshman Alex Chisum - from Sandy Creek H.S. in Fayetteville, Georgia - will enter the Liberty Bowl with 18 catches for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 22-yard TD grab in the regular season finale against UConn.


"He's mature beyond his age and I think that's a by-product of playing at Sandy Creek in a great high school program," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He had the big catch to win the state championship last year.  He's the model of consistency and you could see him getting better, and better, and better.  That breeds self-confidence, and as he progressed, our players gained much more confidence in him as well."


"He's a guy that I want on the field all of the time," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "I'm always asking the coaches for ways to get him on the field.  He did a great job over the summer, but he's really come on over the past few weeks."


Chisum is 6'3" and is drawing comparisons to a former Bearcat wide receiver that not only is the same height, but wore the same uniform number at UC - Armon Binns.


"He's kind of like the #80 that we used to have," said Collaros.  "He knows how to play the ball in the air and if you needed to be bailed out of something he can usually bail you out."


"Oh yea, I get that a lot," said Chisum.  "Ever since I got here, people have said, 'You look like Armon Binns...you run routes just like Armon...you're like a little Armon.'  I've come to accept it.  At first I didn't really see it, but now I consider it to be a compliment."


Binns is currently on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad and has taken a keen interest in the person who inherited his number. 


"It's a really big deal to me," Binns told me.  "At first, I was a little bit selfish and didn't want anybody to wear it.  But if somebody was going to wear it, I wanted it to be somebody good who plays the game hard."  


"I didn't know what number I wanted," said Chisum.  "I knew I didn't want #14, my high school number, so I asked coach.  He said, 'I have the perfect number for you,' and he gave me #80.  When I first started wearing it, all of the older guys said, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' and started giving me a hard time."


They're not ribbing him anymore, and since Binns is still in Cincinnati, he's become a mentor for the Bearcat freshman.


"The first time that I got to talk to him was the big game against N.C. State," said Chisum.  "I told him that I had some big shoes to fill and he kind of laughed and said, 'No, you got it.  And if I can, I'll come over here and work out with you.'  He really wants me to wear that #80 proudly. He gives me tips and I try to apply that to my game when I'm on the field.  It's really helped me."


"He's a really nice kid," said Binns.  "He's always smiling and seems like a really fun person to be around.  Plus he wants to learn - I like that about him.  I've told him, 'Just go out there and catch the ball - that's what earns you trust from your quarterback.'  That also gets you more playing time and a lot more balls thrown your way."


Chisum signs.jpg


Binns is not the only NFL receiver that Chisum has ties to.  In his senior year at Sandy Creek, Alex caught 69 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, breaking three school records held by Detroit Lions star Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.


"I actually broke his record the night he came back to have his jersey retired at halftime," said Chisum.  "I got to joke around with him and he said that he wouldn't have wanted anybody else to break it.  Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps and be half as good as he is."


Calvin Johnson attended Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets tried to sign Chisum too.


"I got an offer from Georgia Tech the night before signing day, and the University of Georgia wanted me as well to play safety, but I wanted to be a wide receiver," said Chisum.  "I wasn't one of those Georgia kids who wanted to stay in the state - I wanted to get out and distance wasn't a problem for me.  This staff started recruiting me when I was a sophomore.  I came up here several times and fell in love with the coaches and knew I had a chance to play early.  Coach Jones kept his word and here I am now."


I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net


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


And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

New Year, New U

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It was a great year in review as the UC basketball team not only returned to the NCAA March Madness party but UC football shared a Big East Title and is ending the year at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The University installed a new President, Dr. Gregory Williams and hired a new athletic director, Whit Babcok who is very accessible and engaging; and despite the challenges with the Crosstown Shootout, life lessons were learned when the consequences accompanied the actions. Other UC sports like Volleyball made noise and entered their version of the NCAA tournament as well and the women's basketball program is still growing, little by little which is how you build a program not a season. Kudos to all the coaches in swimming, golf, track and field and more.

So it's a new year and but will it be a new you? Will you, not the already staunch supporters of UC sports, show up this year? UC finally gets back in the NCAA dance and you don't show up this season after you said "I won't go until they get back to the NCAA..." The football team rebounds from a bowl-less season to play for a share of the Big East title and a BCS bid, one play from winning the tie-breaker yet the smaller stadium is not filled to the brim with Bearcat faithful. The Volleyball team is a perennial winner and could use more fans as could the women's basketball team.

If money is the issue, women's hoops and volleyball you can afford; if you have limited money football and basketball on campus is cost effective; and if you're a self proclaimed UC fan you can do them all or, like a boxer, a solid combination of two. But do something!

I hear all the time that we are a sports town but with the Bengals fighting for a playoff spot with an over achieving team, I don't see it. Don't say it's the economy because when you walk by the Apple Store or drive past Kenwood Mall, the argument ends.

I need to attend more games so I will jump to the front of the line. I promised to attend a volleyball game and didn't. So I need to up my game as I'm challenging the UC alums around the region to do the same. 

So with a New Year comes a new U and a new me; I have to do better. Happy Holidays and lets fill up more seats than ever in '12 and prove Cincinnati is a sports town and make exhibit A attendance at UC sports.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 12.27.11

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Hope everybody enjoyed a Merry Christmas with friends and family and is now ready to get back to the business of procrastinating at work while reading this blog.

The first day back to work after Christmas is one of the toughest to get going. Likely because of the four pounds of Christmas cookies lodged in the colon. But, I hope this blog can serve as a nice buffer for the transition.

Big week here with the game against Oklahoma from US Bank on Thursday and the Liberty Bowl on Saturday. There will be a basketball player media availability this afternoon I'll be at, so if any news comes from there, well, I hope by now you know where to find out immediately (www.twitter.com/pauldehnerjr). Also, feel free to send any questions you would like answered to me (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com)

Let's eat...

--- The football team took off for Memphis yesterday and upon arrival our guy Tommy G will be delivering all the on-site goods. He already has the insight to the gift room the team had access to. That included these Jordan backpacks with personalized labels. And don't forget the Nike shoes. And the watch.

In case you didn't know, head over to Bowl Central and GoBearcats for all your information from TG and the crew all week.

Plus, he's breaking out Randeazy Cam. The man of many nicknames, Randy Martinez, aka Mr. McSaucy, aka Ragu, aka Mayor McSaucy, aka Randeazy. Dude brings the funny, should be a great feature all week.

--- Also, if you are going to Memphis and want to be a part of history, on Thursday at 8 p.m. CDT there will be the first Liberty Bowl Tweetup. Tommy and some UC folks will be there and gathering to watch the UC-OU hoops game while also filling the Twitters with Bearcats conjecture. (That's right conjecture, and lots of it)

Keep checking in here and with TG for the location which is currently TBD.

--- In a compilation by Forbes, UC rated the second-best value team in the country this season. The concept is cost spent on the program/win. To give you an idea to how much money goes into making football programs relevant, the Cats were the second-best value and still paid $1.24 million per victory.

Kansas State was tops, they spent the same $11 million total figure, but ended up 10-2 on the year.

--- If you are looking for all the Liberty Bowl polls, deals and info you can find when you are down in Memphis, be sure to follow them on Facebook. The latest is a poll for who will win. The Bearcats currently hold the lead, which really takes all the drama out of the game. I can't imagine a poll of random Internet users being incorrect.

--- If you aren't able to head to Memphis, don't forget the school's One Team, One Ticket deal to help send some others. That includes the specific One Team, One Blogger deal I completely made up to send myself to the Liberty Bowl. Feel free to flood the department with specific requests for my presence. And hurry up, I need to get the go-ahead before the team heads to Rendezvous for the ribs-bonanza.

--- Some of the information and stories on the actual game against Vandy are starting to trickle out, most notably, their starting quarterback is the younger brother of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Now, he doesn't have the Madden-esque 45 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, like his older bro, but he still put together a nice season for the Commies.

Coach James Franklin switched to Rodgers midseason and he delivered in six starts averaging 258 total yards per game. Tom Groeshen has the story.

--- Here was ESPN's season wrap on Vanderbilt from their SEC Blog.

--- Look, it's Isaiah Claus, Part II!

--- The seniors experienced their last practice at Nippert Stadium last week. The Butch Jones blog had the reaction from the seniors.

--- Andrea Adelson is loving the
Big East teams in bowl games. I'd disagree, I think Pitt and Rutgers fall. Almost brings a tear to my eye knowing this will be the final time this season I'll get to make the correct prediction of Pitt falling shy of expectations.

By the way, congratulations to Pitt on adding their sixth head coach in the last 13 months. That's got to be some kind of record.

--- As I mentioned earlier,
I am headed over the UC this afternoon to talk to some players. My topic will be about the pressure placed on the 5-man over the next two games. As the Bearcats wheel out the four-guard fire against Oklahoma and Pitt, Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson will be asked to be the centerpiece of containing two of the top three offensive rebounding teams in the country.

That's right. Here are your top five teams in the nation right now in offensive rebounding percentage.

Team       Percentage
Pittsburgh    46.6
Marshall       44.4
Oklahoma    44.4
Quinnapac   43.1
S. Alabama  42.5
38th/UC       38.3

That's right, the Cats play the three best offensive rebounding clubs in the country in their non-conference. If you remember, the Herd pummeled UC on the boards in that overtime loss. They had 16 offensive boards on 35 missed shots. That was 45.7 percent. And that was with Gates, Jackson and Mbodj clogging the middle.

How UC does on the glass Thursday will be a huge factor in win or loss.

--- Jeff Borzello at CBS resets
the Big East outlook as we turn our attention to conference play. He's correct in saying the depth of the BE is down this year, but the quality at the top is strong as ever.

By the way, UC looking really lucky to catch Pitt early in the conference season (analysis of the Panthers for ESPN Insiders) because they look lost right now following their embarrassing loss to Wagner at home.
  
--- Xavier falls out of the Top 25 (now only one spot in front of my Bobcats, who WILL be ranked this year, mark it down). Oklahoma not receiving any votes. UC isn't, either. A quick start in BE play will change all that.

--- Lance Stephenson is coming off
the bench at guard this year for the Pacers. He logged six minutes in their opening night win against Detroit. Two points, one board, one assist, one turnover.

--- Randomness...

--- White female rappers
and the New York Times. Go together like lamb and tuna fish.

--- If you need an uplifting moment to
make you feel good about life, here you go. (Not sarcastic for maybe the first time in the history of the blog)

--- Forbes ranks the best American downtowns.
Shockingly, Cincinnati not on the list. Though, I hold out hope for the future.

--- Excuse me, sir, I'm going to have to ask you what's in your suitcase?

"Well, there's a comb, my favorite Snuggie and, oh yeah, 247 live animals."


--- Drew Brees, in his locker-room speech last night, didn't forget
the little people who really made long days in the training room worthwhile.

--- The NBA is back
. And on top of some great games from Christmas Day (Derrick Rose is the most exciting player to watch in the game), Russell Westbrook reminded us all that he's much, much better than Luke Ridnour.


Thumbnail image for Schaffer hit.jpg

For current Bearcats from Cincinnati who chose to stay home for college, the combination of football and family created one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

CINCINNATI - By now, senior center Evan Davis knows who to approach. That's because for the past four years he's been attempting to acquire more tickets than the four he's allotted for UC home games.

He usually starts with punter Pat O'Donnell, whose from Florida and rarely uses his. The hunt branches out to other out-of-state teammates to scrounge up enough to fill requests of friends and family who typically comprise a 15-20 person pocket of supporters of the Colerain High product.

"I got my little cousins, my uncles, my aunts, my mom, my dad, friends," he said. "The Davis family rolls deep."

Prior to the first snap of every home game, senior LB JK Schaffer always takes a look to the far corner of the stands near the videoboard. It's where about 20 of his family members bought season tickets and station the Schaffer section of Nippert Stadium for every Saturday home game the past four seasons.

For players like Schaffer, Davis and the 21 others from the city they now wear across their chest on gameday, picking a school amounted to more than rankings and recruitment, playing time and prestige.

It came down to creating a college football experience molded since birth. It came down to family.

"If I would have went anywhere else I don't know how special my career would have been," LaSalle grad Schaffer said. "Now, just going out and playing in front of my family and close friends every game is awesome. I love wearing Cincinnati around. I do every single day. There won't be a day I won't be proud of that."

Such isn't to say, those who arrived at UC from out of state, like Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin (Michigan) or Bengals wide receiver Armon Binns (California) don't sport the same Cincinnati gear as prominently today as they did while in Clifton. One glance at their Twitter feed or apparel worn around their NFL locker room's prove their allegiance to Cincinnati is strong.

That case holds for the majority of players and alumni.

But, for players who were raised in the sprawling shadows of the Carew Tower, playing for Cincinnati resonates deeper. The phrase Represent the C plasters across walls, billboards and playbooks. It stands for a program's motto and mission. Winton Woods graduate Chris Williams views it as his identity.

"I was raised in Cincinnati, when you got a lot of people that know your name," he said. "Cincinnati was on you before you even committed to the school. You were a product of Cincinnati, so, wherever I went -- if I would have went to West Virginia I would have been a product of Cincinnati, just in a West Virginia environment. When you come to Cincinnati, it really just locks you in. I'll always be a Cincinnati Bearcat, I'll always be a Cincinnati guy, but that Represent the C, it's special when you are from Cincinnati."

Williams could have easily moved away. As a four-star recruit coming off a state championship, he owned a bevy of choices: Michigan, Michigan State, WVU, you name it.

With so many tradition-rich programs pitching giant fan bases, why choose UC?

"Why not?" he said. "You playing in a BCS program, they winning nine and ten games a year, getting rings for Big East championships, then the support of being home. I talked to guys when I was in high school that played here that were from out of state -- Florida, Michigan -- they talk about they got homesick all the time. I am right here at home, 15 minutes away from campus. How good would it be to get a nice cooked meal or see your mom when you feel like it and just see family? Then playing in front of all your friends and family; that is exciting."

Schaffer, Davis, Reuben Haley (Mt. Healthy) and Tom DeTemple (Moeller) will be the four Cincinnati recruits playing in their final game Saturday at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Davis says he engages in conversation with Schaffer all the time about the rewarding nature of playing at home. Both held the Bearcats as the undeniable No. 1 on their college lists. Davis was the first to commit in the 2008 class. Once UC offered Schaffer, there was no list.

Neither can fathom the fact Saturday will be their last game playing for their city and school, but both can also agree it rests among the best choices they've made.

"People say I want to get away from home because I want to get away from high school and all that," Davis said. "I am far. It's like I went away from school. I hang out with guys from different states all the time, I don't hang out with anybody from school, but then when I want to see my family I can. It's awesome."

They couldn't become the first UC team to score 100 points in three consecutive games, but beginning Thursday, the Bearcats take on a much more daunting task.

Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI - The Bearcats came five points shy of making history Friday night.

Had they scored 100 points instead of 95, they would have been the first team in school history to hit the century mark in three consecutive games.

"Their offensive rebounds kept us on the defensive end too long and we weren't able to get enough field goal attempts to get to 100 for the third straight game," Mick Cronin said. "That would have been fun for the guys to be in the record books and really for all the people that come out to support us through this stretch of games."

Not only did Cronin want to make history, but his players did too.

"Once we looked up, there were like 10 points left (to get to 100)," said Sean Kilpatrick. "It was like come on son we've got to get this in. We were trying but obviously it didn't happen."

Kilpatrick was the Cats' leading scorer with 21 points including four 3-pointers.

In fact, the outside shot is what drove their offense throughout the game. The Bearcats finished 16 of 35 from downtown and had seven players finish with at least one 3-point shot.

"Playing four guards -- that's key," said Kilpatrick. "Especially on the 3-point range. I mean everyone on our team can shoot. And that's something we practice every day."

Although it seemed as though they would reach their goal, the Bearcats didn't have enough offensively to get their 100.

At times the shots just didn't fall.

"I guess I'm getting spoiled," said Cronin. "You start thinking we're going to make every open shot. We had some great looks that didn't go down."

While it may have been fun to rewrite the record books, the Bearcats know their attention must now turn to a challenging schedule that awaits them.

"We know now, going deeper into the schedule with the bigger name teams that we're going to play that it's going to be a lot more executing and a lot more defense and a lot more details that we got to pay attention to," Kilpartrick said. "It was great to play these teams that we played but I think everyone now has to realize that it's crunch time now."

The Bearcats (9-3) host Oklahoma (9-1) Thursday. It will be the first true test since the Crosstown Shootout and subsequent suspensions.

Whether or not the Bearcats are underdogs at US Bank Arena, Cronin wants his team to view themselves that way.

"We need to take the underdog mentality into this game," said Cronin. "And our guys need to

understand that that's our edge right now and we need to keep it the rest of the season."

But being underdogs doesn't mean that you don't believe in your team. The players know it's a long season and a lot can happen before it's all said and done.

They may not always be chasing records but if they play together, they'll be right where they want to be.

"Every team has ups and downs and sometimes things aren't going our way," said Kilpatrick. "But, if we're able to come through at the end and come together and basically know that we're a team and nothing can come between that then we should be fine."

Bearcats Breakfast 12.23.11

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Happy Festivus, or Christmas, or whatever it is you celebrate. Just remember to enjoy it and try to be nice to your family for once.

I'll be doing much of that today and have to cut this significantly short. Hence, why I deliver to you the Holiday Clip Show version of the Breakfast.

In case you missed anything this week, here are all the stories to give you your fix.

--- Monday's Breakfast talking about Cash and looking at where this group could fall into the best 3-point shooting squads in program history.

--- Monday afternoon I posted a blog about the day at UC practice and the robot that is Zach Collaros, who looks and sounds like a guy who plans on playing Dec. 31.

--- Tuesday our strong intern Chris Gundrum posted this piece on the emergence of RT Eric Lefeld and what it meant to sharing the Big East title.

--- Tuesday afternoon I posted the fourth episode of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast. This time I spoke with Mo Egger and after talked about Bruce Springsteen for eight minutes, we delved deep into the why or why not this offense will work in the Big East.

--- Wednesday's Breakfast looked into the precedent of the four-guard offense in the Big East with encouraging results for if you are a Bearcats fan.

--- Wednesday night my postgame column from the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game was about the players and coaches believing this team is back in that place where they were when they charged to the NCAA tournament last season.

--- Thursday's morning after blog emptied the notebook on a night the notebook got pretty darn full. Nuggets everywhere!

--- Tonight Chris will be
taking care of game duties from the Chicago State contest, so look for that this evening/tomorrow morning and see if UC can post 100 points in three consecutive games for the first time in school history.

--- I will be back Monday
morning with all of the regular assortment of news, views and facial hair analysis. Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.

And, of course, I'll leave you with this because you guys are the gift that keeps on givin' the whole year.


Game Balls & Player Ratings: Longwood Lancers

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The University of Cincinnati women's basketball team avenged a home loss to the University of Indianapolis on Monday night with a 70-54 win over Longwood University in a holiday themed day game from Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats got back Dayeesha Hollins who missed one game with a shoulder injury and Jeanise Randolph who was out since the preseason with back complications. Hollins started for UC while Randolph played a limited role off the bench. The Bearcats were led today by senior Chanel Chisholm who had a game-high 22 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals. Tiffany Turner was 7-7 from the free throw stripe and added 13 points. Turner remained in her starting role, but platooned the low-post position with Randolph, Talequia Hamilton, and Lesha Dunn, who saw limited minutes. While only playing a little during her first game back, Randolph showed hustle and was quite productive shooting a perfect 2-2 from the field with three rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in only 13 minutes. Chisholm, Turner, and Randolph receive game ball honors for their efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Chanel Chisholm, 9 -- Chisholm was the most productive Bearcat today as she amounted 22 points, but also garnered 10 rebounds for her second career double-double. She also had a game-high four steals, which is a part of her game we haven't seen much of this season. Aside from passing up some scoring opportunities to force the extra pass, Chisholm had one of her strongest outings of the season. She has numerous game ball honors this season, but because of her role her consistency on this list can improve. Look for Chisholm to be one of the top scoring options this season behind Hollins, Reaves and Cook.

"I think the coaches did a great job doing scouting before the game," Chisholm said. "I just try to remember what my role is and I just know I can get to the basket, so I just try and do that the best I can."

2. Tiffany Turner, 8 -- Turner had another impressive output today and is adding to her role as one of the most consistent players on this squad. Turner had 13 points and six rebounds as she makes it tough for head coach Jamelle Elliott to decide who starts as Randolph is now available again. Turner is averaging 8.8 points per game on top of her team leading 8.1 rebounds per game. Look for Turner to continue to lose minutes however, because of the return of Randolph. Her numbers may drop a little bit as well, but Turner's role on this team as an important player and probably a starter will remain for the rest of the season.

"I'm going to still have the same mindset and we're just going to work well together," Turner said about having Randolph back.

"It's a good problem to have, having Jeanise back down low giving us a post presence inside," Elliott said. "How it's going to effect the line-up -- you probably don't want to change the starting line-up a whole lot because those guys have a whole lot of chemistry going, but it's going to be good to get Jeanise in the game." 

3. Jeanise Randolph, 8 --
The women's basketball program got what they wanted for Christmas when they got Randolph back from injury just in time for conference play. Randolph who will now add much needed depth behind Tiffany Turner played only 13 minutes this afternoon, but was productive and gave fans an idea what the team has been missing. Randolph was perfect from the field, granted she only attempted two shots, she was still an added threat on the floor. She also had three rebounds, two blocks, and two steals, so that was a good sight for sore eyes. Randolph deserves the credit for tonight's performance as this will help her build her confidence and get her mind of a nagging injury that will have to be monitored  throughout the season.

"It really feels great to be back to play," Randolph said. "I'm getting there, I'm getting there."

Honorable Mention: Kayla Cook, 7 -- Anytime you have a player that plays all 40 minutes as does Cook game-in-game-out you must mention them as they are pivotal to the team's success. Cook's shooting wasn't her best today, but she still finished second in scoring today with 14 points. 
After writing my column from last night's game and sleeping on it, I wanted to place a slight asterisk on the piece about the team being back in that locked-in place they were at the end of last year.

*Beating 1-9 Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn't mean this team has arrived or will assuredly roll through the Big East. It only means the focused, locked-in mentality that sparked last year's run to the NCAA tournament has been prevalent the last three games.

Sometimes when you write a piece, you can already hear the criticism before checking an email or comment. While I welcome all emails (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) and criticism (pleasedontuseallcaps@Ihavefeelingstoo.com), I just wanted to preemptively strike on the "these opponents are garbage" motif.

I'll also say to that the same thing I said to it last year, in games like those against the Radfords and UAPBs of the world, you have to trust the eye test. Last year's team, as they blew threw the directional schools early in the year, passed the eye test. They looked like a quality team, not just one taking advantage of poor opponents. Same could be said here.

How will the game change when teams can take advantage of their inconsistency boxing out and height disadvantage? How will the offense change when perimeter defense can keep them out of the lane on the drive-and-kick, well, we'll see. That's why the Big East season is among the greatest in sports. Every team enters with questions like that -- except Syracuse, who looks like they could give the NJ Nets a run for Jay-Z's money.

Moving on....

--- In case you are
looking for highlights from last night, here you go.

--- Before I jump into what
was learned from last night's game, wanted to direct attention to Bill Koch's piece talking to Whit Babcock about Fifth Third Arena renovation. Every UC fan that has gone to or plans on attending a game, should take notice of his comments. Babcock senses the urgency of renovation. A great first step.

--- Speaking of Fifth Third, last night was win No. 300 in the arena. There have been some memorable ones since it opened in 1989. What was your favorite moment?

My snap top three probably looks something like this:

3. Kenyon. Pick a play, pick a game, pick your favorite moment. Martin's senior season made every game in that building the best place to be in college basketball that night.

2. Georgetown 2011. Maybe because it still is so fresh and my perspective altered from being a young kid in the stands to being a journalist on press row, but seeing the fan base rally around a program putting on a show that was the coronation of the completing the last phase of the rebuilding project to relevance was a special one.

1. Melvin Levett. You know the play.



--- Because I'm feeling like the master of the segue this morning, while we are bringing up Kenyon Martin, I wanted to mention some thoughts put forth comparing a current UC player to him last night.

Cashmere Wright said he believes Kelvin Gaines can be the next K-Mart.

"I think he's going to be like Kenyon Martin to me," Wright said. "Once he get it. I have yet to meet somebody who can jump straight up in the air that high and block shots. He has never played basketball before. Once he get it and learns what to do when to get in this spot when to go for a blocked shot, when to get a rebound, he is going to be awesome."

First off, to compare anybody to Kenyon is completely unfair to that player. Are there similarities to the raw athletic ability Gaines enters with and hopes to turn into a polished basketball product? Yes. Will he be Kenyon? Come on. I don't know if we'll ever see another Kenyon around here, no matter who you are talking about.

"He's only a freshman, but that is a pretty big tag," Mick Cronin said. "You are talking about probably the best player that's ever put on a (UC) uniform in my lifetime."


That said, Cronin has been using Martin as motivation for Gaines. He put together a five-minute edit of highlights to show him the fundamentals of what made Martin so great and how Gaines can apply them to his game.

"The whole edit is dunks and blocked shots," Cronin said. "Guy has done pretty well for himself. Every dunk was a two-hand catch. They are about the same size. He had a couple really good catches tonight that two weeks ago he wouldn't have made."


Gaines finished the night as a force on the inside with seven points, six boards and three blocks. As sports information stud Jeremy Martin pointed out, this was the second consecutive game he had a block with a piece of his body not intended for blocking shots. He had a block with his elbow Wednesday night. This comes after Saturday when he whiffed on his first block, but brought his other arm around and blocked it with his second arm through.


The guy is a pretty freak athlete. Ironically, this progress has come as Cronin backed off coaching him. He said Gaines gets down on himself often, so instead, he's leaving the instruction to Cashmere Wright, who said he's like Gaines' big brother.


"Coach Cronin just keep me working with him," Wright said. "When we are shooting, he's got me working with him all the time."

--- What do you need to know about the possibility this team can't keep up the current shooting pace as the season progresses?

Wright.jpg

Arguably, it's two best 3-point shooters, Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon went a combined 2 of 9 from deep on Wednesday -- and UC hit a season high 15 of 28 3-pointers.

Too many people can fill it up for this team to not hit shots on a daily basis. Four players buried multiple 3s. Wright (6 of 10), SK (2 of 6), JaQuon Parker (3 of 3), Jeremiah Davis (3 of 4).

--- Over the last three games, UC is 39 of 81 from 3-point range. That's 48.1 percent.

For reference, tops in the country this season is Indiana at 46.8 percent through 11 games. 

No team has finished a season hitting better than 43 percent since Illinois State (44 percent) in 2003. Not that this pace will continue for the next three months, but that's a pretty good measuring stick for how hot UC is right now.

--- Check out the last six halves for the Bearcats: 43, 35, 55, 46, 50, 51.

--- As noted in the story last night, this was the first time UC hung back-to-back 100-point games since 1976. On Friday against Chicago State they will shoot for a third consecutive 100-point game. When was the last time that happened? How about never.

"That's never a goal," Cash said. "Our goal is to go out there and play hard. Hopefully shots fall and you get 100.When it get close you think about it."

--- Tweet this morning from assistant coach Darren Savino: "In 16 years of College Coaching I've never had a 2 wk stretch like this. Scored 100 pts in back to back games is a first!"

--- What are the chances UC hangs a third 100 on Chicago State? Well, they are currently 0-12 on the young season and have given up at least 92 points in three of the last four games. DePaul is the only team to score 100 on them this season.

--- Parker continued to show why he was so sorely missed early in the season. At the beginning of the second half, he went on a run that may have been his most spectacular five minutes as a Bearcat. He scored 14 of the team's first 16 after the break and every field goal.

He hit a running bank shot and three 3-pointers, including one final four-point play as he was knocked over swishing the last one. His final tally of 17 points was a career high.

I've been saying all year that Parker would be this year's Dion Dixon, the guy who breaks out to become a key piece of the puzzle. Hard to deny that is the case right now. Parker appears to be better in all aspects of his game and that is his perspective.

"Everything, rebounding, ball-handling, shooting, playing defense," Parker said. "I think I can pretty much do it all and be a help to the team."


Most importantly, in the four-guard offense, he is the essential piece. He can step out and hit the 3-pointer (6 of 7 on the season) and has nice handles (remember, he played point guard some his freshman year). Then, on the interior, he's unlike many that Cronin has seen.

"He gives us that toughness," Cronin said. "He's guy that is just going to go in and rip the ball out of another guy's hands. His mind on defense and rebounding, in his mind he is 6-6. He truly believes that it doesn't phase him to guard a bigger guy. Saw him in high school that is how we found him. We went to see a different guy. He was just a physically dominant player."

--- Cronin has been begging Cash to realize this is his team and even when Yancy Gates returns, that will continue to be the case. Wright has been reluctant to view it that way, but during one portion of the postgame last night he twice in one sentenced referred to it as "my team."

When called out on it, he didn't realize he had even said it. He corrected himself to say, "it is our team. It is everybody's team."

It appears Cronin's urgings are finally seeping into the subconscious, though, the coach admitted he doesn't need Cash to say this is his team to be satisfied. He just needs him to continue to talk and lead on the court in the same manner he has been.

"He doesn't mean that in a selfish way," Cronin said. "That's what it is all about. Tom Brady doesn't say that but does anybody want to guess whose team the New England Patriots are?"

--- Wright had six 3-pointers Wednesday night, a career high.

Check out his stat line average over the last three games: 19.6 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1 turnover.

The guy is dealing. Cronin sees more than just numbers as a reason to be thrilled.

"More importantly, what he is learning is, when you preach and preach and preach to a guy to take ownership and give maximum effort and try to be great and he does it and it pays off for him -- you don't have to preach anymore."

--- In the world of turnovers, watching Arkansas-Pine Bluff play is like watching da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa. Just a work of art.

The 29 turnovers tied for the most between two Division I teams this season. They had 17 at halftime.

--- Doc offered his two cents on UC hoops last night and opened with a nice first line: "If you like irony, you'll love these guys." The rest of it is a nice inspection into the latest resurgence and the important question of what they'll do when Gates returns, but I personally enjoyed the lead.

--- Stat of the night: A key number in UC's defense, particularly when they go small, will be how many deflections they get. It's not on the stat sheet, but is a number kept by the UC assistants. On Wednesday, they had 43 deflections, which from what I gather is a season-high. Regardless, it is a ton. They also set a new record under Cronin for most steals (16). Though, undoubtedly, a tip of the cap to UAPB on that one.

--- Quote of the night: As Cash went off covering his tracks when he realized, he called it my team, he kept saying how it is everybody's team. Then, when told Cronin said it is his team, he fired this off.

"He is just talking."

Upon reading this, I realize you probably had to be there, but trust me, it was funny. 


Will Zach Really Be Back?

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Will quarterback Zach Collaros really be able to play in the Liberty Bowl only 49 days after breaking his right ankle?


Collaros motion.jpg


My first attempt at getting the inside scoop was from Zach's former housemate Derek Wolfe.


"I'm not going to comment on that right now, because I don't want to put anything out there that I shouldn't," said Wolfe.


Alright, how about Zach's fellow team captain JK Schaffer?


"It's not really my business to talk about," said Schaffer.  "I don't know any of the medical stuff and I try to stay out of that.  It's his business and he has enough people asking him about it."


So much for that idea.  Let's go straight to the source.


"If it's up to me I'll play," said Collaros.  "What it comes down to is what Coach Jones wants and what (trainer) Bob Mangine and Dr. Colosimo say."  


Not exactly the definitive answer I was hoping for.


But just when I thought that I was going to leave practice thinking that Zach's status for the bowl was still 50-50, head coach Butch Jones provided the strongest indication yet that Collaros will take the field in Memphis on December 31st.


"I would say right now it's 65 to 70 percent likely that he'll play," Coach Jones told me.  "We have one more practice on Thursday and then we're off for a couple of days, so we'll see when we report to Memphis how he feels.  But you can see that he's getting better every day.  That's obviously very encouraging."


Zach's ankle now includes a plate and two screws that were surgically attached on November 14th, and while he has taken most of the snaps at practice this week, the senior quarterback isn't finished with the rehab process.


"I spend about an hour in the morning doing rehab before practice," said Collaros.  "Then we have practice and after that, it's anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to three more hours.  When I get home, it's not like I'm doing rehab at my house, but I'm definitely icing it and following Bob's rules.


"The past couple of days - especially yesterday - I felt really good.  Today I was pretty sore after three straight days of practice, but I just have keep doing what I have to do in the training room and at home.  Hopefully, I'll be ready in 10 days."


I'll be honest.  When Zach was taken off the field on a cart after being hit by West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, I assumed his college career was finished.  Even after being told that there was a chance that he could recover in time for a bowl game, I remained skeptical.


But his teammates and coaches figured that if anyone could make it back that quickly, it was Zach Collaros.


"I thought it was a legitimate possibility because of how competitive that he is and how important this is to him," said Coach Jones.  "This football game means everything to him.  Anything that he puts his mind to, he usually accomplishes."


"Even from the beginning, I knew that he would play in a bowl game," said Schaffer.  "Knowing Zach, there is no way that they'll keep him off the field.  Nothing will keep him off."


"I miss playing," Collaros told me.  "It's been a hard five weeks just sitting around and watching.  I'm very competitive and I want to be out there.  It's important to me and it's important to help my teammates get a win.  And I don't want my last play to be the play that it was."  


It sounds increasingly likely that it won't be.


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Back in that place

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Following the second-consecutive 100-point game for the Bearcats, Mick Cronin and his players admit the special feeling of last year's run to the NCAA tournament has returned.

CINCINNATI - Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker didn't look at each other, but the same response snapped off immediately when asked if this is the most fun they've had at the University of Cincinnati.

"Oh yeah," Wright said.

"Definitely," Parker slipped in.

About nine months prior, only a basketball toss away from the podium where Parker and Wright made this proclamation following a 101-53 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff Wednesday night, Wright and Parker were among a group that danced on scorers tables and circled Fifth Third Arena in wake of the most important eight-game run in the Mick Cronin era.

That group made a breakthrough some believed would never come and laughed during every minute of it.

Yet, on this December evening, only 11 days removed from one of the ugliest, darkest moments in program history, no doubt remained. This was better.

"Wasn't like we wasn't having fun (before)," Wright said. "He's allowing us to have more fun on the court now. Most of the time we had fun off the court and on the court it was like business. Now, we are more free. He's letting us do what he recruited us for."

Some of them are doing what they haven't done since those recruiting visits - specifically Wright. He followed up a career high 25 points on Saturday with a career high six 3-pointers Wednesday as UC hit the century mark in back-to-back games for the first time since the Ford administration.

Over the last three contests, Wright is averaging 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 turnover per game. Every point guard in the country just developed a case of stat-line jealousy.

Records are falling like 3-pointers. Wednesday was the largest margin of victory under Cronin. Their 15 3-pointers were most since 2006 against Wofford. Their 16 steals were the most in the Cronin era. The 29 turnovers forced were tied for the most in a Division I game this season. JaQuon Parker poured in a career-high 17 points. Jeremiah Davis III finished with 13 for a career high and buried his first 3-pointer. Jermaine Sanders tallied a career high seven rebounds. Even Alex Eppensteiner knocked down his first shot of the season to send 4,874 to its feet. Only topped by the Davis 3-pointer from the corner that guaranteed the 100-point mark.

What's not to like?

For these guys, nothing. This isn't just about winning, it's about how they are doing it. For Wright and company, that's why wins against Radford and Arkansas-Pine Bluff hold water in comparison to wins against Louisville and Georgetown.

"Last year, we had a good team but it was a system," Wright said. "You throw the ball here, you go to this corner. Now, it is everybody got their time. Everybody is going to score, everybody is going to play hard, everybody is going to get their shots. Everybody is happy."

Most notably, Cronin.

A coach who spent the first month of the season searching for answers finally found one. Embarrassed days and nights spent grinding over how to allow this team to play to potential are temporarily gone.

He admitted after the game he's never had a team at UC he felt confident could score like this. Truth be told, he's never had a team like this - period. Figuring out that last sentence is why UC plows ahead with three losses and a month of frustration in their back pocket.

This group playing today is as far from last year's group as can be. That team was driven by defense and determination. While the 2011 Bearcats will ultimately reach their goal if they can use those attributes, the foundation of the team is raining buckets.

"From the beginning I thought these two teams from this year to last year are totally different teams," Wright said. "This year is a more offensive team, last year a more defensive team. When we started off playing that way, you can't play the same way with a different team. Right now we are getting a bunch of energy off offense because we have a bunch of offensive players."

When asked why they weren't playing that way earlier, Wright correctly offered up the company line.

"I don't question him," he said. "That's a question you have to ask him."

So, like good scribes, we did. Why wasn't this offense utilized earlier?

"I don't know," Cronin said. "I'm not smart enough."

All of the Bearcats look intelligent for now - with ineptitude of Radford and UAPB on the assist. As Cronin loves to say, the storm is coming. It's a storm this team thrived in last year. The coach still believes if it weren't for a tournament draw that placed UConn in their pod, they had a legitimate shot at the Final Four.

"I didn't think anybody could beat us but (Connecticut) and they almost didn't," Cronin said. "That team was locked in. They loved each other, they were having an unbelievable amount of fun like these guys are having now."

The fun, enjoyment and focus disappeared.

"Our mental state wasn't where it needed to be," Cronin said. "We were going nowhere fast."

The smiles, laughs and words of players and coaches the last three games prove that locked in feeling has returned. And just in time.

"We're back in that place," he said. "We are a team."

Bearcats Breakfast 12.21.11

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If you haven't had the opportunity yet, I highly recommend checking out the latest episode of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast. Myself and Mo Egger went on and on discussing the four-guard offense, Zach Collaros and a life problem that originates with the band Bush (As many do).

Anyway, another fun, informative episode if you are a Bearcats fan, so make sure you check it out. I hope you guys are enjoying the podcasts, because I'm enjoying doing them. If there are any guests in particular you would like to hear or ways you think it could be better, please shoot me an email (paudehnerjr@gmail.com) and let me know.

Let's eat...

--- The majority of the podcast Mo and I were talking about the new offense and how it would fare in the Big East. It's a popular topic these days and may end up being the defining question regarding the success of this season.

The aspect I want to take a look at today is the precedent of the four-guard offense in the Big East.

The most obvious example is Villanova. They've been running the four-guard offense for more than a few years now and obviously been a consistent upper-echelon Big East team.

Not only have they experienced success, but in 2009 they went to a Final Four with that offense. It was loaded with scorers. They went 30-8 overall and 13-5 in conference.

Most importantly, they had an offensive and rebounding presence in the middle, Dante Cunningham, who led the team in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (7.5). However, it wasn't like they shot the lights out all season. They averaged only 35 percent from 3-point range.

That said, they poured in 77 points a game that season behing Cunningham, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes.

Therein lies the key the four-guard offense enduring the physical rigors of the Big East. You MUST score. And you must score in bunches.

"When you start talking about strategy it would be like running the spread offense in football," Mick Cronin said. "You got to score points or there is no point in it. If you are three and out and not moving the ball the defense is going to be on the field the whole time. So when you play small you have to score. We have tried this with Rashad, there is time when if you are not scoring there is no point in it because it is going to hurt your defense and it is going to hurt your rebounding. If you can get away with it, if you can score and if it doesn't hurt your defense and doesn't hurt your rebounding, you got something."

Can this team score consistently? Can their current 37 percent 3-point shooting and be able to dribble-drive and kick against elite defenders? We shall find out.

If you can't; if you stop scoring, you end up in a tailspin like Villanova endured at the end of the last two seasons.

In losing 10 of their final 15 games last year, they broke the 70-point barrier five times and won three of those. The price to pay for an off night shooting is brutal. The price to pay for a cold streak is season-ending.

You can take another case study look at Marquette the last few years. The Golden Eagles went 9-9 in the Big East last year and advanced to the Sweet 16. They went 11-7 the year prior and lost in the first round to Washington.

Yet again, what is the difference between success and failure? They were second in the Big East in points scored last year (75.2) and enjoyed one of the best seasons in their history.

Notre Dame ran the spread out routine as well and was right line with Marquette also at 75.2 points per game and finished second in the regular season.

So, can it be done? Absolutely. The precedents exist. But can UC do it? Well, that will come down to posting 70-plus points on a regular basis.

--- All of this talk doesn't guarantee the four-guard attack will be the only offense all season. Cronin said both the traditional form and spread form are practiced every day. When Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj return, they will have the ability to be versatile.

"We're not going to wait until those guys are eligible and come back," Cronin said. "We're working on it daily, incorporating them into the changes that we needed to make anyway to get the floor opened up, to be able to run more and be more aggressive of a team. When they come back, it's not like it's going to be the first time that they're involved in this."

The entire early portion of the Big East schedule once Gates and company return will most definitely be a work in progress. Cronin will be figuring out what works and what doesn't.

Fortunately, some teams thought to be elite Big East squads on the front end of the schedule have struggled mightily this season.

Here's the first five games where UC should be able to get a grip on how the offense is meshing:

@ No. 13 Pitt (without suspended players) 11-1
Notre Dame 8-5
St. John's 5-5
@ No. 16 Georgetown 9-1
Villanova 6-5

The road games will be brutal, but those are three very winnable home games against teams dealing with their own issues. Also, don't forget the factor that occurs every season in the Big East, that is teams losing on the road early at a significant rate. All of those factors bode well to a quick start in the transition period.

--- Bill Koch had this blog post on the four-guard offense.

--- This team won't win anything Cashmere Wright changes a thing he's doing. The guy has been phenomenal, as I talked about on Monday, Chad Brendel put together a story on his leadership.

It's been the defining factor in the latest resurgence. Nice outlook into his mindset and that of the rest of the team from Chad.

--- Of course, UC hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff tonight. That's right, the Golden Lions are in town. What do you need to know about them? Well, let's just say it shouldn't be pretty.

They are 1-8 on the season and have lost five consecutive games by double figures. That includes a 19-point loss in their last game at DePaul and 23-point defeat at Akron. Zippy enjoyed that visit. Lot of bouncing.

We'll move on.

--- Tim Adams with a story on strong Moeller grad and long snapper Tom DeTemple. One of my favorite interviews of the year.
BETrophy.jpg
--- The team hosted a pep rally event at Dave & Busters last night. While I wasn't in attendance, I can only imagine there were a few games of skee ball.

Not only was there food, highlight videos and a full team in the house -- this guy was in the house, too.

A nice, shiny new present for Christmas.

--- In case you missed it, my guy Chris Gundrum put together this story on RT Eric Lefeld, who transitioned from defensive line to starting right tackle over the past year and played a major role in earning that trophy to the right. Nice piece.

--- While I'm barely on speaking terms with Isaiah Pead right now since he decided to cut his high-fade haircut, he did break out "Isaiah Claus" this week. Worth a view from the Butch Jones Blog.

--- Also, from the blog is this view at the 1200 Club Christmas party. Not making a crazy pitch here, but it's a pretty nice group to be a part of.

--- Also, if you haven't seen the One Team, One Ticket package, take a look. If you don't have the time or ability to head to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl, you can send some members of the dance team, student, staff, etc. Also, if you could specifically place your check to ATTN: One Team, One Blogger and write the check out to Paul Dehner Jr., you can donate to this fictional program I invented.

For my donation, it's the equivalent of the Human Fund. Money for People.

--- The Bearcats basketball team made a visit to Children's Hospital yesterday. Lance McAlister was raving about their attitude and the smiles they brought. Great stuff.

Here's the photo gallery.

Randomness...

--- I completely thought Ashton Kutcher was bringing back Punk'd last week when I was told to show up on the wrong day for a Christmas party. Little did I know that was actually an option.

--- Since I'm sure all you were locked in, I probably don't need to tell you Marshall beat FIU inside the amazing college football venue of Tropicana Field last night.

--- If you are looking to get me a Christmas gift for me (seriously, why haven't you done this yet) I'll take this.

--- Just thinking that
it's been a while since I posted a Pearl Jam song. (What? One week?) So, here's Hunger Strike with Chris Cornell.



Collaros appears to be a "go"

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After stopping by UC bowl practice today (Tuesday, Dec. 20) all indications are that Zach Collaros will be good to go in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. (See accompanying video.)

If anything, UC now has three healthy quarterbacks with considerable experience with Collaros and Munchie Legaux sharing the bulk of the reps in practice, along with Jordan Louallen.

Granted, Collaros hasn't gone full game speed yet and has yet to take a hit, but keep in mind he's a fan of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who's as tough as they come. (Sure, it may pain some Bearcat fans that I reference a Miami quarterback, but I witnessed "Big Ben" at field level go 3-0 against UC.)

If given the green light, Collaros clearly is the best passing option, particularly on deep throws. 

Plus, he's a competitor.

There's no way Zach Collaros wants to go out with his career ending at the opposing goal line during a loss at a rented pro venue.  Sure, he can't play one more at "The Nipp", but when the lights go on at the Liberty Bowl stadium in Memphis, my money says he makes plays.

As mentioned before, UC's had injured quarterbacks make miraculous gameday recoveries before at bowl games (Gino Guidugli-Fort Worth Bowl, Ben Mauk-Papajohns.com Bowl).

Another twist, might be what if the Bearcats played all three?

In UC's first bowl game in 50 years in Boise in 1997, little-used freshman Deontey Kenner made his debut behind center as starter Chad Plummer played some receiver.  Seeing as Kenner had only been the holder for the bulk of the year, it was an element of surprise.

Keep in mind, I SAW NONE OF THIS IN PRACTICE, but what if Collaros and Legaux lined up in the same formation?  And, what if you threw in the "Bearcat/Wildcat" option of Louallen?

That's multiple things for Vanderbilt to prepare for.

However it plays out, I'm glad Collaros gets one more crack at it.  UC is clearly a better team with him and may well have made a BCS bowl without the injury.

I know from speaking with him that Zach's not much of an Elvis fan, but I hope he succeeds and someone gets him an Elvis Memphis Mafia "TCB" symbol with the lightning bolt (Taking Care of Business).

Not often in life are we allowed to rewrite our own endings.

The fourth edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast is now in the books. If you have been at all curious about UC's new four-guard offense and how the wide-open attack will fare in the Big East, you need to look no further.

I caught up with ESPN1530 radio host and president of the LMFAO fan club, Mo Egger, to chat about all things Bearcats basketball amid their recent offensive resurgence. I'll venture to say nobody outside the basketball coaching staff has analyzed this offense and its future more than we do on this podcast.

We also discuss the genius of Bruce Springsteen and begin the media blitz for a Boss concert at GABP. I also unveil my pitch for One Team, One Blogger as an addition to the One Team, One Ticket deal through the ticket office.

Here is the breakdown:

Minutes 1-8: The Boss. What makes him great. Why he needs to be at GABP and why the desperate need to listen to the band Bush sparked a chain reaction of possible imbalance in Mo.

8-14: Is this the most dramatic structural flip on offense you've seen? And since Tim Tebow has everything to do with everything, we explain his role in UC basketball.

14-25: Can a four-guard offense survive in the Big East? What is the precedent? What will be the defining factor? Thoughts from Mo, myself and Mick.

25-30: How would you feel about this team in comparison to last year entering Big East play if they handle Oklahoma? Hypothetical circumstances! The flux capacitor of podcasting!

28-31: Can the defense be good enough with a size disadvantage?

31-32: We evaluate how much smarter we made anybody still listening.

32-35: Zach Collaros: Part-Robot or Part-Pujols?

35-38: Memphis, Liberty Bowl, you should really be going. If you can't, you should really be sending some UC student staff and bloggers.

38-40: We run down all of Mo's jobs, including the distinction of being the preeminent church festival eating contest host in Cincinnati.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

When a converted defensive lineman was forced to take over at right tackle midway through the season, the Bearcats offense could have been exposed. Instead, Sean Lefeld emerged as future stronghold on the line.

Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI - Whenever a starting player is injured, how his team responds can say a lot about their character.

Do they respond to the challenge by blaming any lack of success on the fact that a player is injured? Or do they accept the hand they've been dealt and keep working towards their goal?

When starting right tackle Sean Hooey injured his right ankle before the game against Louisville in Week 6, the Bearcats needed someone to respond to the challenge that stood in front of them.

Redshirt freshman Eric Lefeld answered the call.

"I knew it was a great opportunity," said Lefeld. "Hooey's been in my right hip-pocket the whole time making sure I'm playing up to the standard the offensive line has set."

The remarkable nature of Lefeld's emergence doesn't stem from the fact he stepped in for an injured teammate, but how far he came to be in the position to do so.

Not only did Lefeld arrived at UC 16 months ago 65 pounds lighter, he arrived as a defensive lineman. He made enough progress and put on enough weight to work his way into the backup position.

"Here's a young man, a redshirt freshman at right tackle, helping us compete for a championship," Butch Jones said. "He's protecting one of the sides of the quarterback and he was a defensive lineman... You talk about the strength and conditioning program and he's taken great strides from his first game to his (last game)."

His progressions didn't come without hiccups. Lefeld's first memory as a starter will be of a false start he committed on his first series against Louisville.

He admitted he was nervous.

"I think after the first snap," said Lefeld. "After that, you know, I kind of got the jitters out and was ready to go."

Lefeld's success this year and the success of the entire offensive line is simply a reflection of the hard work and dedication they put in each day.

"It's the power of the unit," said Lefeld. "We practice everyday. We flip positions. Everybody knows more than one position on the offensive line and I had the opportunity to step in and hold the rope for the rest of the offensive line."

That line did more than hold the rope. They led the Big East conference in yards per rush and were second in the conference in sacks allowed per game.

Young players are going to make their share of mistakes. That's why the veterans on the offensive line have helped coach him along the way.

Veteran lineman Randy Martinez said it's tough to lose a guy like Hooey but Lefeld has done a good job in his place.

"Hooey has been real consistent in the offseason," Martinez said. "We spent a lot of time working with him, so when he went down it's hard to replace a guy like that. He's been helping Eric along the way, every step. Eric's young so we had to give him a little help teaching him the position. He got it down really quick and he's done a great job for us."

Lefeld has faced many challenges this year. As a redshirt freshman being asked to fill in for an upperclassman like Hooey is tough.

He could have buckled under the pressure. But he didn't. He responded to the call of his team.

"You can see the progression from day one until now," said Martinez. "In camp he was a little shaky, he just moved to the position from last camp. So he has one solid year of playing O-line in his life and to step in and do what he's done has been great."

The moment I walked into the Sheakley Athletic Complex bubble on Monday, I saw Zach Collaros drop back, shuffle left, shuffle right and unleash a rope down the middle of the field.

It hit the striding receiver about 50 yards away right in the hands in perfect position.

Welcome back.

Collaros was wearing his No. 18 practice jersey instead of the standard 12 and I had to think for a second if that was him. It sure didn't look like a player who fractured his ankle Nov. 12.

As practice continued, Collaros took off running on a designed draw. He rolled out of the pocket and threw a pass into the flat. Collaros did, well, what Collaros does. And that news couldn't have been any better
for Butch Jones and the Bearcats.Thumbnail image for ZachCollaros2.jpg

After more than an hour of looking like a guy who plans on playing Dec. 31 in the Liberty Bowl, Collaros sounded like on as well.

When asked if he feels like he could start if the game was tomorrow he didn't hold back.

"Yeah," he said. "In my mind. I don't know about them."

With a quick smile coming over his face, he was referring to the coaches and training staff. Though, Butch Jones sounded like he had been won over after the latest chapter in this remarkable recovery.

"He made it through the entire practice and we really pushed him," Jones said. "It was very encouraging and now he is about a month ahead of schedule."

Obviously, returning to see his career end with a different image than that of being carted off serves as a motivating factor through every step of his comeback. But it's become a reality now.

His ankle is still far from 100 percent, though. On some plays he would hobble a bit getting started or show a small limp. To the untrained eye, it might look normal, but to the coaches and onlookers who are analyzing every stride, his limitations are noticeable.

"
It still hurts sometimes when I push off in go in a certain direction, so I definitely feel some hesitancy," Collaros said. "I didn't realize I was going to be able to heal this fast. Still got along way to go. Still have 12 days to the game, so I still have time for it to heal. So, I think I am definitely ahead of schedule. I'm excited about it."

The concept of bringing back the second-highest rated QB in the Big East and undeniable offensive and emotional leader of the team certainly brightens Jones' spirits as well.


"Obviously, his knowledge base and all of that puts him ahead of Munchie (Legaux) a little bit," Jones said. "
One of his biggest strengths is to keep plays alive with his legs. So, can he extend plays and play like Zach Collaros plays? If he is able to do that then we will play him; if not then we're very fortunate to have the amount of reps we've gotten with Munchie. We want Zach to be Zach. We are going to error on precaution, everything is safety first, but I am very encouraged by what I saw today."

Previewing the opponent: Indianapolis Greyhounds

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The University of Cincinnati women's basketball team returns to Fifth Third Arena tonight to face off against the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds. The Bearcats are currently riding a four game losing streak and have an even more depleted line-up with Dayeesha Hollins suffering from a shoulder injury that sidelined her for the second half against Louisville and the team's last game. While her statuses for this game is up in the air, the Bearcats will be looking to bounce back from a loss at local rival Miami (OH) this past Saturday. Tonight's game will be the second televised game for the Bearcats at home and will be shown on FOX Sports Ohio.

This will be Indy's toughest task this season standing at 6-2. It is a pivotal game for both sides tonight and will be the 10th of 13 non-conference games for the Bearcats this season. The Greyhounds have beaten Evansville and Northern Kentucky this season, which are two teams that UC has already played and defeated as well. This seems to be a very even match-up.

Indianapolis is currently on a six game winning streak and is beating their opponents by more than 12.6 points per game. The Hounds are led by junior Kristin Turner who is averaging 13.3 points per game and 4.8 assists per game and Nickole Gonser who grabs a team-best 5.5 rebounds per contest this season.

The Bearcats must find a way to hold on to leads, as they squandered leads in all four of their losses this season. With an efficient shooting team in Indy coming into Bearcat country tonight, UC must be able to play for 40 minutes in order to come out victorious. They may be with out Hollins again tonight and if so, Alyesha Lovett is her likely replacement in the starting line-up.

Stay tuned for my game balls and player ratings after the game. The tip is set for 7 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena.    

Bearcats Breakfast 12.19.11

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Big UC Day today, as I'll head down there for football practice and media availability then stick around for a basketball media session soon after. Keep an eye on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for any news that comes up as I poke around.

I'll, of course, be keeping an eye on Zach Collaros and his rehab and also catching up with Cashmere Wright to talk about his emergence. I'll also be doing a quality control stop at Chik-fil-A, to make sure everyone is still functioning properly.

Let's eat...

--- Cashmere Wright may have
put up the most impressive stat line at UC in years in Saturday's win against Radford:

27 minutes, 25 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 0 turnovers. Toss in 4 of 9 shooting from behind the arc and 10 of 16 from the field and you have a near perfect game for a point guard.

Combine that line with his line at Wright State and over the last two games in this new offense, Wright is averaging 18.5 points and 7 assists.

Shoot, over the last six games he's averaging 6.2 assists and 1.8 turnovers. That's a 3.4:1 assist to turnover rate. Last year, only five players nationally boasted an A/T rate better than 3.4. And none of those averaged better than six assists per game.

People were heavily critical of Wright early in the season, and understandably so considering he turned the ball over 17 times in the first four games against just 11 in the next six. Lately, he's clearly found his rhythm and his offense suits him perfectly.

"Right now, it's like coaching Tom Brady," Mick Cronin said. "He is just picking people apart. His stat line: 27 minutes, 25 points, six assists, zero turnovers and two steals.  That doesn't count that I go in the locker room and he is in there with his arm around Kelvin Gaines telling him to keep his head up. That's the stuff he's been doing all week. As long as he continues to give us that type of leadership and continue to command our team in that way, the sky is the limit for our team. It's really easy to coach."  

Looking forward to talking more with Cash today about this roller coaster season, his mindset, his knees and running the open offense.

--- By the way, for reference on Wright averaging 6.3 assists in his last six games, the most assists/game in a season over the last 30 years came from Keith LeGree in 1995-96 at 5.7. Obviously, the chances those numbers stay this high in Big East play are slim, but this is clearly an elite run from him.

--- While I'm heaping praise upon Wright, Mike DeCourcy thinks Louisville's Peyton Siva might be the most complete point guard in the country.

--- Since I was poking around in the record books, check out the 3-point percentage numbers.

UC currently is knocking down 37.4 percent from deep, thanks to a run of 24 of 56 over the last two games.

If they could hold that percentage over the course of the season, they would rank third all-time in UC history. And that's by a hundredth of a percentage point behind the Final Four team of 1992.

Here's the Top 5

Year     Total      Pct
86-87  115-267   43%
91-92  208-555   37.5%
11-12  67-179     37.4%
93-94  253-693   36.5%
01-02  209-577   36.2%
99-00  165-459   35.9%

Last year, the Cats shot 33.8% from deep. Yeah, UC's taking a ton of 3-pointers right now, but when they are dropping it's easy to rationalize.

--- Our guy Chris Gundrum wrote about JaQuon Parker early in the year before the junior got hurt, but Park may be the most improved player on this team.

His grit, hustle and intangibles have made all the difference over the last two games. Even the quality minutes he gave in the Xavier game were noticeable.

Anyway, Bill Koch put this piece together about Parker prior to Saturday's game.

--- Bearcats football gave away team awards last night at that postseason banquet.

Here they are:

Scout Team Players of the Year:

Special Teams Player of the Year: Pat O'Donnell

Specialist of the Year: Tom DeTemple  

Brig Owens Outstanding Back:

Most Valuable Receiver: Anthony McClung

John Pease Outstanding Lineman

Most Valuable Linebacker: J.K. Schaffer

Ray Sheakley Most Improved Leader Award: John Hughes, Randy Martinez, Walter Stewart

Jim Kelly Hold the Rope Award:

C-Club Strothman Award for Academic Excellence: Austen Bujnoch

Glenn Sample Represent the C Community Service Award: Jordan Luallen

Claude Rost MVP Award: Isaiah Pead


--- Let'stalk Team MVP. You know I'm not arguing with Pead. For me, it had to come down to Pead, Wolfe and Schaffer. All three would be deserving and I probably wouldn't argue any of them receiving the award. As far as complete disruption created, nobody surpassed Wolfe this season. In many ways the play of Schaffer and Wolfe worked together, but few teams provide that type of up-the-middle push like Wolfe brought and it sent gameplans into the trash bin repeatedly.

That said, this BE title share never would have happened without Pead. When Collaros went down, the offense moved into the hands of Pead. As if he hadn't made enough plays to that point in the season. With teams keying on him he still managed to make plays and push UC over the top with an inexperienced rookie QB combo.

Both are going to play in the league next year and watching their careers will be fun. But for the purpose of this specific award, Pead was the right choice.

--- Reminder, the Bearcats are holding a bowl game celebration at Dave & Busters on Tuesday night from 7-8 p.m.

Here are all the details. Should be a fun event and sendoff of sorts.

--- Reminder, Part II. Vote for Connor Barwin for the Pro Bowl. Today is the last day. He notched another sack yesterday and now has 10.5 sacks on the season. While we are at it, vote Trent Cole, too. The former Bearcat has nine sacks. Two UC products are in the top 20 in the NFL in sacks right now.

--- Reminder, Part II, get your Liberty Bowl tickets. Seriously, NYE in Memphis, $50 for games, $35 for all you can eat and drink UC tailgate. I'm not sure what else you think your life is going to offer to top this.

--- Need more motivation, have you seen the Liberty Bowl promos our man Tommy G has been cranking out?
 




--- Randomness...

--- How about my Ohio Bobcats taking the coveted Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl. By the way, the potatoes are famous, not the bowl game. It was their first bowl win in school history and they are now 1-0 in bowl games while quarterbacked by the son of a major leaguer.

--- I think this would be the exact moment I'd consider a new profession.

--- Exact moment I'd consider a new profession, Part II.
When you are a cable repair guy and you find a 550-pound bear blocking your work area, it's a game-changer. Somebody isn't getting free HBO.

--- Aw, The Biebs endured a tortured, Santa-less childhood. As if he needs to be more of a sensitive, broken-soul figure for tweens everywhere.

--- What is wrong with people? And what are the chances I can get him to tattoo http://www.gobearcats.com/blog/on-the-bearcat-beat/ as a tramp stamp on his lower back?

--- I'm officially intrigued by the new Will Ferrell movie.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.16.11

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Suddenly, there's an excitement to this string of Directional State games over the next week. When the schedule originally came out -- my, how things were different then -- this appeared to be the darkest lull in the schedule just before Big East play hit. Now, it's intriguing to show up and see if this new four-guard offense can duplicate Wednesday's outburst. 

The first true challenge of the offense will be against Oklahoma, who can match up athletically and really make UC pay for its lack of size, but if they shoot anywhere near the way they did Wednesday, that won't matter much. 

Remember, not only was UC 14 of 32 from 3-point range, but two of their three best shooters from deep went a combined 3 of 12. When you shoot 45 percent from deep and your two of your top shooters miss nine times, the hopes that the shooting trend can continue look good. 

Of course, the old adage remains, live by the 3....well, you know the rest. Shooting 32 times from deep probably isn't the ideal number for Cronin, but add in a little more attacking action and you'll see a dangerous balance. 

Let's eat...

--- Mick Cronin talked about watching the Wright State film to be liberating. There's a line of UC fans right behind him uttering the same words.  

--- Few quick notes on Radford. They play in the same conference as Presbyterian College. In fact, the lost to the Blue Hose (4-5) by eight. They have lost seven in a row and rank in the bottom 30 in the country in points (59.5), assists (9.2) and field goal percentage (.360)

They played Kentucky close...for approximately two minutes before falling 88-40. 

--- Zach Collaros has said he's optimistic he'll be able to play in the Liberty Bowl. Butch Jones places it at 50-50. It sure would be special to see ZC step back out there again. Even if some of the plays he runs are more passing progression based that wouldn't necessarily require him to use his legs, it would be a great moment for Collaros to change the final image of his last play with the Bearcats.

My gut feeling -- by the way, Butch Jones not interested in consulting my gut -- is that he plays, as do Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen. 

--- Butch Jones and Tommy G ran down some of the defining plays of the year on this week's FSO show. Love that Pat O'Donnell's punt against NC State made it in. Watching it again, I had forgotten how much of a bomb that was, it traveled 60+ yards in the air easily. 

--- A reminder to get out and get your Liberty Bowl tickets now. For all your information head over to UC's Bowl Central. 

--- On the move today, so we are giving some quick randomness, I personally can't believe we are more than halfway through the month and I haven't posted a National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation video. 

So much for worrying about a letdown. 

As I wrote yesterday from Fairborn, in the first game back from one of the most stressful few days in the program's history, the Bearcats finally learned to relax last night. It made all the difference. 

Now, burying 14 3s will help just anybody kick back and put their feet up a bit, but this was different. For the first time this season, we saw a team unafraid to make a mistake offensively. 

The offense wasn't filled with hesitation to take shots and unwillingness to attack even if a player is in their face. It was filled with talented, athletic guys allowing their talent and athleticism to take over. 

What a breath of fresh air from a team that hadn't broken 57 since the day after Thanksgiving. 

They played with a quiet confidence, focus and pride that we just haven't seen all year. Without Yancy Gates, Ge'Lawn Guy, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis, the nine remaining players came together and left it all on the floor. 

Just an inspired response. And a season careening the wrong direction suddenly lifts with an air of optimism. 

--- I loved hearing Wright State coach Billy Donlon talk about what he saw. He put it very well. 

"There was no doubt when you saw them when they came out, their talk and their togetherness and their unity was terrific, throughout he game. That's a credit to those guys to that coaching staff. Their players handled everything with a great deal of maturity. Sometimes in adverse conditions is when you find out the soul of a person. From an outside perspective they have a pretty passionate and admirable soul."

Donlon went on to say "they played with a purpose."

Actually, the compliments flowed in both directions from two programs that own a ton of respect for each other. Cronin spewed admiration for Donlon and Wright State after and purposely mentioned this as a series that would continue, talking about how Raiders teams make you better because of the level of defense they play. 

This particular game they were the perfect opponent. Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily summed it up nicely here:

"Wright State was the perfect first opponent for UC to meet after four days of upheaval.

The Nutter Center was close to home. There were several UC fans in the crowd of 5,977 - I thought there'd be more people here -- and the WSU fans who did show were mostly polite and soft-mannered...same as the Raiders team.

That may not be good for WSU hoops fortunes, but it was the perfect reception for UC.

"I want to say thank you to the people here," UC coach Mick Cronin said. "I didn't see any residual baiting or heckling or anything like that. I have a lot of respect for Billy Donlon and their athletics director, Bob Grant.

"If we were coming in someplace else, yeah I'd have been worried. But Wright State isn't going to let people stand in the front row and hour before the game and heckle our guys and say crazy stuff. Some places do and we were prepared for it, but we didn't have to worry here."

--- The Bearcats were shooting 3-pointers from the jump and didn't stop until the final whistle. They finished 14 of 32 from behind the arc. 

Those were the most made 3-pointers since last year against Utah State when they also made 14. 

The most 3-pointers they attempted in any game last year was 30 against St. John's. UC tossed up 20 before halftime. But hey, when you're draining 45 percent, why not? 

--- Sean Kilpatrick lifted his season 3-point percentage to 42 percent. The closest number to that over the course of a season came in 2006-07 when Marcus Sikes hit 45 of 106 for 42.5 percent. 

Also, SK now averaging 15.1 points a game after the 20-point effort. 

--- The discussion postgame obviously turned toward the aftermath of the brawl and rebounding from that. ESPN's Andy Katz was even at the Nuthouse to document (Very, very nice facility, by the way in case you haven't been). You can catch the postgame highlight and his postgame interview with Mick here.  Here was his postgame take on the Bearcats focus

Cronin talked about being happy that he made the decision to drive up early to Wright State rather than a bus trip up the day of game like they would for a game at Miami. 

It allowed another opportunity to unwind. 

"We could spend some time together and get these guys to laugh," Cronin said. 

The players knew that people would be looking at them wondering if they were going to react adversely to any stressful or physical situations. There were a few hard fouls and bad falls, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was about as clean as it gets. 

The Wright State student section showed up with a slew of unoriginal signs, including one apparently scribbled on to a cardboard box with a drawing of a police car that either of my 5-year-old twin cousins would have balled up, tossed in the trash and started over. 

A chant of "UC Fight Club" broke out early, but not much was said once they went down 19-4. 

--- The Cats return home on Saturday for their game against Radford and Cronin said he anticipates the home fans will rally around them. I tend to think that might be true. Let's hope. 

--- Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson were the only players taller than 6-foot-5 available Wednesday night, but you wouldn't know it looking at the box score. 

UC crashed the offensive glass hard. They grabbed 12 of 23 misses for a 52 percent offensive rebounding rate. 

Take a look at the offensive rebounding rates from the other games this season. 

Opponent   Misses/OBoards/%
Alabama St.   29/9/31%
Jax St.           29/15/51%
Presbyterian   40/19/47%
NW St.          21/12/57%
Marshall        34/11/32%
Miami            32/12/38%
UGA              30/10/33%
Xavier             37/11/30%
Wright St.      23/12/52%
OVERALL    275/111/40%

--- This team, without any height, was better than every game this season outside of one. They hadn't grabbed more than 38 percent of their misses since playing Northwestern State. Now, you can look at that list and point out the teams that lack UC's athleticism were ones where the offensive rebounding percentage was high, but the Raiders do go 6-8, 6-9, 6-10 across the front line. 

"With the lineup that we had, everyone rebounded and was just looking for the extra pass," Kilpatrick said. "We found our shooters and we found the rebounds that obviously bounced out the rim."

The boards were pure hustle and toughness. Look no further than Justin Jackson contributing 11 points, 8 boards, 4 offensive and JaQuon Parker with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 offensive. 

Parker showed Wednesday why the team missed him so much as he battled the early-season groin injury. He's the connecting piece that Rashad Bishop was -- or at least Cronin hopes he will be. His hustle and scrappy play produced a number of points. His style lends itself to playing inside or out and allowed versatility to a lineup handcuffed in that department for six games. Not to mention he nearly totaled the number of 3-pointers he made all of last season (3 of 20) on one night (2 of 3). 

"We love Park," Kilpatrick said. "He's one of the glue guys that do everything. You tell him to dive on the floor, he'll dive on the floor. You tell him to guard a 7-foot center, that is what he'll do. His heart is bigger than a lot of people's."

--- Look no further at UC playing loose, free and without fear of mistake than the play of freshman Jermaine Sanders. He opened the season 0 for 3 from 3-point range and a relative non-factor offensively. 

He slashed his way to the bucket, created and hit shots against Wright State. In fact, he nailed all three 3-pointers. Sanders was the poster child for an offense playing nervous the first eight games. He looked like a different guy with the team's new attitude. 

--- Bill Koch had this game story from Wednesday and also put together his opinion on the need to suspend the Shootout for two years. While I don't necessarily agree, he makes some great points. The attitude around not just this game, but all over college athletics is toxic.

As Dan Hoard said yesterday, keep the Shootout, lose the hostility.  

--- Also, much respect for Kenny Frease, who reached out to Yancy Gates to let him know he  never mentioned pressing charges and those rumors weren't coming from him. Both sides exchanged apologies in hopes of everyone moving on. Great to see. 

--- Stat of the night: UC had 15 assists to 12 turnovers. That was only the second time this season they have been positive in that category. They had 13 and 9 in the OT loss to Marshall. Even in the 73-point outburst against Jacksonville State they turned the ball over 20 times.

--- Quote of the night: I placed this in my column from last night's game, but really can't stress enough what Cashmere Wright has turned into the last few days according to Mick Cronin: 

"He took ownership of the team from the moment this happened. As proud as I've ever been of him since he's been at Cincinnati."

Bearcats finally relax

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It took one of the most stressful few days in the program's history to allow the tense Bearcats offense to finally relax. 

FAIRBORN, Ohio - The basketball world tuned in to ESPN Wednesday night expecting to see a Cincinnati Bearcats team reeling from one of the most stressful four days in the program's history.

People wondered how the eight remaining scholarship players would react as they took the court for the first time since the ugly images of punches and punishments overtook televisions across the nation.

"Everybody was waiting on us to explode and have a mental breakdown," Cashmere Wright said. "We just came out and just played."

They just played their best offense of the season in a 78-58 rout of Wright State.

Ironically, it took a stress unlike any these players have seen to let them finally relax. UC racked up its most points this season with an offense that not only looked different in bodies, but in philosophy.

Freshmen attacked the basket without fear of turnover. Sean Kilpatrick shot from every corner of the Nutter Center without fear of his wrist falling off. An offense defined by nervous tension through eight games played like it was a mid-summer pickup game in the park.

The Bearcats had done enough worrying the last four days, there was no reason to do so on the basketball court.

"Whatever happens, happens," Wright said. "Everybody was free to play your game. And nobody cared. All we cared about is what you do on the defensive end. What happened on the offensive end was up to you."

That attitude was as far different in look and feel as the atmosphere Wednesday compared to Saturday in Cintas.

The change came as result of a conscious decision by Mick Cronin and his staff this week. Too often this season offensively the Bearcats looked to be offensive technicians. On Wednesday, they looked to be ball-players.

It made all the difference.

Kilpatrick knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers and shot 12 on his way to a game-high 20 points. Wright shot seven times from deep and hit two. JaQuon Paker, who made three 3-pointers all last season, hit 2 of 3. Freshman Jermaine Sanders not only made the first 3-pointer of his career, but added a two more without a miss for good measure.

And why not? In this shoot-first, don't-worry second offense, there were few restrictions. For Kilpatrick, the freedom was palpable.

"It's easy when all your teammates got confidence in you, especially with your coach he's looking at you like, if you are open shoot the ball," Kilpatrick said. "Don't hesitate, don't do nothing. Shoot the ball. Especially with guys like Cashmere Wright in my ear all day throughout practice and throughout the game, like, keep shooting, keep shooting - that's what I did."

Indeed, the high-pitched voice of Cashmere Wright lived inside ears of his teammates this week. At the end of the day, the junior point guard's voice is where this remarkable philosophical transformation originated and calls home.

With chaos surrounding them and the world judging its most prominent leader, left behind was a team in dire need of direction and leadership.

Wright provided it.

"As proud as I've ever been of him since he's been at Cincinnati the way he's taken control of the team and said look we're going to get this done," Cronin said. "He took ownership of the team from the moment this happened. It all started in Monday morning's first practice. Kelvin Gaines made a mistake, he ran over to him and said don't you worry about it. You just play hard. He kept doing that to all the freshman.

"He was a true leader. He was the difference mentally with all these guys."

Consequently, the Cats didn't worry. They just played.

"The offense is more free-flowing," Wright said of the forced four-guard attack. "We just got the go-ahead to play your game. If you were a scorer in high school, go be a scorer now. Don't question yourself. If you know you can do it, do it. And that's what (Cronin) told me to instill in all my teammates."

They all bought in. More precisely, they bought in to each other.

"We stuck together," Kilpatrick said. "Like a family. Times like this especially, you have to stick together."

 acked into a corner, they emerged united and focused.

 Wright State coach Billy Donlon knew it before the 19-4 UC run to open the game even began.

"You could see just a quiet confidence and quiet group of guys early that they were here with a purpose," Donlon said. "That purpose was fulfilled, no question."

The purpose began the process of changing the conversation surrounding UC. Step 1 turning the positive into a negative is in the books. From within that a new purpose arose.

"Our goal is to win six in a row and make it hard for guys to get playing time when they come back," Cronin said. "We are not going to let that define us. We said, look, this is going to be a watershed moment for us. Let's be honest. 

"We got to come together. We have really struggled to come together with our upperclassmen and our freshmen to get on the same page all year. This team, we really needed to come together. Unfortunately, it took a bad incident for that, but the guys really came together and we are going to turn it into a positive in a lot of ways."

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Louisville Cardinals

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The women's basketball program has been searching for its signature win since head coach Jamelle Elliott took over the struggling program three years ago. In their first BIG EAST game this season UC had that win slip through their grasp in the final minute of regulation. Fourteenth ranked Louisville defeated the Bearcats 64-59 using a three-point basket and free throws in the final minute. Before leaving the game with an apparent shoulder injury, Dayeesha Hollins scored 15 points and was the key to breaking the athletic press of UL.
Tiffany Turner continued her bruising play inside scoring 11 points and claiming 11 rebounds, her second double-double this season. Bjonee Reaves and Kayla Cook both shot the ball very well from deep most of night and both added double figures, Reaves with 18 (leading all scorers) and Cook with 13. An animated bench helped propel the girls tonight to a near upset and Hollins, Turner and Reaves are awarded game ball honors for the efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 -- Hollins will be remembered in this game for not returning due to a shoulder injury, but her play before the injury was the reason UC held the lead for most of the second half. Hollins continually beat the press and put her teammates in great positions to score. An acrobatic lay-up was one of the plays of the game, which was a great showing from a Bearcat team that is attempting to turn BIG EAST doubters into believers.

2. Tiffany Turner, 9 -- Turner had her second double-double of the season tonight and according to Elliott she did it on one healthy knee. That's an amazing feat for a player who was out sized inside and did not have the benefit of resting on the bench while her replacements picked up the slack. Turner was one of four starters that played over 35 minutes and was able to produce during every one of those minutes. From strong blocks, nice jumpers, solid rebounds, and finesse finishes around the basket, Turner was one of the best players on the floor for either squad.
 
3. Bjonee Reaves, 9 -- Reaves continues to lead her team through the thick and thin of game situations. Reaves made a lot of tough shots and finished as the games highest scorer. Her rainbow three-pointer was one of the coolest plays of the night until Reaves decided to one-up herself getting a floater to go in the final minute keeping her team within striking distance. Obviously disappointed, the way Reaves controls herself and keeps the heads of her teammates up will go a long way towards the success of this Bearcats team. 

Honorable Mention: Kayla Cook, 8 --
After struggling to get going in the first half, Cook had her shot going in the second half. Number 10 played all 40 minutes and hustled during every one of them. Her efforts were worth an honorable mention.

Zach Collaros' version of the "Comeback Special"

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So I checked out UC's initial bowl practice to inquire on the progress of the guy that's helped sell those No. 12 jerseys your young Bearcat fans have been wearing.

Turns out Zach Collaros is moving around pretty good and is preparing to have the pads on early next week.

To take advantage of the numerous Elvis references popular with a bowl game in Memphis, you could call this Zach's "Comeback Special", although young Zach wasn't around in 1968 when Elvis did his.

As you can see from this video, Collaros isn't exactly all "up to speed" on the Elvis trivia, but he is ready hit the town next to the muddy Mississippi, devour a rib or two and possibly deliver a few more entertaining plays for Bearcat fans.

For what it's worth, UC's medical and training staff has nursed quarterbacks back to health with success before in similar situations.

Gino Guidugli was the MVP of the Fort Worth Bowl in 2004 just a month after suffering a broken hand.  Three years later, Ben Mauk was the MVP of the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham after battling shoulder injuries that forced him out of games during his one season at UC.

Notice a trend?

Bearcats Breakfast 12.14.11

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Well, my computer blew up this morning. Not literally, but might as well have been. Lesson: when you start your computer and it tells you there are no bootable devices. That isn't good. It is, in fact, very, very bad. 

So, I scrounged up a backup temporarily, but obviously this has taken up almost all of my morning, so we'll have to pass on the Breakfast. I will, however, be at Wright State tonight with my temporary fix computer to bring you all the fallout from the first game since the brawl. 

Until then, my day will probably look something like this.

In the midst of all the Crosstown Shootout craziness, it seemed time to take a look at the rivalry and analyze the past, present and future. There is nobody better to do that with than former UC Bearcat player, current UC analyst for Fox Sports Ohio and one of the future featured faces of the program, Terry Nelson.

Nelson was great as our topics floated around between how the rivalry has changed over the years and why it's become so hostile lately to some of the great trash talkers in the history of the rivalry and how people get under each other's skin. Nelson, of course, was the king of getting under people's skin and was kind enough to reveal some of his finest techniques.

Much thanks to Terry for joining me and you can hear him again on Dec. 21 and Dec. 23 calling the FSO games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Chicago State.

Here's the breakdown:

Minutes 1-4: Saying hello, setting the scene for those who have been asleep for the past 72 hours and bringing in Terry Nelson.

4-12:30:
Mick Cronin talks about how the rivalry has deteriorated. Terry and I discuss toughness and how this rivalry has changed in the last 15-20 years.

12:30-21: Should the Shootout take a break? Would that help? And how will the certain arrival of hordes of national media for the event if it were continued play into the decision. Oh, and Terry already petitions to do that game with a Xavier play-by-play guy for the WorldWideLeader.

21-23: What are some ways to change the culture?

23-24:30: Yancy Gates and maturity

24:30-30: Terry Nelson: The agitator. Nelson describes how he frustrated players, got in their head and did extensive research on their personal lives.

30-34: What the Shootout being canceled or postponed would mean to somebody who is an alum.

34-36: Terry refuses to divulge to me the latest nickname he's planning for his broadcast despite my incessant prodding.

Again, huge thanks to Terry for joining me. And thanks to those of you that chose to listen. We'll talk to you next weeks.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Keep The Shootout -- Lose The Hostility

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It was roughly 90 minutes before tipoff.  As the Bearcats warmed up at the Cintas Center, a grown man dressed in Xavier gear - I would guess in his mid-30's - stood as close to the court as he possibly could and taunted Yancy Gates.  It wasn't good-natured fun.  For 10 to 15 minutes, the man barked out a string of insulting remarks in hopes of getting under Yancy's skin.

Trust me, I am not trying to explain or defend Yancy's behavior on Saturday.  It was indefensible.  And I am not suggesting that Xavier fans are any different than UC fans.  But it's time to inject some badly-needed civility into the nation's best intracity rivalry.  On the court and off of it.    

What happened on Saturday has been building for years and both sides are guilty.  In the first Shootout that I ever attended (the Lenny Brown game), Danny Fortson got into a skirmish with T.J. Johnson and there have been pushes, shoves, head-butts, and punches thrown in nearly every game since.  The trash talk and taunting was nothing new either.  Long before Xavier's Tu Holloway made references to body bags, my all-time favorite UC basketball player - Melvin Levett - did a throat-slash gesture near the end of a Bearcat win over the Musketeers.

Before last Saturday's brawl, that kind of behavior may not have been encouraged, but it certainly wasn't condoned.

Cincinnati plays hotly-contested, physical games every year against Louisville and West Virginia and I can't remember any fights.  Ditto for Xavier's annual games against Dayton and Temple.

The volatility between UC and XU is not limited to the players.  The rhetoric between the two fan bases has grown increasingly harsh in recent years.  And frankly, since Saturday's fight, I still don't like what I'm hearing.  While the players and coaches seem genuinely remorseful, too many fans are still arguing over everything from what side started the fight to which school acted properly in the aftermath.

Enough already.

I love the Crosstown Shootout and consider it an incredible privilege to broadcast the game.   I hope that I'll have the opportunity to do many more.

I've always thought that the UC/XU game didn't get enough nation attention for being one of the top rivalries in the country.  Well, the two schools are certainly in the spotlight now.  Next year's game - assuming it happens - will receive enormous national scrutiny.

There's an opportunity going forward to celebrate the fact that we have two of the best college basketball programs in the county in our city.  There's no reason why they can't play a basketball game every year without the hostility.  And there's no reason why any of us can't support one school without feeling the need to blast the other. 

Isn't it time we emphasized the "Cross-town" instead of the "Shootout?"

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

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

 

And I'm on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

The Bearcats are looking to bounce back from consecutive losses tonight when they host the Louisville Cardinals in their first BIG EAST contest of the season.

Currently at 6-2, the Bearcats lost consecutively for the first time this season on the road, in the cross town shootout at Xavier and in Huntington, W.Va. against Marshall. UC held leads is both of those games before surrendering to the opposition in the last five minutes.

This was the first time in head coach Jamelle Elliott's tenure that the Bearcats played Xavier in the hostile environment of the Cintas Center. The previous two meetings were played at neutral settings where the sixth man, which is the crowd, was not as much as a factor. UC had the lead for most of the game against the Musketeers, until the last five minutes turned into a nightmare for the Bearcats. Xavier shot 60 percent in the second half and out rebounded the Bearcats 39-26 leading them to victory. The Musketeers had four players in double figures.

"The last five minutes we allowed their best player to really get off and score six or eight straight points in the lane," Elliott said. "We had a couple lapses mentally, breaking down, boxing out, so we lost the game in the last five minutes."

Cincinnati's trip to Marshall had a similar theme. Up 11 points at one point in the game, the Bearcats fell to the half court pressure that Marshall displayed the final five minutes of the game. Marshall's Jasmine Shaw scored 11 points in just three minutes and led the Thundering Herd with 13 points for the game. The Bearcats had noticeable leads of 19-9 and 29-20 before falling to Herd, 55-47.

"They made a run, both teams, Xavier and Marshall when we didn't have time to capitalize," Elliott said. "Before we could get through it the game was over."

UC hopes to use the experiences from the their losses by overcoming leads they may see the 14th ranked Cardinals get out to on this evening. The first BIG EAST test of the season may be one of the toughest the Bearcats will see this season. Elliott spoke to the athleticism  and size of the Cardinals, which she believes will give her team the most trouble tonight. Starting point guard Bjonee Reaves remembers the team's match-up with UL last season and recalls not being able to advance the ball against Louisville's athletic press.

"Louisville is going to be a team that we haven't seen anything close to them this year," Elliott said. "They're long, they're athletic and one through five positions. Their point guard is over six feet tall, their wings are over six feet tall and then they have athletic post players, so we have not played an athletic team similar to Louisville. This is by far going to be the most pressure we see in the eight games we have played so far this year."

Cincinnati has been focusing on breaking the pressure they will see from UL in practice this week. Elliott knows the only way her team has a chance to pull of the upset is if they limit turnovers by protecting the ball and make good decisions for a full 40 minutes. UC obviously must take advantage of the opportunities they see on the offensive end and capitalize on all of them to stay in the game. On the defensive side of the ball, Elliott has stressed the importance of keeping the Cardinals in front of them and boxing out limiting UL's second chance points.

"The most you can do is watch a lot of tape, realize what their tendencies are and try to simulate them as much as you can in practice in hopes that it will help us when the game starts," Elliott said.

"It seems like teams are going to try and pressure us and we need to be more prepared, more organized and be able to handle the pressure," Reaves said.

If the Bearcats want to pull the upset Elliott knows that her team needs to out rebound the Cardinals and hold them under their average points per game. UC must be aggressive and get to the free throw line to limit Louisville's scoring runs and transition buckets.

Louisville is the Bearcats' longest rival, playing since 1973,and is their local partner in the BIG EAST. UC is looking to avenge last seasons loss to the Cardinals and start 1-0 in conference play for the first time in Elliott's tenure. If they do so they will need to limit UL's top scorer, Monique Reid, a senior forward that has been averaging 14.6 ppg and a team-best 5.6 rpg.

Tonight's tip is set for 7:00 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.13.11

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Interesting day at UC on Monday. For the second time in three days, I felt those paying attention entered with one opinion and left with another because of the way the university handled a situation.

The first being Cronin's press conference following the game and the second being the transparency and genuine nature of the apology and suspension explanations.

If you don't believe me, give a read to Paul Daugherty this morning. Listen, if you can turn Doc, you made an impression. He writes about how he entered Monday's conference expecting to write a rip job and left feeling everyone needs to stop judging and move on.

That was the same message behind my column written about Yancy Gates yesterday. Here is the link. It's really time for everyone to stop standing on their high horse and burying those involved. Let's move forward.

Let's eat...

--- The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has been defending the suspension lengths the last few days and brought up a precedent I hadn't really thought about. He mentioned the Knicks-Nuggets brawl that Carmelo Anthony found himself in the middle of in 2006. He threw punches and was the face in the middle of the whole mess. He was suspended for 15 games by the league -- 18 percent of the season.

The six games levied against Cheikh Mbodj, Gates and Octavius Ellis, 19 percent of the season.

For an incident with little precedence that is close.

Those pointing to the LaGarette Blount sucker-punch against Boise State as precedence, Whit Babcock explained clearly what that wouldn't be the case. Here were his comments yesterday on that comparison.

"An equivalent of LeGarrette Blount would have been in the handshake line, that he punched him," Babcock said. "We did discuss that. I looked at that, but I just didn't feel like those two instances were remarkably similar there. I believe, as I recall, LeGarrette Blount, unprovoked, punched him. We felt like this was a little bit different."

--- Babcock talked about
asking for different opinions on what the punishment should be from those all around the conference and college basketball. He said those answers received were lower than the actual suspensions handed down.

Babcock and President Williams came up with the suspensions numbers after originally discussing it with Cronin.

"The difficult thing in the process was there was no real road map for it, so we wanted to do our due diligence. We tried to find some precedent. We spent some time on the phone with the BIG EAST Conference, finding out in all the years of BIG EAST basketball, if there was something we could compare to. We talked to the head official of the BIG EAST that's been there since the beginning. He gave us some guidance and also expressed that in four years here; he never had any trouble with Yancy Gates - with any of his crews. So, we took that into consideration. We talked to other athletic directors and coaches. We really tried to do our due diligence. We considered every option. We looked at everything from the one game that the NCAA mandated a suspension to dismissing guys for the season. The people in the industry we talked to - again, there was no road map or precedent for this - the numbers that were coming back to us were lower than we came up with."

--- Everyone seems to be
taking the suspension lengths so personally. I understand this is a hot-button topic, by why are people so outraged in either direction. As I mentioned in my column yesterday, is there a magic number that would quench your thirst for justice? It's not like the actions were condoned or zero punishments given. My opinion.

--- As far as the accusation that suspensions shouldn't start until conference play, I can only counter by saying, I don't know how you send those guys back out on the floor four days after that incident. You just can't do that. As Cronin said repeatedly on Saturday, they have to earn that right to put the jersey back on.

--- A few extra points
were made about what these players will be doing during the suspension, according to Cronin and Babcock: Players will undergo anger management counseling, take part in community service around Cincinnati and will even make an apology to student government to officially express regret to the students.

--- Again, if you want to watch or read all of the press conference statements, here is the link.

--- Now the conversation turns to the future of the Crosstown Shootout. Both schools had their hands full the past 48 hours dealing with the fallout of this incident, now they have to figure out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Babcock made it clear no decision has been made about the future of the rivalry at this point, but it will be discussed with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski and they'll decide on how to move forward.

The UC AD did offer this:

"There has been no decision on the game, whether it's our home game or a neutral site or whether we discontinue the series. I've talked to Mike Bobinski. If it does continue, there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the front end to change the culture of that game. It's not a decision that we take lightly and quite frankly, both Mike and I there were some other more important issues to get to before that. But we're well aware that's a discussion that needs to take place."

Next year would be the 80th edition of one of the greatest sporting events this city offers. Eighty years. As a college hoops guy myself, the shootout is my favorite sporting event every year. I'm not alone in this city.

As Cronin said, it would be a shame if these two teams couldn't play a basketball game without it coming to this. Especially with this example to follow.  What message would it send about Cincinnati and this community if both sides decided that there wasn't enough discipline on either side to create a safe atmosphere? No way is that true. These are not two out-of-control universities, teams or fan bases.

Concerted efforts to promote more sportsmanship before, during and after would be a necessary step. Regardless of what the decision, everyone can agree, killing one of the great traditions this city owns would be sad.

Cronin had one final comment on that Monday: "I think I was pretty clear on how I feel about the game. If it can't be played the right way, it doesn't need to be played, whether it's next year or forever. Now, you'll have to understand that the universities will probably make that decision. I'm going to support my university fully."

--- Chad Brendel makes good points in his pitch to postpone the series.

--- The Atlantic-10 says their officials did nothing wrong. Of course, they were only viewing the video and couldn't hear the constant trash talk and hostile atmosphere created on the court. Both coaches have stated their opinions on this matter, mine is certainly not needed.

--- Kimball Perry of
the Enquirer on the possibility of prosecution.

--- You want some real
talk about the Shootout past, present and future -- read Mo Egger's' blog post today.

--- For the 830th time in the history
of this blog, I'll repeat that Dana O'Neil is the best college basketball writer in the country. She proves it again as she writes about the guts of UC making their players face the music unscripted.

--- The job of repairing
the team's image won't be an easy one. This from Bill Koch.

--- Of course, Sean Miller found his way into the middle of this. Not realizing how hot the water was, so he jumped back out Monday.

--- If there is any good news to
come out of this, it makes rivalry games from across the country be more aware of the environments they bring to the court. The Richmond Times-Dispatch looked at VCU-Richmond.

--- Randomness...

--- The spin from the Tampa Tribune mentions that they laid off 165 people at their newspaper, for 16 percent of the work force but had the gall to open by pointing out they still have 300 "content-generators" left. Yeah, who will all be doing 2x the amount of work for the same pay. And no apology or regert mentioned for the families who lost their income.

I'll say it again, leaving newspapers was the best career decision I've ever made.

--- A butter shortage! I just found a reason to avoid Norway.

--- David Price had an interesting day.

--- Love this list of 11 Christmas songs that never took off, from Mental Floss. Hard to figure why "Don't Shoot Me Santa," by The Killers never made the heavy rotation at Dillards.

--- My Dan Hoard Link of the Day: RGIII on Letterman for the Top Ten List two days after winning the Heisman.

--- Leave Hammer alone already!

--- Seeing that list of Christmas Songs
has me thinking about one of my favorites that's a bit off the beaten path. Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC always makes me smile.


Paul Dehner Jr.

CINCINNATI -- To the country, over the past 48 hours, Yancy Gates became more than a basketball player. He became a trending topic. He became a caricature of an unbelievable and incomprehensible video clip pumped into the front seat of pop culture.

Let the judging begin.

Gates was cast as a villain. A punk. A thug.

And without doubt, for those disgraceful minutes, he was all of those.

On Monday, Gates accepted a new characterization. Sitting in front of the bright lights of the nation, he was a human.

Midway through a press conference where four suspended Bearcats apologized, Gates described his emotions after 48 hours of being judged. Then he let those emotions out.

"I'll do whatever," Gates said, discussing how he'll repair his image. "It doesn't matter, just whatever because I'm just not that type of person. A lot of people have been calling me a thug or a gangster..."

Gates stopped there. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound larger than life face of Bearcats basketball broke down with the innocence of a child. Eventually the tears were so visible and unstoppable, he pulled his shirt over his head.

For anybody seeking genuine remorse, nothing could be more genuine. Nothing more raw.

"I am homegrown, I am from here," he said. "A lot of people expect me to not only represent the University of Cincinnati but everybody; my family, kids back in Madisonville running around, from downtown. Everywhere I go a lot of the kids look at me and say, 'Look, there goes Yancy Gates.' The actions that I displayed are not what I am about, it is not what the University of Cincinnati is about and it is not what my family is about. It has been a hard couple of days dealing with it."

Saying the right things and succumbing to emotions doesn't excuse Gates' behavior. It doesn't even mean those casting harsh judgment upon him are wrong. No, only continued good behavior over a long period of time can establish that.

Therein lies the twist with Gates. He's grown up in the public eye and been viewed through a microscope the size of I-275. Every growing pain, disappointing effort or average season fueled the fire of public opinion. While many moments would be characterized as frustrating, none have been malicious.

At least, none until Saturday.

"My actions were not what I am about as a person," Gates said.

As AD Whit Babcock searched for the finish line of the suspension decision with no course map to guide, he spoke with the Big East's director of officials. Among many suggestions given, it was mentioned that none of his officials have ever experienced an issue with Gates.

He owns no record of anything vaguely resembling the violence witnessed Saturday.

For now, for everyone in America taking the opportunity to sit in a national columnist chair, high above those personally familiar with Gates, the broad brush paints over Gates' character rather than his moment of deplorable decision-making.

Expel him, they say. Kick him to the curb. The names follow: Villain, punk, thug.

The video proves them right. The long-term case study does not.

For one day, he deserved those monikers, but that doesn't make him a violent, malicious man who must be derailed to save himself as some would judge -- one who is not worth the opportunity to be given a second chance.

Those begging for more never made poor choices by gut reaction, right? 

Gates made a set of egregious decisions and received punishment for it. Was it fair? Was it soft? Maybe, maybe not. Would four more games make the masses satisfied? Eight? Twenty?

No magic number will make those punches disappear. No amount of losses will erase the embarrassment endured by himself and the university.

But to take one bad snapshot -- no matter how ugly -- and smash the camera, seems unfair. He deserves an opportunity for redemption.

Were his decisions that much worse than the numerous players involved that threw punches which didn't connect? You better believe all of the 5-10 players who threw punches were gunning for the same result.

Hence why Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis join Gates for the same time on the sidelines. And why Dezmine Wells and Landen Amos will miss four games.

All of these are deserved and leave a massive black eye on the city, schools and individuals.

For Gates, December 10, 2011 will follow the rest of his life. As will the judgments. The names.

In case anybody locked to the hundreds of ESPN replays were still paying attention Monday, Gates began the process of changing the conversation from villain, punk and thug to father, son and human.

He may have put forth two minutes of awful decisions to place his basketball privilege in question, but years of evidence to prove he deserves a second chance.

"When you do something and you're a public figure, you're going to hear about it - period," Cronin said. "What I talk to my players about all the time is we're not going to let other people define who we are. One incident, although a horrible incident for a lot of people involved, we won't let that define us. Certain people are always going to point to him; he's never going to be able to control that. But he can control the kind of person he is, the kind of husband he becomes some day, and the kind of father that he already is."

Bearcats Breakfast 12.12.11

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It's hard to know where to start this morning. Finger-pointing and blame-assigning has been done to death across local and national outlets ad nauseam over the past 24 hours. Yet, sitting here thinking back on it, I still can't believe what I witnessed Saturday afternoon.

Luckily, my perspective wasn't a media table along the baseline like Tom Gelehrter or photographer on the ground like Jeff Swinger of the Enquirer of Al Behrman of the AP. Both who were on their backs attempting to keep mayhem from sucking them into the storm.

Unfortunately, I was close enough to hear and see all the drama leading up to and through the 9.4 seconds that will forever change the face of the Crosstown Shootout. The amount of taunting, trash talk and unadulterated rage was unsurpassed in college basketball, with all sides at fault.

The bottom line in the aftermath of this ugly chapter is that so many reputations many worked for years to establish were ruined Saturday.

Yancy Gates, who has spent the last four years trying to develop into the great basketball player so many believed he could be and who appeared to finally turn the corner both mentally and emotionally through the final eight games of last season saw all that melt away with the slow-motion replay of his punch.

Mick Cronin spent the past six years killing the perception of "Huggs' Thugs" that permeated the outside vision of the program. He brought in a different breed of athletes. He brought in good kids, who hadn't found any trouble off the court during his tenure. None. Yet, now a national conversation reverts back to the previous image.

Speaking to the image and perception of Xavier isn't as much my place, but clearly the program has been respected and held in high regard for some time now. That has obviously taken a serious hit.

Chris Mack called it "good kids making dumb decisions." I tend to believe that and how both sides move forward following the dumb decisions will be how they're ultimately judged.

Let's eat...

--- The process of moving forward began yesterday, with the suspensions being handed down swiftly. Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis will be banned for six games and Ge'Lawn Guyn for one.

The games those three will miss: Wright State, Radford, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Chicago State, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh.

The four suspended players will face the media at a press conference today at 2 p.m.

For what it's worth, UC will play with eight scholarship players at Wright State and only one over 6-foot-8 over the course of six games. As Cronin said Sunday, "that's the least of my worries."

--- Reaction to the suspensions is flying in from everywhere. Here's a sample:

Bill Koch says President Williams, Whit Babcock and Mick Cronin considered every option.

Eamonn Brennan at ESPN
thought the punishments on both sides were too light.

Myron Medcalf looked at how the
issue of race entered into the fight.

Pat Forde thought the punishments weren't harsh enough as well

Beyond the Arc writes about this reshaping both universities.
 
Bomani Jones raises
10 questions from Saturday, some absurd, some interesting. That includes what he calls the favorite weapon of national columnists, "righteous indignation."

Mike DeCourcy talks about the element of the public apology and community service the players will have to do.

Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio thought both sides went soft.

--- Shannon Russell and
Bill Koch did a great job all weekend and in particular in answering these questions surrounding Saturday. It includes a great question: where the heck was security?

--- Here was some
of the transcript from Xavier's press conference. And even more from Shannon Russell.

--- Mo Egger with fantastic perspective.

--- An interesting point to note when discussing length of suspensions is that Cronin has the right to keep guys out for as long as he would like to after the suspensions are up. He clearly left that possibility open by his comments on Sunday. Just because the suspensions have been handed down does not mean he is done.

--- I wrote on Saturday
about Mick Cronin's extraordinary press conference following the game. It's not about winning the press conference, but Cronin certainly did. You can still watch the entire thing right here. I recommend it if you haven't.

I thought it was one of his finest moments as the UC coach and the entire fan base should be proud that he is leading the program.

Then I walked to my car and figured I'd turn on the radio to hear what the people were saying. The second I turn it on, some caller is on a rant about how Cronin should be fired and how he already thought that before the game.

Sigh. It just doesn't matter. Some opinions will never change.

--- Both coaches recognized
the referees didn't do near enough to avoid this altercation. Even from my seat courtside I could hear all the ugly trash talk going on all game. Mick Cronin was begging them to T people up that were talking trash, even if it was his own players. It needed to be stopped. It wasn't. The refs telling Lyons, Holloway or any UC player to stop running their mouth (as they did for the final five minutes) was ringing hollow considering they were saying the same stuff all game and not receiving any punishment for it.

I truly believe if consequences had been handed out earlier in the game the whole mess would have been avoided.

For the record, this was not an A crew sent in to do the game. Koch details the background of the refs.

--- Other referees were
talking about how nobody wants to do that game because it's impossible to referee. Let's hope when/if the series continues there will be better communication and knowledge of that they are walking into from the opening tip.

--- Chad Brendel at BearcatLair discusses the lack of control by the officials.

--- Couldn't help but peruse
the message boards for a minute seeing if anything interesting was out there (I need professional help). I came across this which made me laugh. And don't we all need a laugh right about now.

It was from BearHawkeye on if Skyline Chili should/would pull their sponsorship:

"It's great publicity for Skyline as far as getting their name out there. Next year's game will get a ton of publicity - locally and nationally. Do you really think anyone will boycott Skyline because they sponsor a game featuring the two major local programs? Have you ever had a 3-way with a cheese coney on the side? They won't lose a customer. I'm getting hungry for some right now. It would be stupid for them to stop sponsoring the shootout."

Have you ever had a 3-way with a cheese coney on the side? Hahaha.

--- As far as going forward on the court,
the Bearcats have a season turning point on their hands. Wednesday will be a very interesting game to see how they react to the crisis mode the season suddenly spiraled into.

As for my guess on the starting lineup, you'll see Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker and Justin Jackson. The other option would be to go bigger with Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson on the inside and Parker coming off the bench if they want to go small.

Of course, for a team that's been beaten in the post much of the season by physical teams, perhaps a shift in personnel will provide a lift. This offense needs to be guard-driven and it most definitely will be that for the next six games at least.

--- No randomness today
, doesn't feel right. It will be back tomorrow, though. Plus, you can be like the 100+ others that have joined on to follow me on Twitter in the last 48 hours (@pauldehnerjr), I'll have all the updates from today's presser with the players and more. 

Yancy Is Not To Blame...

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But he and everyone else involved have to accept responsibility for their actions. Now that being said I waited a day before I would weigh in, in my official capacity as a featured blogger for the University of Cincinnati athletic department. I remember when my father came home and the house wasn't clean and we started blaming each other; he always said "There's enough blame to go around." And that's what we have here and I'll leave it at that. 

This isn't the first time a fight or punches were thrown in the history of this game and anyone who really claims to know this rivalry conveniently forget to mention it. I heard, saw and sampled so much overreaction immediately after the game, I got tired of the subject and took long breaks between conversations for that very reason.

Reality check! Every game between rivals has episodes where things get out of hand and you have to deal with it accordingly and move on! Head Coach Mick Cronin, Athletic Director Whitt Babcock, and yes President Greg Williams moved swiftly to reiterate the values of the University and the responsibility of student athletes that wear the prestigious C-Paw. They vowed to handle it so let them; the respective conferences said they would react with punishment accordingly, let them; and the officials are going be reviewed so we await that report as well. What we haven't done is evaluate ourselves and how we throw blame around like snowballs in the winter time with no regard to our target.

I am done with the game but not the rivalry; I am done with trash talking but not having confidence; and I am done with blind reaction but not honesty. Everyone knows Yancy Gates wasn't the only who threw a punch but, because people aren't happy with his play they want to punish him above and beyond everyone else involved. I have yet to hear anyone talk about the other (cheap) or intended punches that may have landed even better, but hit someone in a place where blood doesn't reveal the evidence yet were just as damaging. I have yet to hear someone say that anyone else is a coward because they threw a punch and backed up as to not be hit back, so why just Yancy? I readily admit I think he should be doing more on the court but isn't it safe to say so should everyone else on UC's team?

I am not hear to uphold Gates or any other player involved, but I am here to be my father and say there's enough blame to go around and it has nothing to do with how you played, but more so how you react in the heat of the moment. I start with me as I did the very thing I'm writing about; therefore I admit guilt in jumping to some conclusion with the officials not calling a technical foul at the end of the game when a Xavier player was clearly and unapologetically taunting UC's bench. I am now going to wait and see what their superiors say which is the right thing to do.

Anything you overreacted to you can admit? The healing process includes you too.

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

Following the ugliest moment in the storied history of the Crosstown Shootout, Mick Cronin proved why he's the face of the University of Cincinnati basketball program.

[Watch the entire Mick Cronin press conference here. Seriously. Do it.]

 

CINCINNATI -- The light of cameras shined directly on Mick Cronin. Following one of the darkest moments in his six-year tenure at UC, he wouldn't hold back. The emotion of anger, humiliation and shock were evident with every rapidly repeating perk in his voice.

"I've never been this embarrassed," he said. "I'm just hoping President Williams doesn't ask me to resign after that."

Cronin could have said many things in the moments following one of the nastiest, most unadulterated brawls in college basketball history. Yet, in the instant reaction fresh off his team being escorted off the hardwood, rather than jumping deeper into the mess, he backed away.

This black eye didn't need more analysis. It didn't need more finger-pointing. It needed perspective.

Players, coaches, administrators and everyone else puts a lovely PR foot forward when all is going well. It's how somebody reacts against adversity that shows who the university really hired.

If we learned anything from Saturday's mess, it's that Mick Cronin shouldn't be concerned with his job security.

On the court may have been his lowest moment, but his stance afterward may have been his finest.

"My players need to handle themselves the way I expect the University of Cincinnati basketball team to handle themselves, regardless of the situation they are in. Period," Cronin said. "Represent our university. That is what I was hired to do six years ago. That's what will happen as long as I'm the coach; whether we have five guys on the team on Monday or 10 or 13."

Suspensions are handed down by the conference and they will likely come in the near future. But nobody needs to worry about Cronin taking the punishments easy on his own guys. He's never been one to cut a corner when it comes to discipline, no matter how big the game. Just ask Yancy Gates, who was left at home for a game at Pittsburgh last season.

Cronin stands by what he believes in and that may be part of his basketball coaching style, but has little to do with the game.

We were all reminded of that for 16 minutes following the Crosstown Shootout Saturday.

"One thing that I hope that the people that I work for know is that as long as I am the coach they don't have to worry about me doing the right thing and the program standing for certain things," Cronin said. "And that might not maybe be as sexy as some people want it, but that is how it's going to be when I'm the coach. Period. They are not going to have to worry about that."

Following the game, Cronin addressed his team. They all had no shirts on. The coach made them take the jerseys off.

"Some of them I physically took them off," Cronin said. "They will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship."

Blame can be cast in many directions. The officials didn't do a good enough job of cutting off the trash talk before the incident. Xavier didn't do a good enough of job of winning with class. UC didn't do a good enough job of not retaliating.

Cronin wasn't dodging any of it. He accepted responsibility for his team and the actions of everybody involved.

Easy to talk about, difficult to do.

"There is no excuse for any of it," Cronin said. "On our side, on their side, guys need to grow up. I am not blaming anybody from our standpoint, we accept full responsibility and it will be handled. There is no excuse for that in basketball. You got to learn how to win on one side, you got to learn how to lose on the other side."

For Cronin, this wasn't just about Cincinnati and Xavier. This wasn't about Sean Kilpatrick's comments or Tu Holloway's reaction. This was about everyone. This was about every athlete, media member or fan who forgot an important point: this is just a game.

"Too much glorification of all of sports in our society," Cronin said. "The fact is guys are here to get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact they are there on a full scholarship. And they're there to represent institutions with class and integrity."

People can question Cronin's play-calling all they want. They can take shots at his x's and o's. They can even place blame on him for Saturday's brawl.

But nobody can question what he stands for. Nobody can question his integrity.

Among the many lessons learned Saturday, that was chief among them.

-------------------------------------------

Here is the complete transcript of Mick Cronin's press conference following the loss to Xavier:

(Trying to call timeout, you see it coming?)

I was trying to call time out. I was trying to call time out so their players would go to their bench because the game was over. I saw them talking to our bench. I saw them. Of course, they were talking to assistant coaches. I don't know who they were talking to, some of their players.

I saw it, tried to call timeout, but I had repeatedly asked the officials to stop it. That being said, there is no excuse for any of it. On our side, on their side, guys need to grow up. I am not blaming anybody from our standpoint, we accept full responsibility and it will be handled. There is no excuse for that in basketball. You got to learn how to win on one side, you got to learn how to lose on the other side. All these kids all need to realize they are here to get an education. And playing in Europe isn't really sexy. Eric Hicks just left to go to Israel. You think eh wants to do that if he can get a good job over here. These guys, very few of them are ever going to make a dollar playing basketball. They are here to get an education at two great universities and they need to appreciate that. The world don't revolve around them, around basketball. They need to learn how to act, they need to have respect for the fact they are on a scholarship, that people come to see them play. That's just the facts of college athletics. I understand there is media and people asking for autographs, but it's a prime example of guys thinking they are too important. And I am talking about everybody involved. Too much glorification of all of sports in our society. The fact is, guys are here to get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati, OK. I got to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact they are there on a full scholarship. And they're there to represent institutions with class and integrity. That's that. Now, what happened, I got to watch the tape, I'm like you guys. I saw it coming and tried to call a timeout. I saw it coming and I asked the officials to stop it. So if you are going to ask me where I am upset, that's where I'm upset. With all due respect to the three guys, that's where I'm upset the most.

(Lyons and Holloway seemed to delight in fact they were in fight, you tell players what told us?)

Absolutely. My players don't act the right way they will never play another game at Cincinnati. Right now, I just told my guys, I will meet with my AD and my president and I'm going to decide who is on the team going forward. That is what the University of Cincinnati is about. Period.

I've never been this embarrassed. I'm hoping President Williams doesn't ask me to resign after that. We represent an institution of higher learning, it's way more important than basketball games. Whoever puts that jersey back on - I made everybody take their jersey off and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship, because there's a whole lot of kids that can't pay for college. And don't get to go to school. My mom didn't get to go to UC, she grew up on campus. They couldn't afford it.

(Made players take jerseys off?)

Absolutely, they are all sitting in there with no jersey on. Some of them I physically took them off.

(advised officials)

The whole second half. Guys were talking to our bench the whole second half. I was told I need to calm down. I got guys sitting there cursing at coaches and I got an official sitting right there listening to it. It's crazy. There's no cause for that. For anybody, that needs to be handled early. This isn't professional sports, guys. This is not professional sports.

(Xavier guys cursed at your bench?)

It was going on the whole game. Now, when I am going to say that, I don't know what my guys were saying. Understand that, I am not here to, you know, I was told at halftime, because I asked at halftime. They said well make sure your bench don't say anything to the point where he said, we'll give him a T. I said, well, give him a T. And then tell me who did it because he is going to be thrown off my bench in the second half. Now, my team can't score right now and we got a way to go to be a better team, but as long as the President lets me be the coach, that's not going to happen.

(What happened right before halftime)

I don't know, I couldn't tell. It was a lot of talk for no reason. There should have been multiple technical fouls way before the incident, way before the incident. And the reason I am upset, I've got an official there watching it and doing nothing about it. That's where somebody, whoever assigned the guys should make sure they understand what they are walking into. But you know what, we play Wright State and I don't know who Xavier plays, but there is no place for that in collegiate athletics. And I am not pointing fingers. I am talking on both sides. If somebody on my team was provoked, they were coached for the last five days to not retaliate. Ibrahima Thomas got punched last year in the game. Somebody should have been thrown out. They didn't throw him out. Thomas walked away. I don't know what happened. I am just saying there's just no place for any of it period.

(revisit playing series?)

Every game we go out to play if guys run their mouth they should be - in the big east that stuff doesn't happen. I am just going to tell you it doesn't happen. Big east, two guys start talking, ref tells them to shut up. I was at St. John's they threw both guys out. They were saying, well, we knew each other. They said I told you to shut up, you are out.

At the end of the day, if that has to happen, that's a shame. If you have to not play a game because of something like that. All I can control is my team. I don't care how hard it is when you are provoked or somebody hits you in the face, there is no excuse for it from my standpoint. Period.

(you are going to go through the film and do your own investigation)

Absolutely.

(Then the league will suspend guys?)

I have no idea. One thing that I hope that the people that I work for know is that as long as I am the coach they don't have to worry about me doing the right thing and the program standing for certain things. And that might maybe be as sexy as some people want it, but that is how it's going to be when I'm the coach. Period. They are not going to have to worry about that.

(Most agitated seen you, this the low point for you?)

You got to understand something. I represent the University of Cincinnati. That whole scene, it's embarrassing, to be a part of that? Are you kidding me? It's a complete embarrassment. No matter who started what. Just the whole thing, it's a complete embarrassment. We talk all the time, toughness is doing the right thing in life. That is what we talk about. If that is the case, you are being provoked, this or that, true toughness, you walk away from it. You take your ass whipping and you go home. You get better. Certain people want to act a certain way, that's on them. If that's who they want to be that's on them. That is not what we are going to be. Period. That's not what we are going to be. Am I agitated? Yes. Do I think my guys are somewhat responsible in some way, I don't know who started it but I can tell you that is not what we are going to be about.

(Holloway said Kilpatick started it by disrespecting him on the radio)

That's ridiculous. Grow up. Grow up, OK. Our sports information department made a mistake by putting him on with somebody that was going to provoke him. Read the statement. The kid said he was a great player to start off then people want to make something of it. I mean, who cares, at the end of the day. What's that got to do anything? Go play the game. Guys, there's thousands of people in our country - watch 60 minutes - half of Orlando is homeless. You are not that important. None of us. Have some class. Represent your university and I am talking about everybody involved. Everybody involved. Let's be honest, guys, come on. It's a basketball game. That has nothing to do with it. He should never have been put in that situation, in an interview with somebody that going to just try to do that. But that's got nothing to do with nothing and again if he wants to act like, my players need to handle themselves the way I expect the University of Cincinnati basketball team to handle themselves, regardless of the situation they are in. Period. Represent our university. That is what I was hired to do six years ago. That's what will happen as long as I'm the coach. Whether we have five guys on the team on Monday or 10 or 13. There is enough guys out there that would appreciate the scholarship. I don't care how good you are. That whole scene is just an embarrassment. Guys think they are way too important in the scope of what is going on in the world. It's not professional sports. Thanks guys.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.9.11

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What would a Crosstown Shootout be without a little Crosstown trash talk? To answer the rhetorical question, it would be boring. And as we all know, that's not the case.

The latest to come out was Sean Kilpatrick stating that not only is he better than Tu Holloway, but Holloway wouldn't start on the Bearcats. These comments came on the Andy Furman radio show on AM1160.

Here is the transcript.

Furman: "Are you better than Tu Holloway?"
Kilpatrick: "I'll let the fans decide..."
Furman: "I need to know. No one's listening. Just between you and me."
Kilpatrick: "Yes I am."
Furman: "Would Tu Holloway start for UC?"
Kilpatrick: "Would he, with the players we have now? I would say no."

Does Kilpatrick say these words? Yes. Should he probably have avoided the bulletin board material for Tu? Yes.

But what was he supposed to say?:

"Are you better than Tu? Actually, no I am not, he's much better than me. In fact, we are doomed."

"Could he start on your team? Oh, of course. Not only is he better than me, he's definitely better than that bum we have at PG Cashmere Wright. Dion Dixon? Tu would own him. Shoot, I'd rather have him at 6-foot battling for post position rather than Yancy Gates!"

Anybody reading anything into these words and taking anything except a guy confident in himself and his team from these quotes needs a serious lesson in context. (I'm looking at you, front page of Cincinnati.com)

This was nothing more than a lazy line of questioning and baiting a kid into saying something that would draw headlines or controversy. SK even tried to sidestep the question off the top.  Listen, I've been on Furman's show many times before and would happily go on again and say this to him. In fact, that's highly likely. He does plenty of things well, I just thought this was a cheap way to prod a kid into saying something controversial.

Enough media-manufactured drivel, let's eat...

--- Give some props
to Brad Johansen and the Local12 folks with this Night Before the Crosstown Shootout Video. Good stuff. I love a good Cheikh Mbodj pronounciation gag.

--- Scott at Bearcats Blog gives his 10 reasons Xavier, um, falls out of his favor. I will only point out from the sign at the top of the post, folks, it's embarrassing for everyone if you make a derogatory sign about another school and use improper grammar. With the slash of one apostrophe, suddenly, the joke is very much on you.

--- How well do
you know the Shootout? Here's a quiz from The Enquirer.

--- Bill Koch on how UC can
repeat their job on Tu Holloway from last season.

Once done providing his perspective on why UC was able to shut down Holloway last season, Mick Cronin reminded UC folks of a fact they are all too aware of considering the early-season showing of both squads.

"Last year is irrelevant," Cronin said. "They are two completely different teams."


--- The Musketeers haven't forgotten last season. This from Shannon Russell.

--- The Cintas Center will be rocking tomorrow. This will be by far one of the best atmospheres in all of college basketball this season, as always. Cronin pointed out the importance of Cashmere Wright in the hostile environment.

Cronin should feel confident because not only has Cash handled tough situations before, but his freshman season at the Cintas Center he played one of the better games of his first year.

He only had four points -- he wasn't as much of a scorer back then -- but distributed four assists to just two turnovers in 32 minutes.

Cronin also went on to say that he thought Wright played his best half of basketball after halftime at Georgia.

"Just because he took care of the ball and ran our team," Cronin said. "Dion and SK were the guys making shots, but if he turns the ball over and our team is not settled down on the offensive end on the road, you are going to get blown out. You won't lose, you are going to get blown out. You can't go on the road and have your quarterback rattled."

Cronin thought Wright was rattled for a first half against Georgia that saw a nine-minute UC scoring drought.

"He's important, I don't mean it from a statistical standpoint," Cronin said. "You got to take care of the basketball. He's got to play solid defense and run his team. That is going to be all year for us."

--- Speaking of not getting rattled, quote of the day comes in that department comes from Yancy Gates. Asked how do you avoid this group of freshmen not being rattled in a hostile environment like Cintas, he came out with this:

"Don't put them in?" he said, laughing.

Gates went on to give some great analysis of what it's like to enter your first Shootout at Cintas Center.

"
It's hard," he said. "My first time going over there was my sophomore year and it was hard, even though I already played in one. It's rough over there. You try to get them prepared for how the game on the court is going to go, but you can't simulate that atmosphere that's going to be over there...they are just going to have to, I don't know, they are just going to have to try to play through it."

For whatever my opinion is worth (what would be considered less than little?), I don't think you see more than three minutes out of any freshmen except for maybe 5-10 for Guyn.

--- Crazy stat from the game notes: UC's last road win against an AP Top 10 opponent came at then-No. 8 Louisville, 71-66 on Jan. 4, 1990.

Here's one of my favorite pastimes when recognizing ancient streaks like this: No. 1 song in the country that day? Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins.

--- Luke Winn's power rankings point out Tu Holloway ranks top in the nation in free throw rate (ratio of free throws to field goal attempts) among guards playing at least 30 minutes.

One of the biggest keys last year was UC not allowing Holloway to the stripe. He only shot three free throws. Keeping him out of the lane and not drawing contact will probably be the key again Saturday.

--- Some bad news for struggling St. John's as their top scorer Nuri Lindsey announced he is transferring. This great recruiting class has turned into an epic fail.

--- Moving to football, I wrote yesterday afternoon about the historical perspective behind UC's sweep of Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. It's the first time in the Big East since Miami in 2001.

--- Not only was yesterday a good day for Derek Wolfe in the Big East awards, Rivals named him second team All-American at DT. Tavon Austin at punt returner is the only other Big East player on the first or second team.

--- We'd be remiss in not mentioning the other members of the Big East First Team, which are OL Randy Martinez, aka Randeazy, aka, Mr. McSaucy, aka, Ragu, S Drew Frey, P Pat O'Donnell and LB JK Schaffer.

OL Alex Hoffman and QB Zach Collaros were named to the second team.

--- All right, I am headed
out of here. I can only say I'm jacked up for tomorrow's game. As well as pounding one too many coneys before noon tomorrow. I'm assuming all of you will be watching on ESPN. Should be a blast. Check back to the blog Saturday afternoon for reaction from players, coaches and a postgame column.

I'll leave you with highlights from last year. Have a good weekend.



On Thursday, the Big East announced the league football awards and UC pulled off a sweep of the top three awards.

Coach Butch Jones won Coach of the Year, Isaiah Pead was named Offensive Player of the Year and DT Derek Wolfe tied for Defensive Player of the Year.

If you take a look back at the recent history of the awards in the conference, the significance of the individual and collective effort is all the more impressive for UC.

First off, the three awards have never been given to the same school since UC joined the Big East in 2005. It hasn't been done in the history of the Big East since the great 2001 Miami team where QB Ken Dorsey shared the award with BC's William Green, the Hurricanes' Ed Reed shared with Syracuse's Dwight Freeney and Larry Coker won Coach of the Year as the team went 12-0.

The first thought that came to mind when I heard about Pead and Wolfe in particular earning the honor was the reputation that comes along with the award, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

I've talked so much about Wolfe you all probably think I'm his agent, but take a look at the people who have been a part of the DPOY award in this conference. Tell me if you think his NFL future is bright.

Here's the list along with the draft selection and current NFL status:

Year   Player                          Draft       Current Team
2010  DE Jabaal Sheard, Pitt   Rd2/37   Cleveland   
2009t DT Mick Williams, Pitt   ----------------------------
2009t DE Greg Romeus, Pitt   Rd7/226  New Orleans
2008  LB Scott McKillop, Pitt  Rd5/146  Waived this preseason (2010ACL)
2007  DE George Selvie, USF Rd7/226   Jacksonville
2006  DE H.B. Blades, Pitt     Rd6/179   2007-10 Redskins/waived this year
2005  DE Elvis Dumervil, Lou  Rd4/126   Broncos

All but one of the players to win the award since the Big East transformed in 2005 have gone on to play multiple years in the NFL. Dumervil would be the most accomplished, having developed into one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. Sheard has turned in a nice rookie season for the Browns while Romeus, McKillop, Selive and Blades all put in time and found a niche at one point somewhere.

The list of former Big East Offensive POYs doesn't quite read like a laundry list of All-Pros, but it's select company in its own right. In fact, Pead makes it the fourth consecutive year the award has gone to a running back.

All three were drafted and are still in the league.

Year   Player                             Draft       Current Team
2010  RB Jordan Todman, Conn  Rd6/183  San Diego (practice squad)
2009  RB Dion Lewis, Pitt           Rd5/149  Philadelphia
2008  RB Donald Brown, Conn    Rd1/27    Indianapolis

Pead will make it four in a row drafted this year. For the record Donald Brown has developed into the top running back this season for the Colts, as hapless as they are. Dion Lewis hasn't seen the field much sitting behind LeSean McCoy.

Still, all have entered the league talented enough to have a chance. Pead will have that. And judging by his resume here, that means this award could be the first of many. 

Bearcats Breakfast 12.8.11

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I have a hard time understanding ESPN's reluctance to find a premier time slot for the Crosstown Shootout. They are well aware of the history and rivalry. It's been brought up many times. They knew UC and Xavier would be national spotlight teams this year. Yet, all they could come up with was 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Mystifying. Frustrating.

Though, UNC-UK was placed at noon on a Saturday, so maybe I should stop being so sensitive.

That said, we are entering another run of great Crosstown Shootouts much like those from the mid-90s where the rivalry reached previously unseen levels of intensity and popularity.

The rivalry has never gone away for those who swear by Skyline Chili, but it now returns to the national scene. That's thanks mainly to UC's emergence and Xavier's continued March success.

Look back at the last two alone, it's created some of the best memories of the best players to recently run through UC. Lance Stephenson shaking Tu Holloway to the ground before burying a jumper in his most memorable performance as a Bearcat. Of course, Holloway would grab the last laugh leading X to at double-overtime win.



Last year was the game everyone expected every night from Yancy Gates. He played like a monster unleashed and reeled off 22 points and 14 rebounds in the 20-point win. He tied a career high for rebounds and poured in his second-highest point total of the season.

He also buried a shot from the corner and fell into the front row next to Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo. Great scene.

Who will emerge this time?

Does Sean Kilpatrick elevate to superstar status in his sophomore season? Cashmere Wright steal the spotlight from Tu Holloway? The game creates college legends. That's the best part.

Let's eat...

--- No. 8 Xavier manhandled
Butler last night in Hinkle Fieldhouse to move to 7-0 entering the Shootout. Tu Holloway finds a way to will his team to wins even if he shoots 1 of 7 from the field. By drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line (14 of 16) and grabbing six steals he dominated the game. Tough to do when you can't hit a shot.

The Musketeers are more able to do that now with their current depth and talent. No longer to tougher, deeper teams expose them. The Muskies can run with anybody, all game. Coincidentally, UC enters this year with the concerns in the depth department due to injuries and maturation of incoming freshmen.

--- Scott at Bearcats Blog talked with Enquirer XU beat writer Shannon Russell about the matchup. Big Shannon fan, she's good people.

Here was her recap of last night's win to send the Muskies to 7-0.

--- The predominant storyline this year is pretty clear: Can UC replicate their defensive performance on Tu Holloway from last year?

Outside of a late-season win against Charlotte and NCAA tourney loss against Marquette, UC holding Holloway to five points, was his only game in single-digit scoring all season. They allowed him only three free throw shots and turned him over four times.

He'd just dropped 26 each on Gonzaga and Florida in the previous week plus a triple-double vs. Wake Forest, so it couldn't have been considered a rough patch. UC owned some type of secret that night.

Is that a secret anymore? Would it even work anymore?

Those two questions will likely define who wins Saturday.

--- Holloway Enters Saturday averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game.

--- For the record Shootout nugget:
In the last 20 years XU leads the series 11-9. The last time UC won back-to-back Shootouts was 1995 and '96.

--- Much more from
the UC-X perspective after we hear from Mick and the players from today's media availability.

--- Mick Cronin talked with Bill Koch about wanting the league to stay put at 16 basketball schools and being optimistic about what realignment means for UC basketball. Butch Jones with his take as well.

--- Andrea Adelson chimes in with expansion news and notes. Including a big question mark surrounding who the other two schools will be join and make it the desired 12-team conference. She questions the future of the league.

Randomness...

--- As Walter from
Big Lebowski would say: "You want a toe? I can get you a toe."

Seriously, somebody needed a toe...for their hand. Science!

--- The Plus-One model is inevitable. Great, then let's do it already. How about this month?

Of course, there could be larger changes on the horizon for college football.

--- This makes me sad
about the human race.

--- Some fans of
The Cure are bitter they were snubbed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers for induction to the Rock & Roll HOF. Odd of those fans to take a position of bitter, picked on and misunderstood.

Don't get me wrong, I like The Cure just fine, but I find the situation fitting considering that's been a constant theme of their image and fan base.

--- This is also a great time to show love to RHCP. Always been a huge fan. Seen them live a few times and it's hard to explain just how much energy they give off from the stage. Here's a glimpse.



It's Exam Time

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With the UC Bearcat student-athlete family studying hard and taking finals these next few days, it's a good time to look back at the fall and see what's been accomplished, and what lies ahead.

First, congrats to the Bearcat volleyball team for its terrific season and the NCAA bid. Although the tournament didn't turn out the way the 'Cats would have liked, it still bodes well for the future.

Now, to a look back at the Women's Skyline Crosstown Shootout. Looking at it on paper, it sure looked to be UC's year. But as we've seen in this annual city battle, top teams can get knocked off by the underdog. Just ask the UC men when they faced Xavier as the top team in the country and left as the second best in the city. Or the UC women almost five years ago when they faced a top 20-ranked Xavier team, with the same five players for the entire game except for a few seconds at the end, and came away with the Kendle Cup. That's why the games aren't played on paper.

With an early Louisville game yet this month ahead to open the BIG EAST season, the Cats got a good test as to what will face them in conference. It's a valuable lesson in confidence, in staying within the game plan, in not relaxing for even a moment.

But the most important thing that came out of last Sunday's game was that it was a terrific contest. If you were there, you saw two very good teams, with lots of local talent, battle it out for city bragging rights. It was basketball at its best, and it was good to see as many youth teams there to watch how these two teams played. It was tough but it was fair with good sportsmanship. And with any luck, some of the folks who attended liked what they saw and will be back.

Because that's what the Crosstown Shootout is all about--letting people sample, for the first time, some great women's basketball. Because once you sample it, there's a good chance you'll come to a second game--and a third--and more.

Good luck to all the student-athletes during test time. We'll see you back on the court soon.

 

Bearcats Breakfast 12.7.11

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When I first decided to do a UC-centric podcast, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'd seen similar concept attempted before, but in other venues, but not work. And you never know if these things will ever catch steam from the jump.

Through two episodes, though, I will only say I think we have a winner here. And I know this sounds completely arrogant, so know I'm not trying to be, but if you are a UC fan and not finding time to listen to these, you're really missing out.

Yesterday, the second podcast was a conversation with myself and Tommy G. Here is the link. It was fun, informative, loose, all the things you want a show like that to be. If you haven't listened that or the first week podcast with Dan Hoard, which also came out excellent minus a few opening day bumps, give it a shot. If you don't like it, that's fine move forward, but I think it will be product you'll come to enjoy.

You can listen to it on your iPhone or at work or in the car or wherever. Who needs radio, where nobody hardly ever talks about UC and you have to listen to Vivaxa commercials all afternoon.

And please, if you like it, tell your friends. Use your MySpace and Geocities accounts to spread the word. The bigger it gets the better it can get and then everybody benefits.

Let's eat...

--- The news kept coming as
they day progressed, so I'll so my best to get you in touch with all of it and not fill up your time with too much rambling.

Chances are increasing Zach Collaros plays in the Liberty Bowl. Prior to yesterday, I would have told you there was little to no shot it happens. And I should preface what I'm about to say with the fact none of this necessarily means he will play, only that it's a realistic conversation now.

Yesterday, Butch Jones said ZC is two weeks ahead of schedule. He tossed his crutches aside and is walking now. Next week he could be returning to portions of practice and making some drops.

Don't believe me, here are the words from the coach:

"He's taking tremendous strides in the rehabilitation efforts," Jones said. "He's about two weeks ahead of schedule. He is walking already. We are hoping even by as soon as next week he may be able to start throwing and dropping and doing his drops and participating in practice. It's an ongoing process. A lot of it is outside of our control, it's just how the body heals, but there is a tremendous opportunity right now that he may be able to participate in the Liberty Bowl."

As for how Jones would work Collaros back in, that would all depend on how the senior QB was coming along. As far as I'm concerned, the guy wouldn't need to practice much at all except to spend a little time making sure his arm is close to shape and he gets some timing down with his receivers. You know stepping back into the offense won't be an issue.

Most likely if ZC could go, would be some type of two-QB system with him and Munchie to test out the abilities. Which, really, could develop into a three-QB monster with Jordan Luallen coming off the bench to contribute.

We shall see, but definitely a storyline we'll be keeping an eye on.

Plus, he's doing ticket promos.

--- The other big piece of news, as I mentioned here yesterday, was UNC loved Larry Fedora of Southern Miss. He accepted the position. As Bill Koch points out, that means all signs point to Butch Jones staying at UC.

He's never indicated otherwise and continued to talk about how much he loves Cincinnati and is invested in building a solid foundation here. With what appears to be one of the better recruiting classes in UC history on the way in to match a talented young base, he's got that.

So far, all good news.

--- The other big piece of news was the Big East expansion. In what will be made official today, San Diego State, Boise State, SMU, Houston and UCF will all be joining the conference as its split into East and West.

East: UC, Rutgers, UConn, USF, UCF
West: Louisville, SDSU, Houston, SMU, Boise

The teams added were a combined 43-19 this past season. Boise State and Houston spent the majority of the season in the Top 10. They bring in major media markets of San Diego, Houston, Dallas and Orlando then a national power of Boise.

Now, whether Houston can become a team that sustains success is yet to be seen, but it's not like Syracuse was tearing up the world. UConn was this league's champ last season and they recently jumped from FCS. To be worried that schools like SMU and Houston that have experienced success in C-USA are not going to be strong enough seems a little far-fetched considering this league has been built on teams on the brink rising to success by playing in it.

Look at, oh, I don't know, UC. Or USF, who regularly competes with and beat the other schools in Florida.

Does losing WVU and Pittsburgh hurt? Sure, but replacing with Boise and four major markets at the very least breaks even if it doesn't make the conference stronger.

Obviously, I'm not the only person to comment on it. And I'm probably in the minority with my opinion.

Here's what they're saying:

Mike DeCourcy says the Big East brand took a big hit. (Yes, for college basketball, this stinks, nobody will deny that. Just enjoy this year and next year)

Everybody wants to come up with a new name for the Big East.

CBSSports looks at the pros and cons of each BE addition.

Here's your 2014 BE map.

Dennis Dodd compares old and new.

The Dallas Morning News with some SMU perspective.

--- Yes, I know the
Crosstown Shootout will be on Saturday. And I'll have plenty of time to get to that. The next two days will be heavy Shootout discussion. Xavier plays at Butler tonight. As their non-conference gauntlet continues.

UC hoops has a player availability tomorrow morning, so we'll have more after that.

To get you warmed up, Bill Koch with a primer from a conversation with Mick.

--- No randomness today, I'm on the run. Which, of course, leads me to this.


Touchdown in the land of the Delta Blues

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OK, the correct lyric is "touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain", but in the interest of football, I borrowed a bit from Marc Cohn's hit, "Walking in Memphis".

By the way, if you're going to watch UC in the Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt Dec. 31 (www.catstix.com) you can more than likely catch that song a time or three at Silky O' Sullivan's dueling piano bar on Beale Street.

Memphis is a fun town and speaking for most Bearcats of modest income, it was a blessing to be chosen for the Liberty Bowl and not another game that was rumored.

It simple terms, in this economy, bowl games should be within reasonable proximity to fans unless it's a BCS bowl and then it's out of your control.

Rutgers SHOULD have went to the Pinstripe Bowl, it's cheaper for their fans to get there. Likewise, UC and Louisville fans can get to Memphis and Charlotte relatively easy.

As it turns out, air and hotel fare in December is far from cheap and UC going south rather than east is probably worth thousands of fans.

We're stubborn Midwesterners.  We'll hop in the Chevy and drive south in a heartbeat, but digging for airfare, contemplating cabfare and paying inflated rates for cramped city hotel rooms really throws us for a loop.

I like New York, but I'll pass on Ryan Seacrest and the feeling of a sardine on Times Square for Beale Street and the "Kings" (Elvis and B.B.) on New Year's Eve.

Memphis brings a lot of fun memories for me from covering football and attending Great Midwest/Conference USA basketball tournaments. The one exception is the infamous Kenyon Martin broken leg game, but we got to hang with Bob Huggins and Charlie Spoonhour that night, so it wasn't all bad.

It's got history (Sun Records, Graceland, Loraine Motel, Stax Records) and ribs (Rendezvous, Corky's, Jim's,etc.).

My first night there years ago we went to a Bulls/Sonics NBA exhibition at the Pyramid and then had dry rub ribs at the Rendezvous where many of the Bulls were.  Corie Blount was on the Bulls, Dontonio Wingfield on the Sonics.  Phil Jackson was smoking cigars inside the Peabody Hotel (where they march ducks on a daily basis).

Beale Street is essentially a cleaner Bourbon Street.  Less smut and dirt and a little more walking room.

Then, there's Graceland.  You go the first time for yourself.  Every other time is to watch others. I have now been three times and enjoy it's historical and hysterical value. I recommend the Platinum tour and a peanut butter and 'nana sandwich afterward.  Word of warning though, don't try on the Elvis sunglasses in the gift shop and take a picture, the cashier gets cranky.

Personally, I'm looking forward to being back in the Liberty Bowl Stadium where I did six games on radio. The Tigers used to keep a live, caged Tiger on the field and entered the field to Elvis' 2001 Space Odyssey theme.

While UC lost four of the six against Memphis there, the last in 2003. the 2001 game stands out as the most memorable (some of you more experienced fans may agree).

Somewhere around the Memphis 30-yard-line, Gino Guidugli stood with an unlikely fourth and 19. I was preparing to conduct one of those not-so-fun losing interviews with Rick Minter going off the field.

Instead, Gino heaved the ball to midfield and receiver Jon Olinger (Jonny O) went up and found it. It's been 10 years, but it seems like Gino went to Olinger about three more times, the last in the endzone in the final seconds.  UC pulled out the improbable win, 36-34.

I was told at UC's basketball game at home, the crowd went nuts as many had their radios tuned to the football affair in Memphis.

Hopefully, the Bearcats will have a similar result on Dec. 31.  Actually, a little more breathing room would be nice.

A word of caution...don't look at Vanderbilt's record and think the game's in the bag.  There's a reason your national championship game features two SEC schools. You have to be honest with yourself and recognize a strong league with strong opponents.

However, UC looked much improved with Munchie Legaux at quarterback in the final two games.  Plus, if Zach Collaros can go, that changes strategies and makes everything different.

It's not too far a reach to say that UC would've been in a BCS game had Collaros not been injured against West Virginia. 

More than anything, I'm looking forward to a bowl game with all of the focus on preparation and the players.  I think the glamor and pizazz of the Orange Bowl left UC shell-shocked. In the Sugar Bowl, UC lost a coach, gained a coach and were coached in the game by a guy leaving for Buffalo.

I think Butch Jones observed those moments and is ready to seize the moment in Memphis. Touchdown in the land of the Delta Blues!  TCB!  Take care of business on the field and then it's, "Elvis has left the building!"

Thumbs up to sequined white jump suits. Thumbs down to white helmets.

I'll see you in the Jungle Room.

Miraculously, the Inside the Bearcats Podcast lasted into its second show. One more and I'll be more successful than the Charlie's Angels remake.

It looks good after a great visit with UC Director of New Media and Broadcasting Tom Gelehrter, better known as Tommy G.

Tommy and I talk about Cincinnati and Cleveland as the next Compton and Long Beach, make plans for a Tweet up, then talk in depth about the behind the scenes stories from Saturday's Big East championship win, the frightening side of Derek Wolfe, what makes Butch Jones different, how the changing Big East landscape affects the Cats and the reality of Zach Collaros playing in the Liberty Bowl.

If you liked the first podcast with Dan Hoard I think you'll really like this week. Lots of great inside information you can't find anywhere, plus, we place an over/under on how many ribs TG will consume during five days in Memphis. You know, the important stuff.

Here's the breakdown for those of you with short attention spans:

Minutes 1-4: Introduction of the first guest theme music in podcast history and gangsta rap discussion opens the show with other pleasantries and storytelling.

4-9: Memphis, Tennessee -- why it's a great fit, what to do, UC deals, restaurants, comparative bowls.

9-16: Behind the scenes stories from Saturday, senior moments and The Wolfe Factor.

16-21: The emerging future of Bearcats football

21-26: Butch Jones looking like he's locked in to UC -- Tommy G explains what makes him different. 

26-31: The wild new world of the Big East and why it really matters: better road trips for the media types!

31-37: Zach Collaros. Tommy G has spent time with him lately, can he play? If so, what role? Are we looking at a three-headed QB monster?

37-39: Witty banter and jovial conclusion including the logistics of how exactly you consume 60 ribs in five days.

Huge thanks to Tommy G for his time and thanks for those of you who take the time to listen. Enjoy and tell your friends!

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Debt!

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So the Big East title didn't come with all the trimmings for this Christmas but we did get a bowl bid and one that should be encouraging to Bearcat fans. With Bowls in Miami, New Orleans and even Texas, the expense may have forced some faithful to decline the expenditure in this economy. But the Liberty Bowl is very doable in terms of cost, travel and support.

Think about it; it's an 8 hour drive and you can weave so much more into the trip like the Civil Rights Museum, Stax Records Museum and a wealth of Southern Cuisine second to none. The fact you can drive eliminates the fear some still have after 911 and you can car pool and share the expense. In this economy having a bowl game you can actually afford to attend should be encouraging and a message to the kids and coach Butch Jones that you appreciate the season they had after rebounding from a disappointing season a year ago. And what a great recovery after the loss of senior quarterback Zach Colloras to still be within a South Florida fumble of a BCS game when many thought they were done. 

Now yet again people are looking at another UC coach, Jones, to restore their programs credibility with its boosters and fans. Your message, good or bad, will be heard December 31st as Bearcats square off against Vanderbilt. Coach Jones will look up in the stands, having been given a number of tickets sold prior to the game, plus what he ultimately sees and determine how much support he has and that may weigh into his decision to stay or go. 

If you're tired of coaches leaving; schools plucking away our great hires and talented kids going elsewhere because on senior day (and a must win scenario), they look up and see a less than sold out stadium then do something about it. Make the trip to Memphis, even if it's with a group, and support these kids who are proud to represent the C-Paw that you claim you rep as well.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 12.6.11

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Today will be the final Tuesday football luncheon of the season. One final opportunity to enjoy a free lunch, er, talk to players and coaches. I almost feel nostalgic thinking about all the great moments myself and the pan of City BBQ cornbread have shared this season. It's been a special run.

This will be an emotional lunch, let there be no doubt.

As for the topics of discussion outside of the delicious mix of banana pudding and Vanilla Wafers, we'll probably be hearing more about Butch Jones' career opportunities and likely more of the line he opened with last week in that regard.

Bill Koch offered his opinion on the Jones job search on his blog yesterday, placing North Carolina as the strongest contender for the coaches' service. However, keep an eye out for Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora for that position. UNC loves him.

We'll also probably have a chance to talk to Isaiah Pead about his Senior Bowl invite and to everyone about the Liberty Bowl draw. Likely will be the Fallout Edition of the Tuesday Lunch with plenty of reaction and reflection.

Also, the second ever Inside the Bearcats Podcast will post this afternoon as myself and Tommy G talk all about behind the scenes from Saturday, Liberty Bowl, Crosstown Shootout and plenty more.

No time to waste, let's eat...

--- As I mentioned, Isaiah Pead received an invite to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Happy for him, but would have liked to see DT Derek Wolfe and LB JK Scaffer join him. They deserve it.

It continues a trend of UC representatives in the top prospect bowl game. This is the third time in four years the Bearcats have players in the mix.

Jan 2009: Connor Barwin, Kevin Huber, DeAngelo Smith, Trevor Canfield
Jan 2010: Mike Windt, Mardy Gilyard, Tony Pike
Jan 2011: None
Jan 2012: Isaiah Pead

What does playing in the Senior Bowl mean? Last year 12 first-round picks and 83 total players from the Senior Bowl were selected in the NFL Draft. That was 33 percent of all total players selected. Of last year's NFL Pro Bowl starters, 13 of the 24 were former Senior Bowlers.

Now, there's little doubt Pead will be taken in this year's draft, but it's nice to be reassured of the positive light your viewed in nationally.

--- Congrats distributed around the football team yesterday. WR Anthony McClung became the third Bearcats player this season to be named Big East Offensive Player of the Week. The previous two were Zach Collaros against USF and Pead against Louisville.

McClung caught eight passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

You start to take a look at the receiving group that will be back next season and you can't help feel good about the state of position. Your starters will most likely be Anthony McClung, Alex Chisum and Kenbrell Thompkins. Then toss in Travis Kelce at tight end and you are returning 111 receptions for 1,458 yards.

Those four alone provided 57 percent of the total receptions and 61 percent of the total yards.

By the way, you can vote for McClung for Intersport WR Performance of the Year. Just follow this link

Here was McClung talking with me after the UConn win.




--- Best part about making a bowl game? Bowl gifts!

--- Andrea Adelson wraps the Big East season and gives out some awards. Coach of the Year rightfully went to Butch Jones and UC-WVU at PBS was the Game of the Year.

--- Poking around some of the regular season defensive stats, the numbers backed up the obvious on-field improvement.

After finishing last year 68th in total defense, nationally, they finished 46th this season. Here's a chart of some of the statistical improvements from 2010 to 2011.

Stat                  2010/2011
Total defense       68/46    
Pass defense      88/106
Rush defense       39/6
Scoring defense   68/20
Sacks                  55/1
Neg. Sack Yds     68/1
TFL/G                  39/1                    
Interceptions       99/24
Turnover Margin  119/11
AVERAGE           71/24

--- A few other notes on the defensive improvement. Here's how dominant the UC defensive front was this year.

They finished first in the nation with 318 negative sack yards created. The next closest team in the country, Stanford, finished with 26 yards less than that.

UC was tops in the nation in TFL, with 8.92 per game. No. 2 in the country was USF with 8.08. No. 3 was Marshall with 7.92. That means, outside of one team, UC was a full TFL per game better than the rest of the country in that category. Wow.

--- It was clear at the beginning
of the season, this front seven had a chance to be one of the most dominant in the Big East. If they could, it would make up for any inexperience in the secondary. The veteran front exceeded even the grandest of expectations. While defensive linemen tend to go under the radar, by the numbers -- and to the eye for anybody who watched closely -- this was the best season by a defensive front in the recent history of UC football.

--- Randomness...

--- I can't imagine any coach holding a deeper disdain for the BCS than Chris Peterson. And rightfully so.

"I think everybody is just very tired of the BCS, that's the bottom line. Everybody's frustrated, nobody really knows what to do anymore. It doesn't make sense. I don't think any one is happy, anywhere. They say it's the one and two best teams, there's even controversy on that. The whole thing needs to be changed there's no question about it."

Check out this college football playoff bracket.

I remind you again, people like George Wine vote in the Harris Poll and played a role in deciding the Big East BCS representative this year. Wine voted Oklahoma State at No. 6 --- behind Houston, who was pummeled by Southern Miss Saturday. Ugh.

--- Tweet of the Day yesterday goes to EDSBS (Every Day Should Be Saturday):

"Just finished reviewing all 36 bowls. Don't watch the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. You'll die of sorrow."

--- For the record, don't spend today telling anybody about your bad beat out of the fantasy football playoffs. Nobody cares about your fantasy football team except you.

--- Kepler 22-b is an Earth-like planet just 600 light years away. I assume that is where the execs from NBC that shelved Community are from. *Still bitter*

--- The Onion concedes
Tim Tebow's success has sparked an NFL trend.

--- How about reliving
the celebration from Saturday's share of the Big East championship. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.5.11

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In case you haven't heard, UC will play Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. The Liberty Bowl is played in Memphis, Tenn., where you can eat all the dry rub ribs your heart desires.

While everyone would have preferred taking their talents to South Beach on NYE, a trip to Memphis represents a quality alternative. This was a nice bowl for UC to slide into. They would have ended up in the Belk Bowl, but those folks really wanted NC State for local draw and weren't about to set up a rematch of the 44-14 drubbing the Cats put on them earlier this year.

So, Liberty it is a chance for a bit of redemption against an SEC opponent.

A few notes about the bowl for those thinking about making the trip:

1. Get your hotels now. It may seem like a good idea to get your group together first, but that will leave you out in the cold. People are saying hotels in the downtown/Beale St. area are already selling out. You need to book that...like, yesterday. The Liberty Bowl site does a great job of lining up hotels for you.

2. UC will be sitting on the West side of the stadium for when you buy your ticket. Purchase your tickets through UC. They need to sell out their allotment or they will be on the hook for the extras. Don't buy through an outside dealer. Here's all your information on that at catstix.com. Or you can call 1-877-CATS-TIX or 513.558.2287 for the customer service center.

3. Get the pre-game tailgate deal. Seriously. It's $35 all you can eat/drink. Not sure what else you could ask for.

4. Check in to UC's Bowl Central page for all the information you could possibly want.

Memphis as a whole is a fun town. Beale Street is one of the most alive downtown districts in the country. I used to work down near Memphis and went in there quite a bit. BB King has a great place if it's quality blues you are after. Isaac Hayes actually has a fantastic blues bar and restaurant called Music Food Passion.

I wouldn't call Beale St. the cleanest downtown in the world, but the establishments are first class and a great time.

Let's eat...

--- Butch Jones wants to see a ton of UC fans in Memphis. Really, he wants to see a ton more fans in general. He wasn't afraid to address the topic after the victory against UConn where just shy of 28k showed up. Bill Koch posted a blog on the topic, as well.

"We got to get that. There is no excuse. Part of elevating the football program is selling games out at Nippert. I'm excited about Whit Babcock because he has such great vision for what we want to do in Nippert. We want to make this the hottest ticket in the city. I think sometimes when you have something right here  you don't appreciate it as much. I think people need to realize and I said it, they need to embrace this football program and this football team because we embody what the city of Cincinnati is all about. Blue-collar, hard-working, suffer through adversity, family-oriented. We are a football program that the entire city of Cincinnati should say this is our team. I mean that sincerely."

People can use their money as they choose. Everyone has that right. Only know that the attendance of these games has a significant effect on the program. When kids are being recruited they want to know they can make it to the next level and play in front of packed houses. Bottom line. Bowls that are choosing whether or not to offer a bid to teams, look at the support of their fan base.

I'm not saying that means anybody should go out and buy season tickets for next year, only pointing out that whether or not you attend the game does matter.

--- Maybe the coolest moment for me on Saturday was talking with JK Schaffer after the win. He told a story about what made this day special and when it hit him he just played his last game at Nippert and relayed this one about his grandfather. It's really why you play sports in the first place.

Scroll forward to the 1-minute mark.



--- The other topic of discussion was asking these guys if there was any bittersweet feeling to the celebration knowing they wouldn't be representing the Big East in the BCS bowl game. The answer varied depending on who you asked. Obviously, the older guys who have been to the BCS already didn't feel that way whereas a younger player like Anthony McClung wouldn't deny he wanted his trip to the Orange Bowl.

Here were a few reactions:

Derek Wolfe:

"Not really, after last year, that sucked," he said. "That was terrible. I remember sitting with Zach and one of his buddies sitting there watching bowl games. I thought, I'll be damned if we don't go to a bowl game next year. I don't' care what bowl game it is. I just don't want to be sitting home in January.

"We were just miserable. We were so mad. Zach, he hates to lose and feel embarrassed. We made a pact and started as soon as that Pitt game ended, we started training harder and harder, our offseason was incredible." 

JK Schaffer:

"You look around our locker room, our team meeting room, you look in our manuals; It says win a championship. We've accomplished something not many people get to accomplish: three Big East championships the last four years. Yeah, playing in a BCS game would be great, it would be awesome, but at the same time I am happy. We won a championship, that was our goal. You can't be mad about it."

Anthony McClung:

"Yeah, but you can't control that. Of course, everybody watched the South Florida game. I personally was mad, but you know, it didn't work out. We still won the Big East, that is really the main thing."

--- Andrea Adelson on UC accepting the bid to the Liberty Bowl. 

--- Koch with a post about Vanderbilt and the Liberty Bowl. 

--- Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean on Vandy's reaction to a bowl bid. Playing the SEC, the Commies don't make many bowl games, so this is a huge deal for their program. Have to imagine they'll bring a ton of fans from Nashville to Memphis for the game. 

--- The complete bowl game schedule

--- How about Munchie Legaux and Anthony McClung hooking up eight times for 142 yards and two TDs? Thought it was interesting to find out after the game that the two are roommates. I was asking him how much they talk about taking this program to the next level and Legaux snapped off: "Every day."

As I wrote Saturday, on senior day where all five TDs were scored by players back next year, there's plenty to be excited about going forward.

--- I stood on my soapbox on this topic last week, but here is a breakdown from Greg Auman of the St. Pete Times on bias and self-promotion in the coaches poll. These polls contributed to WVU being selected over UC and U of L. Not right.

The idea for the three-way tiebreak Dan Hoard brought up when we discussed the topic was taking head-to-head going down the standings. In this case, it would have compiled the three team's records against Rutgers and Pitt. WVU would be 2-0, UC 1-1 and UL 1-1.

Yes, I realize this would have been the same result, but would've been more fair than interjecting national bias into deciding the conference.

--- Derek Wolfe was named the National Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards.

The guy concluded an incredible season with an incredible game. He had 10 tackles, 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks against UConn.....from the defensive tackle position. Those numbers are silly. 

He finishes the season tied for 6th nationally in TFL and ranks tied for third among linemen. 

Wolfe moved into fourth place in the school's all-time list for career sacks with 19.5. He passed Trent Cole, who you may have heard of.

Most of the predictions I've seen have Wolfe going in the late rounds of the draft. If that is the case, somebody will have a steal because the guy just concluded one of the most productive seasons in the country. 

--- Keeping the blog football-focused today, since we'll have all week to discuss the Crosstown Shootout, which is Saturday at 12:30 p.m., in case you forgot.

Much-needed win for the Cats on the road Friday at UGA. They still need to find ways to avoid nine-minute scoring droughts like what happened in the first half and seems to be happening nearly every game. That said, we may look back at that second half against the Dogs as a turning point for this offense.

When the trio of Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are powering the offense as a perimeter-oriented attack, UC has been at its best. Look back to the conclusion of last year as well. Yes, Yancy Gates turned his offense up, but it was mainly by scrapping for points off rebounds and hustle in the paint. Those three as the driving force makes the offense hum. That was the case again in the second half Friday.

As the kids like to say: I see you Dion Dixon.

--- Also, need to shoot a congratulations on a great season to UC volleyball who fell in a heartbreaker to FSU on Saturday, just a few points shy of the program's first trip to the Sweet 16. It came down the final set and the Noles pulled it out 15-13. Great year as Reed Sunahara continues to take this program to unprecedented levels of consistency.

Randomness...

--- I loved Friday Night Lights as much as anybody, but I don't get permanently inking catch phrases onto your fingers

--- Madonna, seriously? I guess Cher wasn't available. 

--- CBS continues to stockpile talent. They are doing it right. 

--- Butch Jones has competition for the "Best Dancing by a Head Coach" award. 

--- Considering UC's destination, this only seems appropriate.

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The seniors went out as champions with Saturday's 35-27 victory against Connecticut but needed a glimpse into the program's bright future to do so.

CINCINNATI - On a day when the Bearcats honored the past, they spent Saturday painting a bright picture of the future.

A collection of seniors who own property at the center of the program's rise to prominence exited with a third Big East title for their careers.

Yet, leaving Nippert Stadium for the final time until August 2012, the conversation flipped from the great memories delivered by the seniors to the potential of those following in their footsteps to create more.

This team defined by 21 seniors, in their coronation moment, saw all five touchdowns scored by players returning next season.

"We are still not anywhere where we need to be in the program," Butch Jones said. "But I think you can see the young talent we have in this football program. To me, it's about the seniors. They set the standard and expectation for many years to come for what's expected."

Indeed, three Big East titles in four seasons raises the bar higher than Clifton knew imaginable even five years ago. Jones was doused with his first Gatorade bath as a UC coach and jumped directly into the arms of his closest senior, John Hughes. As Hughes lifted Jones into the air, he literally did what the seniors have figuratively been doing all season.

Derek Wolfe reminded UConn he will be playing at the next level in 2012, racking up 10 tackles, five for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He's now third on UC's career sacks list with 19.5. The guy he passed (Trent Cole, 18.5) ranks as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.  

JK Schaffer contributed his standard double-digit tackles and big play. There is no stat line more befitting the LaSalle product's final game at Nippert Stadium than 11 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery.

When the game grew close and a third-down conversion was necessary to capture a championship, Isaiah Pead slithered his way past the sticks for one final home highlight. It concluded a long journey of leadership and adversity.

"To be totally opposite ends of where we were last year, I mean, that was our goal," Schaffer said. "That is what we talked about from the first meeting on. That is what we set out to do."

None of it would have happened if not for early development of the future.

If it weren't for the dreads slinging across his nameplate, recognizing Munchie Legaux as the same quarterback who made his first start two weeks ago would be difficult. The uncertainty which defined the rocky game at Rutgers was replaced by instinctual decisions and athletic reactions Saturday.

In a first half that would be all that mattered, he was 12 of 19 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He threw downfield with confidence. He rolled out and threw on-target strikes. He attacked the edges effectively with his legs. He even threw the ball away when plays broke down.

He looked like, well, the starting quarterback.

"I feel more comfortable," Legaux said. "I am not afraid to make mistakes. I am not perfect, I am going to make mistakes. As long as I trust in the scheme and my offensive lineman and receivers, I feel like I will do well. The more games I played, the more comfortable I felt."

The comfort level likely stemmed from throwing the ball around with his roommate, Anthony McClung, for four hours. Legaux and McClung connected eight times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. That combination was at the core of Saturday's victory and will be central to any captured next season.

"We spend a lot of time together," Legaux said. "He's right next door to me. That bond that we have together is going to be very strong. I know where he is going to be at on the field. I know what kind of balls he likes, what kind of routes he runs, his depth, we have a good feel for each other."

Legaux owns a good feel for freshman Alex Chisum, as well. Chisum replicated his leaping grab at South Florida with an acrobatic 21-yard touchdown reception for the home crowd. It placed an exclamation point on one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2011 season.

Then there was 13th-year junior Drew Frey jumping a UConn pass for a pick-6. Junior Walter Stewart accepted a handoff from Huskies quarterback Johnny McEntee in the end zone for the best single-play stat line in college football this season: 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown.

The full circle of the day remained that the seniors couldn't have accomplished their championship exit without the rise of the underclassmen. For a group who so religiously focused on moving the program along by leading the younger players, that may have been more gratifying than making the big plays themselves.

"We are a family," Schaffer said. "As a senior class we get so excited watching the younger guys play well and do well. We helped them become who they are."

They are Big East champions.

Derek Wolfe talked about sitting around last December watching bowl games with Zach Collaros and fuming that the Bearcats weren't a part of it. That day in that room, the first step toward this final goal began.

"We were just miserable," Wolfe said. "We were so mad. We made a pact and started as soon as that Pitt game ended, we started training harder and harder, our offseason was incredible."

In a room of their own across campus, Legaux and McClung describe similar conversations over the past month. They talk about the future. The future is now. As was demonstrated Saturday afternoon, the torch has passed.  

"We talk a lot about the offseason," McClung said. "Putting in a lot of work because we can't take any days off. With a lot of other players, we are the faces of the program now."

On this day, those faces were smiling big.

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Morgan State

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The Bearcats used a 13-0 first-half run and several second half three-pointers to escape an upset effort from Morgan State tonight at Fifth Third Arena. Sparked by Kayla Cook's three-point surge, coach Jamelle Elliott's squad forced the Lady Bears into bad decisions down the stretch. The Bearcats have won their first six games of the season for the first time since 2001-02. A dominant second half by Morgan State led to the upset scare, but the play of three individuals yielded the Lady Bears' comeback. Cook's three-point jumper played a huge role in the 64-60 win. Tiffany Turner's first half output and rebound totals spurred the Bearcats as well. Bjonee Reaves showed enough grit in the second half to lead her team down the stretch as well. Cook, Turner and Reaves receive game ball awards tonight for the efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Kayla Cook, 9 -- Think wisely before playing zone defense against these Bearcats. It may have prevented big games from Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves, but sophomore Kayla Cook was all nylon tonight. Cook scored a game-high 20 points, shooting 60 percent from three-point range. Especially in the second half, Cook had her shot going. It is safe to say that if Cook wasn't on fire from the field tonight, then the Bearcats would have dropped their first game of the season. She continues to benefit from solid point guard play, but Cook seems to be one of the streakiest shooters in the country and its paying dividends for UC.

"With them pressuring Day and Bjonee tonight, I feel like I have to step up and make a shot," Cook said. "If I miss my first shot I'm really down on myself, but if I make my first shot then I have a lot of confidence and tonight I had a lot of confidence in my shot."

"I can't say enough about Kayla's threes in the second half," Elliott said. "They really, really, really busted their zone wide open." 

2. Tiffany Turner, 9 -- Two words. Double. Double. Tiffany Turner pulled down 12 boards and added 17 points to help propel the Bearcats over the Lady Bears. Turner dominated the first half amounting 11 points by halftime. She demonstrates a great basketball IQ game-in-game-out and is very active on both ends of the floor. The underlying thing is -- she's just a better basketball player than most of her opponents. She has a solid mid-ranger jumper, touch around the rim, and a better than average driving ability. Even on a bum knee, Turner is one of the team's most consistent contributors, so when she's 100 percent, look out BIG EAST.

"I knew this was a big game for us going 6-0," Turner said. "I knew I had to do something to help my team out today. I tried to box out and I got boards today."

"Tiffany is a great shooter," Elliott said. "That played right into her hands when they played zone."

3. Bjonee Reaves, 7 -- This isn't going to be a typical recap of Reaves' game. She didn't score 20 points tonight and she wasn't lighting it up from downtown. Frankly, it doesn't matter. Reaves was the floor general tonight dishing out a game-high six assists and was one of the main reasons Cook was getting great looks from the perimeter. Reaves also finished the game with nine points and seven assists. She is the senior leader of this team and an important key to success for the Bearcats this season.

"I think it just starts with my teammates, they have a lot of confidence in me," Reaves said. "They look for me to lead them and whether I am scoring or not, I'm more than just a scorer for this team. Kayla and Tiffany had great games today and they stepped up very big. That's the difference between our team being like the past years. We are very diverse, I feel like anybody on any given night can have a twenty-point game. I am going to continue to lead whether I have 20 or whether I have five."

"When she's not making them, she's a good decoy," Elliott said. "Obviously Bjonee is smart, I like her on the floor. She makes free throws and she's a good ball handler, so even when she's not making shots she still does the things to help our team win." 

Know your opponent: Morgan State Bears

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As I was walking to class this morning three mini-vans impeded my progress as I came down the stairs by the Nipper Stadium concourse. Marked with Kentucky license plates these vans were holding the women of Morgan State, Cincinnati's non-conference opponent for tonight.

You may have already read about the Bears via yesterday's press release, but here is some more information regarding the team from Maryland.

Morgan State (2-2) is coming off a 54-52 road win at Bucknell. The Bears leading scorer, DeKeisha Martin, is a senior, who coach Donald Beasley counts on for consistent play. She is very efficient from the guard position and is one of the leaders on her team. Her game resembles that of Bjonee Reaves because she is similar in size and is especially good from three-point range.

Other key players for the Bears are Jamesia Smith, who is contributing nine points per game and Omara Parker, who is their leading re-bounder and third leading scorer.

Morgan State's other win this season came against local-rival, George Washington. Their two losses were to Maryland-Baltimore County and St. Bonaventure. Their losses were both by double-digits, while their wins were by single-digit margins. This is the Bears fifth straight road game.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.1.11

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Welcome to the USF Bulls Cincinnati Chapter Fan Club Blog.

South Florida hosts West Virginia tonight at 8 p.m. A win for the Bulls means UC plays for a berth in a BCS Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

Should the Mountaineers win in Tampa, the best UC can do is share the Big East title.

Regardless, the BCS berth won't be decided until the final seconds tick off at Nippert Stadiumand bring a wild, turbulent Big East regular season to a close.

Here's a nice view of what the Bulls --- losers of six of their last seven --- are playing for from Adam Adkins of the Tampa Tribune.

The Bulls need a win to become bowl eligible, so that will lead the charge.

In regards to their chances, I've got some good news and I've got some bad news. The good news is each of the last two trips to Tampa, WVU has been ranked and lost to Bulls.

The bad news: USF is 0-7 on Thursday night ESPN games, including an embarrassing 44-17 defeat at Pitt earlier this year. They are also 1-5 in league play at home under Skip Holtz.

BJ Daniels said his injured shoulder is feeling better, but he's still unsure if he will play.

Yet, the chaos theory still exists. If it can cause chaos, it will happen in the Big East. The two biggest upsets in the Big East this season involved road teams laying an egg. The first being WVU falling at Syracuse and the second Rutgers flop at UConn last week.

Toss in the emotion of Senior Night and a Bulls win doesn't seem like a complete stretch.

Let's eat...

--- Much of the talk this week
revolves around what the stakes will be for Saturday's game against UConn: BCS or other. From the angle of these seniors, however, that fate falls almost insignificant in the long view.

When they look back at the legacy and accomplishments of their careers, the work done to this point in the year will already have been gratifying enough.

For this group of 21, they experienced unprecedented success immediately upon arrival. Some of them were a part of it, others watched from the sidelines anticipating their turn. As last year's season concluded, it was unknown if they would have that shot. They could only hope to have the ability to play meaningful games late in the season and certainly learned there were no assurances they would ever play in a bowl game again.

Leading the way to 8-3 this year and challenging at the top of the Big East again, placed a special cherry on an already spectacular dessert. For some, because of the central leadership role they played in it, this season -- regardless of finish -- feels more special than the runs of 2008 and 2009.

"They were all saying we weren't going to be very good this year," JK Schaffer said. "You look at this team, we have overcome a lot of adversity. Coach Jones always talks about how much adversity we have gone through with the season that we had last year and Zach going down and all that stuff, that just makes it all the more special for us to be able to say we went through and won all these games and the adversity and fought through the battles."

When those 21 seniors walk onto the field to be honored prior to Saturday's game, they should probably raise their hands and scream as the roller-coaster that has been their UC career pulls into the station one final time.

"Came in while the coaster was at the top of the hill then kind of went down and now it is back up," Isaiah Pead said. "It's been fun. It's definitely an experience I wouldn't trade for the world, but it's definitely coming to a close and that's the sad part."

When you start to think about the last four years as a whole, it's hard to imagine living in the middle of it. From the whirlwind of Orange Bowl to the special undefeated 2009 regular season and then the craziest off-field scenarios in UC history with the departure of Brian Kelly and Sugar Bowl loss. Then one of the most trying, disappointing seasons in recent memory last year to overcoming all the skeptics this season only to see Zach Collaros go down just as they were on the brink of running away with another dream season.

Hard to imagine the emotional swings these 21 endured.

In Pead's eyes, those trials and tribulations weren't about his feelings or personal goals. The journey was about being a part of the system. There's ownership in leaving the situation better than where you found it.

"It's my senior class," he said. "It's us who came in as young guys, as freshman. The seniors and juniors of those years brought us across this path and showed us how it is supposed to be done. Now it is on us to lead the young guys and show them the path, laying the foundation, building the program. That's the big thing."


--- The final game at Nippert Stadium will be as special as anything else, especially considering UC will have been away from there for 75 days. Bill Koch had the story on that topic.

--- In case you haven't listened to it yet, Dan Hoard and I discussed if this is the best senior class to come through UC in this week's podcast. Here's the link.

--- I mentioned earlier in the
week the great game Connor Barwin enjoyed for the Texans on Sunday. The news got better yesterday as Barwin was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November.

I guess 6.5 sacks during a 3-0 run doesn't hurt.

--- UC heads out to Georgia today. I only wish I was headed out for a few nights in Athens, I'm sure the place won't be too crazy with UGA only in the SEC Championship game for the first time in seven years this weekend.

The Bulldogs are young and have struggled thus far. Xavier had them down by as many as 37. They lost by 24 to Cal and even fell at Colorado. They've lost three of their last four and rely heavily on freshman leading scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.6 ppg).

The Bearcats need this one. With the schedule the way it is, another non-conference loss without the benefit of many opportunities to make up for it could start to take a significant toll on UC's NCAA resume.

--- From the "I'm Happy,
But The Rest Of You Don't Want To Hear It" files, my OU Bobcats handed Marshall its first loss of the season last night. And they did so in Huntington, WV. As you all know, the Herd have a nice squad. This is a great win for OU, but certainly doesn't help with UC's perception. They could use Marshall turning into a mid-major terror this season.

--- The key for UC right now is
finding some consistency on offense.

They currently rank dead last in the Big East and 249th in the country in points scored. This without playing one Power 6 program and returning its top four scorers from last season.

Mick Cronin mentioned Cheikh Mbodj being a nervous wreck during his first few games, much like many of the freshman. They will learn to play loose with time, but I think that theory permeates the starters as well.

Kilpatrick, Dixon and Wright seem unsure when to take shots, when to penetrate and when to kick. Against Miami, Yancy Gates passed up a wide open 15-footer and traveled. The players appear to be thinking more than letting their ability and instincts take over.

Cronin alluded to the same theory Tuesday night.

"If you just worry about defense and rebounding, it's amazing how shots start to fall," he said. "You got to get lost in the game. You can't think about scoring."


Randomness...

--- New album by The Roots is streaming here.

--- I'm positive this makes me a loser, but I am loving these Karate Kid rehearsal videos that surfaced.

--- The Onion.

--- For senior week,
we have to mention DJ Woods who made so many big catches for UC over the years. This is one of the most memorable for me. It's the most violent hit I've ever seen a player take and hold onto the ball.