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January 2012 Archives

Dinner with the Bearcats 1.31.12

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By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

Although the last of the college football games have been played, awards have been presented and the BCS Champions have been crowned, there is still one day that has fans waiting with bated breath--Signing Day.

Tomorrow UC Head Coach Butch Jones will announce the 2012 signing class and leave Bearcat football enthusiasts debating over who the future stars of the gridiron will be.

To some, the list of commits will be no surprise. Those fans have been keeping a watchful eye on message boards and recruiting websites, maybe even probing an inside source for info on a local player or two.

For them, Signing Day will only be confirmation of their "insider knowledge."                                                     

Others, however, will be viewing the list of signees for the first time.

Regardless of how long you've been following a recruit or how much information you may think you know, the one question fans will consistently as is--how many stars is he rated?

Yet, one thing fans need to keep in mind is that those rating systems mean squat when it comes to projecting a player's future.

For example, consider these former Bearcats who received low ratings or no ratings at all coming out of high school and are currently playing in the NFL:

Punter Kevin Huber, class of 2004- Not rated by any scouting website. Led college football in net punting average in both 2007 and '08 and won the national punting title in 2007. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Offensive Lineman Jeff Linkenbach, class of 2005- Not rated by any scouting website. Signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 as an undrafted free agent. He is currently listed as their starting right tackle.

Linebacker Connor Barwin, class of 2005- Rated an average of two stars by most scouting websites. Drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He is currently listed as the starting weak side linebacker.

Safety Haruki Nakamura, class of 2005- Rated an average of two stars by most scouting websites. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He is currently listed as second on the depth chart at free safety behind Ed Reed.

While there may be some validity to what the scouts have to say, take their analyses with a grain of salt.

There may or may not be some diamonds in the rough. But if I were you, I'd wait to judge these players for myself.

The start of the 2012 season is only eight months away. 

-- I took the time to watch some videos of some former Bearcats. One of my favorite players to watch back in the day was Haruki Nakamura. Check out some of his highlights from 2007:


-- Alex Callos of bleacherreport.com with a breakdown of the Bearcats' recruiting needs here. According to Callos, this year's class has the potential to be the best since Butch Jones has been at Cincinnati.

-- Tomorrow's Signing Day press conference will be broadcast live online at 3 p.m. here: http://www.gobearcats.com/allaccess/

Don't forget to check back in with the blog for more news and notes after the press conference. 



Bearcats in action, Pead MVP

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Although the college football season is over, two of UC's football players were in competition this past weekend.

Derek Wolfe and Isaiah Pead participated for the North team in the 2012 Senior Bowl.

The North defeated the South 23-13 and Pead was named MVP after setting a Senior Bowl record with 98 yards on two punt returns in the first half. He was also the North's leading rusher with 31 yards on eight carries.

It was only the second time in the 62-year history of the Senior Bowl that a player from Cincinnati was named MVP. The last Bearcat to earn the honor was Jackie Lee in 1960. 


-- Isaiah Pead post-game interview with NFL Network's Rebecca Haarlow

Check out the full story of the Senior Bowl on Cincinnati.com 

-- @iPead tweeted after the game: "This week has been a blast and ending it with a win tops it off! Thanks for all the love and support! Always 

-- If you'll recall Pead was also the MVP of the Liberty Bowl and the 2011 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year. Here are some highlights from Pead's BIG year: 

Taking care of things while Paul is away

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Dear Bearcat fans

I just want to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Chris Gundrum and I'll be taking care of the blog while Paul is up in Indy this week. I hope to take the knowledge I've gained under his tutelage and provide you with top notch coverage of the Bearcats. At the very least I'll try post something entertaining so you won't have to read the same thing over and over again. You can also follow me on Twitter @ChrisGundrum.

Sincerely-

Chris

Turning over the keys

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Just as a little editorial note for all the bloggies out there. My other job with CBSsports.com has me in Indianapolis all week with the Super Bowl. I know, it's a real tough assignment. Going to be a real tough week of work.

Anyway, this leaves me away from the blog for the week. But have no fear! I have tossed the keys to the more than capable Chris Gundrum, who you've seen writing a number of different pieces here on the site.

He'll hold your hand through Signing Day and watch over all the fair-weather basketball fans standing on the ledge.

No worries, I'll be back next week once. Although, after a week away, some of you might wish I'd go back to Indianapolis, but too bad. You're stuck with me.

Shaquille Thomas is Working and Waiting

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UC freshman Shaquille Thomas is from a basketball family.  He is the nephew of former NBA first-round draft pick Tim Thomas and the brother of current WNBA All-Star Essence Carson. 

But what about that first name?  Is he named for Shaquille O'Neal?

"No I'm not," Thomas told me with a grin.  "And when you watch my game, you won't think so."

2012-01-26_16-10-24_375 (313x550).jpg

Unfortunately, Cincinnati fans will have to wait until next season to see Thomas in action.  The 6'7" wing player was one of four basketball recruits from NIA Prep in Newark, New Jersey that was ruled ineligible to play this year by the NCAA.    

"It was the school - it was never me," said Thomas.  "I always had decent grades and a decent SAT score, but it was the school that I went to."

The NCAA has tried to crack-down on so-called diploma mills in recent years, but NIA Prep has had 28 athletes certified to play at Division I schools since 2006.

"When the NCAA, for whatever reason, feels that it can't certify grades from certain prep schools, they pull the plug on those schools," said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  "But there's no way that Shaquille and his grandmother could have known that because the year before, his prep school was certified.  He had no opportunity to move to another school, which is why the NCAA granted him a waiver to attend the University of Cincinnati." 

The waiver allows Thomas to be on scholarship and attend classes this year, and he'll have four years of eligibility remaining.

"Shaq did everything he could, Cincinnati did everything that it could do, and the NCAA cooperated with us as much as it could possibly cooperate," said Coach Cronin.  "You hear people say, 'It hurt our team.'  Well, he's a real person and he was a nervous wreck.  You're talking about a young kid with an uncle that played in the NBA for 15 years and a sister that plays in the WNBA - basketball is a major part of his life.  He and his grandmother were so happy when we found out that he could at least come to Cincinnati."

Thomas was eligible to begin practicing with the team in mid-December following the fall semester.

"I think I'm doing pretty well," said Thomas.  "I try to help the guys get prepared.  I want to help the team in every aspect of the game and I just try to go hard in practice.  That helps the team and it helps me get better too."

"I think he's doing a great job," said sophomore Sean Kilpatrick of his roommate.  "It hurt him when he couldn't practice.  It took basketball out of his life for a couple of months and when he came back, you saw a brightness on his face."

Kilpatrick voluntarily redshirted at UC two years ago and has helped Thomas deal with the frustration of not being able to play as a freshman.

"He's dealing with it well," said Kilpatrick.  "He doesn't always look at it as a negative.  I tell him, 'You can't look at it as a bad thing.  Coach is going through this with you.'  I think he'll be alright."

"(Sean) is definitely helping me," said Thomas.  "He tells me to keep my head up and next year will be here before I know it." 

Thomas averaged 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists at NIA Prep last year, and will give the Bearcats size on the perimeter.  

"He's a big guard," said Coach Cronin.  "You look at Syracuse and they have big guards like Kris Joseph on the wing.  6'7" guys that are catching alley-oop dunks or driving to the basket and dunking the ball over people.  Shaq can really handle the ball and beat his man off the dribble.  As he becomes a better perimeter shooter, he'll become really tough to defend.  He has very quick feet and he's an excellent passer.  Right now offensively, he's a great athlete who can handle the ball and pass and he'll fit great in our offense."

"He's going to be special," said Kilpatrick.  "He has great athletic ability and he has heart that a lot of people don't have.  He can break-down a defender."

Saturday night's game at Rutgers would have been a homecoming for Thomas who hails from Paterson, NJ.

"Rutgers guards Myles Mack and Eli Carter are from my hometown, so I really wish I was playing," said Thomas.  "They beat UConn and Florida, so I'm really proud of those guys."

Shaquille will get the chance to compete against the Rutgers duo next year, which was one of the reasons why he chose Cincinnati.

"It was definitely a good fit for me," said Thomas.  "You get to get away from home, but you still get to play against all of your friends in the Big East.  Every team that we've played again, I probably know two or three people on the team.  Cincinnati is a great up-and-coming program.  I love the city, the coaching staff, and everything about the Bearcats." 

**********

The Mick Cronin radio show moves from Thursday to Monday next week.  Come out and join us to talk Bearcat basketball and feast on the world's best ribs from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it, I hope you'll tune in on 700 WLW.

 

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.

Cincinnati's best quarterback passes

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For one season, in 1994, I worked with Greg Cook on the Bearcat football radio broadcasts along with Paul Keels.

It was my first of 14 seasons doing a job I grew to cherish and it was Greg Cook's last.

Short-lived. Highs and lows.

Just like the late quarterback's life.  The legendary No. 12 sadly left us on Jan. 26 at age 65.

To say I remember Greg Cook's entire career would be a lie because I was only eight-years-old when he was named American Football League rookie of the year for the Bengals in 1969. I do remember the Bengals beating the two best AFL teams that year, the Chiefs with Len Dawson and the Raiders with Daryle Lamonica (coached by John Madden--yeah, the video game guy).

Cook's college career at UC is folklore to a lot of us, but his records at the time were incredible. He threw for 3,272 yards and 25 touchdowns in 1968, including 35-56 for 554 against Ohio University.  Those numbers weren't approached until Gino Guidugli and Ben Mauk hit the scene with spread offenses.

Greg Cook was the prototype quarterback before the term was even used.  He stood 6-5 and weighed at least 220, had huge hands and could fling a football a country mile.  NFL Hall of Famer Paul Brown chose him first in the 1969 draft.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury in his first year cost him his career.  He finished the year but was never the same after leading the Bengals to a 3-0 mark with the win over the Chiefs (who would go onto win the Super Bowl).

With today's technology, Cook would've been back better than ever.  In 1969, "sports medicine" was an icepack.

Because of that, Cook's career ended in the mid-70s after numerous comeback attempts. Because of that, then-Bengals quarterback coach Bill Walsh developed Virgil Carter and then Ken Anderson, who also should be in the Hall of Fame.

The one quote I'll always remember comes from my prior life in radio when I was producing Cris Collinsworth's "Sportstalk" shows.  I prided myself in getting good guests and tracking down people.  A random call from Chillicothe (Cook's hometown) got me in contact with Greg in the early 90s and I arranged for him to come to the studio to sit-in with Cris.

I also made a call to Bill Walsh, who had left the 49ers after taking two Super Bowls over the team that wouldn't promote him (passed over for "Tiger" Johnson).  Walsh was on NBC with Cris at the time and I got him on in the segment before Cook's appearance.

The late Hall of Fame coach said it to me prior to going on-air and said it on-air to Cris:
"He would've been the best ever," Walsh said. "Better than Montana, better than Young."
Cook.jpg
(Thanks to www.cincinnati.com)

I've remembered that quote for the last 20 years or so.  Joe Montana and Steve Young were MVPs and are Hall of Famers.  Ken Anderson should be.  Walsh coached them all, yet saved those accolades for a guy that basically had one season in the AFL before the merger of the two leagues.

It's evidence enough for me.

Because of that, and remembering being a kid and seeing "Greg Cook No. 12"  everywhere in 1969, I asked Cook to do me a favor at our first game in Bloomington, Indiana against the Hoosiers.

In all of my years doing the games, I lived for being on the field before a game soaking it all in and getting information from coaches and players.  I also liked picking up a football and displaying what a woeful passer I was (if you don't know, a college football is bigger than you think).

Despite my mediocrity, I wanted Cook to do one thing.

Throw me a pass.

I wanted to tell my kids I caught a pass from Greg Cook.  He did and I did and I treasure that reception to this day.

The rest of the year was filled with stories and laughs and observations that honestly shouldn't be shared in this format.  Greg Cook lived a colorful life.  At one time, he was Cincinnati's "Joe Namath", both in talent and reputation.

Like Joe, Greg had his awkward moments and I know he was dealt a bad hand in life (or a bad shoulder).  He had the gift of gab and looks and charm, but  what made him stand out, also would harm him.

In my opinion, Greg was the typical talented athlete who rarely heard the word, "no" and wasn't good at knowing "when to say when".  I "cast no stone" on him, because like many my age, I've done my share of growing up also.  I'm just reporting what I knew and what I saw out of respect.

On the air, he could be brilliant or he could go off on a tangent.  He was artsy and intelligent and honestly a lot different than many athletes.  He painted, he cooked, he actually brought us a homemade cheesecake the night we had him on the show.

In a way, he was an athletic eccentric.  On the road, he was fun.  I honestly thought he was going to talk a waitress in Madison, Wisconsin once to come to Cincinnati--the next day! (He had even ordered an extra potato pancake from her to sweeten the pot.)

Another game was at East Carolina and the UC charter plane left from a different spot at Greater Cincinnati airport than normal.  As we sat on the runway, pre-cellphone days, nobody knew where Greg was (which really wasn't unusual).

Finally, then-AD Gerald O'Dell gave the nod and the pilot took off for Greenville, North Carolina.  The next day it was an early afternoon kick-off, so we were at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium early as the pulled pork pregame scent was floating through the air and East Carolina's seemingly eight-hour pregame show was blaring across the stadium.

No one had yet heard from Greg Cook and the plan was to have a former assistant coach who was in administration at the time, Bruce Ivory, do color with Paul Keels with me on the sideline.  As we toted our gear to the highest point of the stadium, the visitor's radio booth, Keels and I looked to midfield.

There he was crossing the 50.

Numerous hours and several coffees later, Greg Cook had driven through the night and found East Carolina.  Again, this is pre-GPS or Smartphone.  As the story goes, the ex-quarterback was lost a few times but scrambled for positive yardage. 

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he had stopped somewhere for a potato pancake.

At the end of that season, because of a number of reasons, Cook was replaced by Jim Kelly, who had previously done games with Keels.  I went on to do 13 more seasons with Jim and he's blessed (and so are you) to have him still onboard for Bearcat games.

Greg Cook, then "morphed" out of sight.  We often joked that he just appeared like the guys in the "Star Trek" TV series out of nowhere.

Greg would be "underground" for awhile, then you'd see him at Sunlite Pool smooth-talking the "soccer Moms".  Or, he'd resurface at a Bengal function.

Regardless of his situation, he always had a million-dollar smile and a kind word. I can't speak for his behavior beyond what I witnessed.  There was part of him that was charismatic, then another part that most of us can't diagnose.

All I know is given today's offenses and medicine, Greg Cook would be enshrined in Canton.

Don't believe me, just read up on Bill Walsh.


Bearcats Breakfast 1.27.12

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Much of the conversation at yesterday's media availability revolved around the health of Sean Kilpatrick and, really, the health meters of the entire team right now.

Kilpatrick admitted he's playing through pain from a groin injury and hip pointer. He said his lateral movement is the biggest aspect of his game affected by the injury. That said, he's not about to be taking any time off.

"I'm playing," he said assertively. "You get injured in the offseason."

They're currently enjoying a stretch of one game against Rutgers in 13 days, a nice reprieve from three games in six days against UConn, WVU and Syracuse.

Mick Cronin actually alluded to the schedule a bit yesterday.

"Anybody in basketball that I respect said the same thing, we ran out of gas against Syracuse," Cronin said. "I was unhappy and that's an excuse in my world. My friends in the pros say the schedule can get you beat at times. At Connecticut, at West Virginia probably reared its head Monday night against Syracuse -- and Syracuse reared their head, they have great players."


The great news being with the most difficult portion of the schedule in the rearview mirror, UC should be able to get to the business of winning games they're supposed to, which they've done well this season outside of one Saturday afternoon against St. John's.

For what it's worth (and likely very little considering the wild results around this conference on a daily basis) the KenPom genius computer has UC favored to win seven of the next eight games.

In fact, four of the next five games come against teams KenPom ranks 100 or higher.

@Rutgers (101)
DePaul (164)
@St. John's (152)
@Marquette (19)
Providence (124)

For comparison, four of the last five opponents were ranked 35 or lower -- the Cats came out of that stretch 3-2.

Considering UC will play so many games against teams they are favored to beat, the coach's platform of keeping the correct mental state makes sense. Avoid laying an egg -- like WVU did at St. John's on Wednesday -- and they should be in contention to win every game.

"You get to this point in the year you have to make sure you are ready to play at gametime," Cronin said. "This time of year I just try to keep my team in the right mental state where we are happy to be playing. It's almost like the dog days of baseball in July. Too early to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now but it's definitely late enough where it's not new and fun anymore."


Bill Koch wrote more on this topic in today's Enquirer.

Let's eat...

--- Rutgers will be playing with a point to prove Saturday night at the RAC, always a dangerous combination.

They suffered a brutal 69-64 loss to DePaul on Wednesday. Mike Rice claimed his team blinked then curled up and went away as it squandered a double-digit second-half lead at home. The Blue Demons may be better, but they are still DePaul.

"We have to understand that the worst thing that happened for us was they lost," Cronin said. "now they are going to go back and refocus and sharpen up."

Of course, win or lose in the game previous, the Bearcats seeing a full effort from their opponents will be an adjustment they'll need to get used to.

For the team who rarely seems to get the respect they deserve -- or at least Cronin has openly discussed as much over the last year or so -- that respect is being shown by opponents and crowds alike.

They have run into some hostile atmospheres.

"Coach Boeheim called it one of his biggest bounceback wins, guy's been coaching 30 years," Cronin said. "We've gained the respect, for whatever reason, as a team. So teams are ready to play against us. We have to understand that. You have a sellout crowd on Saturday night at Rutgers, you have to understand that it's like Connecticut going in there. That's a big game for them."

--- It may be a little early to be looking
at Bracketology, but why not.

In the latest Joe Lunardi Bracketology out this week, UC was in as a 10 seed and not even among the last four in. Good news.

From the seat they currently sit in today, the view and perspective looks similar to those surrounding Cronin and the Bearcats.

"I don't think there is any question we've got to win games," Cronin said. "I could probably say that about everybody right now in our league other than Syracuse."

Joey Brackets had the Big East getting eight teams in. While Cronin admitted the conference won't be sending 11 teams into the Dance again this year, another question remains looking across the big picture.

"But then you look around the country and say, 'well, who is going to get in? Seriously, look around, there is so much parity," he said. "It's going to be a rough year to be on that committee is my prediction going forward."

Could the year of the mid-major be upon us?

--- I'm not sure where else in the Big East you could find a ticket deal like UC is breaking out for TODAY ONLY, but it's pretty remarkable.

They are offering the four-ticket Big East package for just $59. That includes parking. There are other deals as well.

My job isn't to push tickets on this is an absurd offer.

--- If you missed Bearcats
Sports Weekly with Mick Cronin and Tommy G last night, here's the link.

--- Scott at Bearcats Blog has been
on a perimeter defense kick all week. He touched the legal limit for screen grab: blog post ratio on Wednesday and went into the statistical abyss yesterday. Being familiar with the statistical abyss, I hope he remembered to occasionally come up for air.

One observation from his research was that eight of the last nine guards went above their season average for points. So, yes, the perimeter defense hasn't been shutting anybody down lately. However, it's also worth noting that of those nine, only four were over their average by more than five points (Wayns, Cheek, Napier, Browne). Plus, there have been a total of 15 guards with decent point averages UC faced in Big East play. Those are the only four to score more than five points over their average.

Napier only had 17 points with a minute and change remaining and Browne, well, that lofted 3-pointer still stings.

That doesn't mean the stats are wrong and UC's perimeter defense deserves accolades, not in the least, however, it should be noted that while it hasn't been spectacular, this hasn't been a consistent problem.

--- The lack of turnovers created the last two games on the other hand...

Both West Virginia and Syracuse only turned the ball over eight times against the UC defense.

Entering those games, the Bearcats were forcing an average of 16 turnovers a game in Big East play and forced every team into double-digit turnovers.

Indeed, that stat -- along with the deflection stat -- drives this team. Both have been significantly down the last two games.

"Coach Cronin, he was saying we don't play defense no more," Yancy Gates said. "We have to get our edge back on defense."


For the record, Rugers comes into the game 12th in the Big East in turnover percentage on offense. This could be a team ripe for the picking. (Get it...)

--- Gary Parrish of CBSsports.com ranked the 2000 UC Bearcats as one of the top 16 teams of all-time.

What if......no, we're not going there on a happy Friday.

--- Maybe for the first time ever I'll utter this sentence: I agree with Jeff Goodman. The rise of Notre Dame this year is one of the most shocking developments of this season.

--- On the football front, Joe Reedy wrote this story on Derek Wolfe at the Senior Bowl. Reeds is usually pretty accurate with his draft round predictions, but I've heard Wolfe going higher than the fifth-sixth round number he put out there.

--- A new helmet prototype showed up. Feeling another Ring of Red game with these guys.

--- Sad news this morning in hearing that former UC/Bengals quarterback Greg Cook has passed away, according to WCPO.

Cook was a special player and in fact held a number of Bengals rookie passing records until Andy Dalton snapped them this season.

Randomness...

--- Here's a link for all the ladies that are fans of the Breakfast. Oh, wait, I don't have any female readers? Right. Well, here's a preview of Tim Riggins' new movie anyway.

--- A rap song about Parks and Rec's Ron Swanson. Yes, please.

--- The return of Ferris Bueller, for a commercial at least.

--- I would ask what the heck is wrong with Kevin Garnett, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to know.

--- Feeling like a weird,
creepy weekend is upon us for some reason. No real football, trip to New Jersey, just not the norm. That's why this odd, creepy video seems apropos.

 


Keeping the Jones'

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The key to continued UC football success in the Big East is keeping up with the Jones'.

In particular, Butch, Barb and the boys.

New AD Whit Babcock recognized this right away and sweetened the Bearcat pot a bit to keep the Tri-State's most recognizable buzz cut in town.  This was all wonderfully documented by Bearcat Beatnik Paul Dehner Jr. in recent days.

Sadly, one of those necessary practices of the work world kept me from attending the festivities the other day...a meeting.

Not that they've lost sleep from not hearing from me, but my congratulations go to Butch and Whit (plus I just like writing "Butch and Whit" because I feel like I'm referring to characters from the movie, "Tombstone").

The best thing coach Jones and director Babcock have recognized is that it's better to be a "Mount Rushmore" candidate in Cincinnati than an also-ran for a few more bucks in an allegedly "bigger" market.

When you factor in the cost of living here, the amenities here and the accessibility here, Cincinnati's a decent destination.

If you dream of ivory towers and golden domes, what looks like a "golden ticket" can result in a tarnished crown and reputation.

Unfortunately, in the unstable world of college athletics, where a contract is enforceable on athletes, but not so much on coaches, there is very little loyalty and sincerity.

In a profession where one giant win and a few games over .500 can generate thousands of dollars and promotions, but a slight slide downward can have you putting the house up for sale, it's hard to find someone genuine.

I find Butch Jones to be genuine.

Others? Not so much.

Rich Rodriguez may be offensively brilliant.  However, he shopped himself to Alabama and eventually left his alma mater West Virginia for Michigan.

Ask anyone from Ann Arbor, what they think of Rich Rod.  On the other hand, he could've ruled Morgantown alongside Huggs for ages.

Syracuse had numerous winning years under Paul Pasqualoni. Then, a new AD decided the west coast offense would fly on the east coast and ditched "Coach P" for some pro retread named Greg Robinson.  Orange football and it's history of No. 44 running backs ran into some dark days until they reversed field and hired Doug Marrone.

Randy Edsall built Connecticut into a team that eventually made a BCS bowl. Shortly afterward, he bolts for Maryland and the ugliest uniforms ever to be shipped from a foreign country to the U.S. We'll see how that flies.

At South Florida, Jim Leavitt had the Bulls in bowl games on a regular basis.  The guy was a loon, but numbers don't lie.  I think Skip Holtz is a decent guy, but out of 30-plus bowl games, the Bulls sat home this year with talent most coaches would kill for.

At Pitt, they fired the "Wannstache", Dave Wannstedt (or reassigned to cover up the facts). The best his replacement Todd Graham could do was take them back to Birmingham (which is just a smaller, uglier, southern Pittsburgh). To make things worse, Graham left the Panthers after a brief "prom date" for the Sun Devils of Arizona State.

But hold on, Graham wasn't even the top pick! After failing to beat UC at Miami University, Mike Haywood was hired at Pitt, only to "stiff" his entire staff with a domestic violence charge that put  them all on the beach.

Now, we have Greg Schiano at Rutgers.  Decent coach and decent program. They think so much of themselves in Florida that they have Rutgers billboards in Miami.

Schiano thinks so much of himself in Florida that he's bolted what he's built in Piscataway for Tampa Bay and the NFL Bucs.  Great (for UC and others) for him to do this days before signing day.

You can ask Butch Jones about Tampa Bay, he interned there.  He knows the Buccaneers history of head coaches.

Outside of  Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, it's not that great.   They are the only two with winning records.

I lived there too.  Former owner Hugh Culverhouse called Ray Perkins "his Vince Lombardi". Not quite.

John McKay (who won at USC), Leeman Bennett, Perkins, Richard Williamson, Sam Wyche (who I like) and Raheem Morris couldn't win there.

It's tough to win there.  Essentially, Schiano is leaving an area where he had the power of Tony Soprano for a transient,semi-retired community where some folks choose waverunners on Sunday over football.

The minority of the population in Tampa Bay is actually from there.  The majority of Jersey is from Jersey.  It's as simple as that.

Essentially in coaching, the advice I'd give is, "Be careful what you wish for." The grass isn't always greener, nor is the money.

The best thing UC and Butch Jones have done is to acknowledge that in a proactive manner. . 

Those of you that are from here and have lived somewhere else for a while, know of which I speak.   "Represent the C" could be "Paradise by the C"....

Bearcats Breakfast 1.26.12

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Not much on basketball in the Breakfast today with a media availability coming this afternoon with Mick and players. I'll have more from that.

As always, follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for updates on any news or notes that would come out of the afternoon press conference.

Let's eat....

--- Want to start with the Senior Bowl as practices continue this week. Isaiah Pead has been receiving some love from a few media outlets and teams alike.

The predictable rumors are swirling of the Bengals interest in the UC running back.

Apparently Bengals RBs coach Jim Anderson spent much of the postgame practice this week talking with Pead. I'm still unsure how he fits into the Bengals backfield with Bernard Scott being a similar back, but I selfishly would be elated to be able to keep covering Isaiah the next few years.

Joe Reedy wrote a story about how his versatility is shining through and Senior Bowl North Team coach Leslie Frazier has liked what he's seen out of Isaiah returning punts as well.

--- The Kansas City Chiefs media
folks pulled Pead aside for this video piece. Standard Pead playing well to the camera.

--- Pead says he'll have a bunch of family around for the game and hopes to play well. Obviously a great game wouldn't hurt his stock, but it's far from the ultimate measuring stick.

Remember, Mardy Gilyard was MVP in 2009 after racking up 160 yards, but on draft day he slid to the first pick of the fourth round.

--- Ran into JK Schaffer at the
basketball game this week and he said his experience in the AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Saturday wasn't fantastic. Not because he didn't play well necessarily, but because he got dinged up early in the game and had to come out.

JK's exposure opportunities are limited right now, so missing that much of an all-star game wasn't a great break. He weighed in at 6-3 1/2, 227 pounds, by NFL standards that will be a little undersized. For example, the smallest linebacker on the Bengals roster is Keith Rivers at 6-2, 235.

Still, putting on a few pounds between now and then as well as a nice pro day at UC should do the trick to put him on the radar.

Still believe Schaffer will get his shot in camp next year, whether he's drafted late or picked up as an undrafted free agent. Then he'll have an opportunity to do what he does best and that's make plays. By the way, I'm not just saying this because this is the UC blog, I truly believe Schaffer will be on a 53-man roster next season barring injury.

His consistency, intelligence and inherent ability to find the football are too valued by NFL teams for it not to pay off. 

--- Schaffer made Andrea Adelson's all-interview team. 

--- Speaking of all-interview teams, Sports Illustrated Draft analyst Tony Pauline gave a glowing review of Derek Wolfe from Senior Bowl practice.

"Derek Wolfe/DT/Cincinnati: Wolfe is not flashy nor a defender that makes a lot of plays on the ball.  What he does so well is hold the point of attack and control blockers.  This allows his teammates to get to the action and make the play.  On more than one occasion Wolfe was double teamed by blockers yet did not give up an inch of room.  He's going to make some defensive coordinator happy at the next level."

--- The question isn't who,
but how many Bearcats end up in Philadelphia, right?

--- Might as well stick with the football theme as Phil Steele already took a look at the total returning starters in the Big East. UC ended up on the bottom of the list. It's no secret there will be a number of young faces playing expanded roles next year.

He has UC with four returning starters on offense, six on defense and two on special teams. Those calculations rank 96th out of 120 nationally.

Remarkably, UC will be the only team in the conference not returning their quarterback. And even UC will return a QB that started three games and went 2-1. Can't remember seeing that kind of signal-caller retention in any league I've covered before.

Steele's offense calculation still seems a little low to me. I'd count Travis Kelce, Eric Lefeld, Sean Hooey, Austen Bujnoch, Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum for six. Regardless, UC will be one of the youngest teams in the conference. Though, there's plenty to like among the young talent.

--- Sidenote: WVU
(assuming they are in the league) will be the undeniable preseason favorite. (Secondary sidenote: This is not different than every year)

--- In case you missed my story yesterday about Butch Jones incredibly being one of the most tenured coaches in the Big East, well, signs are pointing to only Doug Marrone of Syracuse (entering his fourth season) being in the conference longer.

Greg Schiano to the Tampa Bay Bucs? I'll only say one word and move on before I get myself in trouble. Wow.

--- One bit of basketball.
What in the name of Derrick Coleman is going on in the Big East conference right now?

Up is down, down is up, DePaul winning is not a surprise, Pitt winning is, Rutgers losing is a surprise, everyone is scared of Notre Dame.

No team (not named Syracuse) should be favored by more than five points on any given night. Period.

--- Randomness...

--- Fact of the case: If you let your phone ringtone go off in the middle of a Slovakian violinist concert, he will call you out musically.

--- In case you haven't heard it enough from me, Stats 101 reminds you that you need to stop caring about rebounding margin. It's more archaic and pointless than a Richard Marx 8-track tape.

--- Apparently, there is
going to be a Hangover 3. As much as I loved the first one, I will be fine never watching the third.

--- I don't care how far I have to drive, I'll go as far as necessary to see Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle on tour together.

--- Blake Griffin doing what Blake Griffin does, but, to quote White Men Can't Jump: And a hook shot!

--- Big Lead posted this
video of weightless cats. I can't stop giggling and I don't know why.

--- In honor of the Greg Schiano
to the Bucs reports, I think this video seems appropriate.





Stability tough to find in college football

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In an world where 41 percent of college football teams changed coaches the last two years, Whit Babcock and Butch Jones took a step toward securing stability in an inherently unstable environment.

CINCINNATI -- Approached with the concept of being one of the most tenured football coaches in the Big East, Butch Jones could only call the thought "comical."

After all, only two seasons ago, he arrived at the University of Cincinnati following in the footsteps of the most successful coaches in school history. Seems like just yesterday. Only, in the constantly changing landscape of college football, yesterday might as well be yesteryear.

Since Brian Kelly exited the football banquet in December of 2009, six of the eight programs in the Big East experienced coaching changes. Skip Holtz, Charlie Strong and Jones entered that year. Last season, Paul Pasqualoni took over at Connecticut and Dana Holgorson assumed the top job in West Virginia. Shoot, Pitt employed four different coaches since Jones arrived.


Only Greg Schiano at Rutgers and Doug Marrone at Syracuse -- by one year -- own more head coaching experience in this conference than the 2011 Big East Coach of the Year.

While the Big East might be the face of transient coaches, it reflects a deeper trend of instant gratification across the sport.

Take into consideration of 120 FBS schools, 49 experienced at least one coaching change the last two years.

"The great programs always have stability behind them," Jones said.

On Tuesday, Jones sat in the Bob Goin Team Room and signed on for stability. Like the contracts of Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly before them, those signatures on his three-year extension that would keep him in Clifton through 2017 don't guarantee much more than less ink in the pen.

Stability takes off quicker than Isaiah Pead when living at the epicenter of prime poaching territory.

Athletic Director Whit Babcock doesn't know that he owns an answer for how to create coaching stability in an inherently unstable environment. Not many do. But he hopes, not only the contract extension, but the proactive nature with which he sought answers to all the concerns regarding the football program, will strengthen the tether attaching Jones to UC.

"The history with the money that's involved in it and football and the immediate pressure to win, I don't know that all of those are good things necessarily, but it is the nature of the business," Babcock said. "I also think you have to compete on more than just money. I think money is important but if that is the sole driving factor -- it better be built on relationships and opportunity to win and all those other things."

Jones and Babcock both nodded as their press conference turned to topics of atmosphere and family driving the desire to keep this connection together. Words about building foundation and something special may be only words, but they represent the desire to make up for any monetary discrepancies with intangibles.

"We got to work across the board, facility-wise, staff-wise, salary-wise, stadium-wise, amenity-wise, to keep moving these things forward," Babcock said.

Bearcats fans need not be reminded what happened the last two times their coaches completed a third season as Jones will do in the fall. Michigan State and Notre Dame know. Nobody can see the future and for every program in the country not named Alabama and LSU, the crystal ball is murky.

The entire system needs an overall. Bolting and buyouts dominate the conversation while interim coaches and unfulfilled promises to student-athletes own the headlines. Loyalty seems to come around less often than franchise quarterbacks.

Jones would like to see that change. Not speaking with schools showing interest and signing the extension with UC represent his latest step toward being part of the change.

"As a coach it takes time to build football programs, too," Jones said. "We have a great industry. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to coach college football. I also think that both sides need to come to an agreement from longevity on both sides with coaches being able to stay at places to really build their infrastructure and really put their personalities into a football program, also, them being able to stay there. But on the other side, also the administration being able to stay with it in an instant gratification society where people want things right now. Sometimes it takes time to build and if you take shortcuts and try to take the easiest way, they don't pan out over the long period of time."

Neither Babcock nor Jones took a shortcut with this deal.

While building undeniable stability and loyalty in this era of college football is near impossible, both sides put in writing on Tuesday their belief UC is trending in that direction.

Butch Jones Is Signed, Sealed, and Delivering

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Butch Jones and Whit Babcock have been friends since 2006 when they worked together for nearly two years at West Virginia University.  But their relationship changed three months ago when Babcock was hired as UC's Athletic Director and became the head football coach's boss.

"We laugh about that," said Babcock.  "We acknowledge that up front - there are certain things that we're friends on, and then there are other days where I have to tell him something that he doesn't want to hear and vice versa.   I guess that's why I wear a tie every day - so that he knows that I'm the boss."

"Sometimes I have to tell him to loosen that tie up," said Jones with a laugh.  "But it isn't difficult because we have mutual respect for each other.  We're able to separate our personal relationship and our business relationship."

Their relationship helped produce the three year contract extension (thru 2017) that Jones signed on Tuesday.  The new pact will pay the 2011 Big East Conference Coach of the Year more than 10 million dollars - before incentive bonuses - if he stays at Cincinnati for the next six seasons.    

"Whit was extremely proactive right from the very beginning and that meant more to me than anything else in the contract," said Jones.  "The way our administration was proactive at a very early stage in our season, showed me that they really believe in the foundation that we're building, and our philosophy for what we want in our football family."

"If I played a small role - great - but I really think it comes down to the character of our coach," said Babcock.  "Butch is grateful for the opportunity here and as hard as he sold me on the University of Cincinnati when the A.D. job was open, I know that he cares about it and loves it.  He wants to be a part of building this thing and finishing what he started."

Jones has won three league championships in his five years as a college head coach, including a share of the Big East title this season.  Next week, he's expected to sign the most highly-touted recruiting class in school history.  Scout.com currently has Cincinnati's projected class ranked #23 in the country and #1 in the Big East.

"He's even better than I thought and I knew he was good," said Babcock.  "People take for granted that every team plays hard every week and they don't.  I'm just really impressed with how hard our team plays for him.  That comes from the leader.  It's an overused term, but they would try to run through a wall for him."

"I'm definitely excited for the university and the program," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "He's done a great job of installing what he wants in a program which is family and toughness.  I think we've come a long way in doing what he wants and it's only going to get better.  I've read that they have a great recruiting class coming in and last year's class was great, so it's great that Coach Jones decided to stick around."

"I know that it doesn't really affect me because I'm a senior, but he's taking this program in a good direction and I want the best for the team," said linebacker JK Schaffer.  "I am absolutely happy that he is signing a contract extension.  I see this program over the next few years climbing even higher than it has over the last four years."

"I thought it was time that somebody stepped up and said, 'Hey, we're committed to being here.'" said Coach Jones.  "I'm excited about what we're doing in this football program.  We have a lot of things to be proud of, and we're going to continue to grow, and build, and elevate this program into elite status."

The contract extension also includes a $250,000 increase to the salary pool for assistant coaches, raising the total to $1.85 million.

"You win with consistency and continuity and I'm excited about what we're building and the possibilities that we have for the future," said Coach Jones.  "The big thing for me is being able to continue to attract the best staff in the country and keep them intact and take care of them."

There is also a sizable increase in the buyout clause that would allow Coach Jones to take another job.  It jumps from $1.08 million to $1.75 million in year one, although Babcock admits that figure probably wouldn't scare away big budget schools.

"There's a balancing act there," said Babcock.  "You want the buyout to be enough so that if the coach leaves, it can help to fund your search for the next coach.  And you want it be a number that gives some people a reason to pause.  But I don't think you want to have it at such a level that you trap a coach.  If you ultimately have a coach that doesn't want to be here, do you really want to handcuff him?  There's a fine line there, but I think it needs to be enough to get people's attention and to help you - if you do have a coach leave - to conduct the search and get things in place to hire the next guy. 

"But my goodness, I look at this contract as a way to have Butch here for a long time and not to figure out what the heck to do when he leaves.  I think his loyalty and love for Cincinnati played a real big role in this contract."

Cincinnati's previous two head football coaches - Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly - each spent three years in Clifton.  As Jones prepares to enter his third season, he often hears from fans who tell him that they hope that he stays at UC.

"I hear that all the time and it means a lot," said Jones.  "We have a fan base that has been extremely loyal to me since the day that I walked in, and I can't say enough about the amount of support when things weren't going as well as we wanted.  To me, that means everything.  This truly is a special place."

**********

Come out and join us for the Mick Cronin radio show on Thursday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it, I hope you'll tune in on 700 WLW.

 

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.  Speaking of young Sam, here he is after a recent haircut.

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Mick's Mantle

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I was convinced a while ago but I think after the return to the NCAA tournament last year, the rebound from the Crosstown Shootout, the early success in the Big East with major road wins and obvious respect from Bob Huggins, this is officially Mick Cronin's team in your mind, right? If not it should be.

Let's face it many of you had no idea and/or belief in Mick when he first arrived because you believed he was in over his head. Winning at Murray State and nearly knocking off basketball factory North Carolina was just a magical moment and no credit was due the coaches. But as time has gone on and wins have happened in the most unexpected of places like Pitt and Georgetown, you are running out of reasons to say he doesn't belong. He does belong and has also proven to be a relentless recruiter amidst competition steeper than Mount Everest; and he is gaining ground with each win and visit.

I don't think Mick ever got his rightful credit for taking over a team with very few players, little support and no identity they way he should have. He never ask or begged for it, just ask you to be fair in the assessment along the way regarding restoring this successful program. I nearly fell off my seat last year when people wanted to preface UC's return to the NCAA tournament dance with a "but", but it happened. 

When the Crosstown Shootout went spiraling out of control many of you thought Xavier would react the way Mick and UC did, swiftly and decisively and that may have convinced some that he recognized the program is more important than any one or a few players. He even offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb if it meant the program would be best served.

Fast forward to the Big East part of the schedule and they're winning, part of Big East Monday, added another sellout to the ledger and motivated the students and alumni to return exceeding 10K several times. That means more people see, and more important, believe this program is going in the right direction. This by no means is an indicator that the hard part is over with, it's not and Mick would be the first to tell you that. But what it clearly means is this program since Mick assumed the mantle of head coach, is moving down the right path to be a Big East contender and recapture national respect.

I honestly think he should be recognized for what he's done thus far and I'm glad to say this column is my way of doing it. Mick Cronin and his staff have made UC basketball relevant on campus and around the city again. You can argue he hasn't but you would only be admitting your unwillingness to respect the facts, wins and the effort. To that I say C'mon Man!

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

The Morning After: Syracuse 60, UC 53

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Before jumping into the game, have to start with the atmosphere created last night at Fifth Third Arena. The Whiteout could only be considered a raging success and set an electric backdrop for Big Monday.

Turns out the Big Head Initiative was a huge success as well. I knew when I came out 45 minutes before the game and immediately spotted 10 big heads, that it would be an impressive showing. Bill Cosby, Fabio, Justin Jackson Mean Face and seemingly every member of the UC staff was represented, including two Skippys.

It was fun. It gave some personality to the crowd.
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Although, one particular sign stuck out as I scanned the front row. There was a sign which read, "Who is @PaulDehner". Intrigued, I had to go investigate and found Brandon Trame.

Turns out, Brandon was the guy who brought the Nick Lachey big head last week which I was pretty critical of on here and Twitter. So, Brandon flipped the script on me. I give him credit, he wins this round, for sure. I was probably a little over the top critical and it was great he had fun with it.

As Jim Boeheim said after the game quoting Lou Carnesseca, "the crowd can make a lot of noise, but they can't score any points."

For Cashmere Wright, it did affect him.

"It brings energy to the game, it gets players into the game," he said. "We go out and play harder. When the crowd gets with us everything seems to get out and flow."


Let's talk about the game.

--- My postgame column on the learning experience of Monday night is posted here and Chris Gundrum wrote a piece on the continued strong play of Yancy Gates, who finished with 16 and 10 for a third-consecutive double-double.

--- A standard stomp of Mick Cronin after every loss is to preach about defense. As much as people will look at 53 points on Monday night, Cronin's defensive concerns were well-placed Monday.

Holding Syracuse to 60 points in and of itself wasn't a disaster. Yet, giving up five layups in the final 10 minutes was. It ended up costing them the game.

Boeheim, Cronin and the Bearcats players all called the two backdoor cuts for layups the biggest plays of the game. They answered big UC buckets where the lead could have been sliced to one possession.

"The West Virginia game we had the game won," Cronin said. "We gave up two backdoor layups in that game off preparation. It's inexcusable for our guys to do that. It's not like we're surprised. Our guys are prepared as you can possibly be. That I'm not happy about."


--- Cronin clearly wasn't happy after the game. He wasn't hiding it. His postgame pressers, even in defeat, typically last 10-15 minutes. It went on for 5:35 Monday night.

"I don't care if you are playing Syracuse or St. Ann's where I went to grade school, guys dribbling for layups they are going to make them."


--- The anger likely stems from how winnable this game actually was. According to ESPN Stats and Info in the story from Dana O'Neil, this was the first time this season a team won a game shooting 25 percent or worse from the 3-point line and 33 percent or worse from the free-throw line.

Plus, they just aren't the same without Fab Melo, as Mike DeCourcy points out.

The Cuse didn't play lights out. A game there for the taking slipped away.

The prescription for UC beating Syracuse was to get hot from 3-point range and let the crowd help carry them defensively. UC shot 4 of 20 from deep after starting 4 of 5.

For the game they shot 32 percent from deep. If they hit 40 percent, the complexity of the game changes dramatically. UC needed to play its best game of the season to win. They didn't.

--- Boeheim with some high praise for UC after the game:

"I thought they could have won 12 straight games going into tonight," he said. "They were very, very close to doing that. To play the way we played tonight was very big."

--- Monday was only
the second game in Big East play for UC not decided by four points or less.

--- First thought after the game: That's why you really hated letting that win at West Virginia slip away.

--- Second thought after the game: With a win at Rutgers (no easy task), UC would be 6-3. Cronin stated at the beginning of conference play, the goal is always to win two out of three. They'd be on pace to do just that.

--- Mick took Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon out for some key moments late in the game. He explained after:

"I was searching for anybody who could stay between their man and the basket," he said.


--- Paul Daugherty
wrote a column for SI.com. The main focus is Syracuse, with some UC analysis sprinkled in.

--- SK played through injury
and didn't appeared too hampered. He scored eight points, but grabbed nine rebounds. The biggest effect came in his reluctance to attack the basket -- of course, that was contagious against the Cuse zone). He took eight shots, five of them from beyond the arc.

--- Chad Brendel with a game recap.

--- Stat of the night: The Bearcats nine first-half turnovers equaled their high any game in conference play. They finished with 11 total.

--- Stat of the night, Part II: After going 15 consecutive games winning the turnover margin, UC has now lost it twice in a row. (9-8 @WVU and 11-8 vs SU)

--- Quote of the night:
Boeheim talking about his defensive strategy of always using the matchup zone:

"My wife asked me, 'Why don't you play man-to-man?'" he said. "See, I even get it at home."

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Bearcats learning the hard way

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Cincinnati hoped to prove it could play with the best the conference had to offer, the lessons learned in falling short were difficult to stomach.

CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Bearcats weren't the first team to experience the extra gear of the No. 3 Syracuse Orange. Rest assured, they won't be the last.

A team running All-Americans in and out like the game is sponsored by McDonald's don't need much of an opening to exploit opponents. They didn't on the path to 20 consecutive wins and still don't two days after one loss.

Jim Boeheim called the atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena a normal night for his team. He'd be right. Sellouts follow his bunch like shadows. But this was no normal night for UC. Their first Big Monday game since joining the league and first house holding 13,176 of the year proved that.


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Games like Monday require an extra level of precision. An extra level of execution. An extra level of focus. The Orange showed it off, as they have 21 of 22 times this season. UC didn't.

There's no shame in that fact. This conference, more precisely, this country is filled with teams whose elevators don't advance to the Syracuse penthouse.

Feelings of frustration wafting from the home locker room Monday didn't originate at the fact UC lost, rather the manner of the failure.

Mick Cronin's normally loquacious, analytical postgame press conference, transformed into terse venting. Not because he felt his team fell victim to being out-athleted, rather because they collapsed mentally.

"As a coach you have preparation and there are controllables," Cronin said. "Scoop (Jardine) or Kris Joseph making a tough one-on-one shot is not a controllable. Giving up layups on blown assignments because your head is somewhere else because you missed a shot or they made a tough shot or you're a little tired or I don't know why, that is inexcusable."

The decisive 19-6 run by Syracuse may have been sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from Jardine and Brandon Triche, but it survived due to guards driving and cutting for layups. Five of them, to be exact. At the end of the day, 36 points in the paint stuck out like the three orange shirts in the all-white student section.

"We gave this game away, the guards, by letting them get back door," Cashmere Wright said.

Shooting 4 of 20 from 3-point range after a blazing four of five start, didn't help. Nor did missing six of nine free throws. Turning it over as many times in the first half (9) as they had during any Big East game this season provided a confusing, matchup-zone nightmare.

The frustration eventually led to the breakdowns. That's how the game works against the Orange. It did again Monday night.

"Got to give them credit, but you got to be better than that," Cronin said.

The Bearcats thought they were.

They learned the hard way over this brutal three-game stretch, as far as they've risen over the last seven weeks, they're still staring up at the peak of the mountain.

"We learned as long as we come out with our mental state, that's the big key for us," Yancy Gates said. "We got talented players on our team that can score, that can play D. We got to keep the same focus throughout the whole game and not let other teams runs, which we did a couple times during the stretch, not let other teams runs crack our spirit."

The same message Gates applied to the inner-workings of games now applies to the big picture of his team's season. West Virginia felt like a win. Sitting up 42-40 with under 10 minutes left Monday night with 13,176 creating a deafening roar felt like one as well.

Reflecting on all the effort and positive plays of the last 85 minutes resulted in nothing.

"Just don't close out," Gates said. "Frustrating. We felt like we gave a couple games away."

As Gates said, they can't let that crack their spirit. Rutgers awaits. As do nine more games which will decide whether or not they make the NCAA tournament. Lucky for UC, none of them are against Syracuse.

Bottom line, the entire three-game stretch must be a learning experience. Even if that realization didn't seem easy to stomach in the immediate aftermath of 60-53.

"I learned that we lost our last two games and I'm not happy," Cronin said. "If we don't get better, we are going to lose Saturday."

Gates' roll continues

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Even in defeat, the play of senior Yancy Gates continued to shine in the middle of the Bearcats offense.

By Chris Gundrum
Special to GoBearcats.com


CINCINNATI -- Despite losing their second game in a row, the Bearcats received yet another solid performance from Yancy Gates.

For the third straight game Gates produced a double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.

"I was just trying to draw attention in the middle of the zone," said Gates. "We felt if we could get the ball into the middle of the zone and get a couple points and then get some kick-outs it would spread them out and make them kind of play both. I just tried to do what we went over in practice and play my role to help."

If the Bearcats are going to bounce back from their loss to Syracuse, they're going to need Gates to continue to play well.

Especially on defense.

Of the 10 rebounds Gates grabbed against Syracuse, nine of them came on the defensive end. That's something Mick Cronin appreciates on a night when he wasn't pleased with his team's defense as a whole.

"I thought he did all he could do," Cronin said of Gates. "Except make free throws."

Indeed, his night wasn't perfect going 2 of 7 from the free throw line. Those struggles from the stripe blended in with breakdowns defensively to bury the Bearcats. The good news being they have some time to get better. Their next game isn't until Saturday when they go on the road to face Rutgers.

Gates knows they must take advantage of the time between now and then.

"We've got a little bit of a stretch before our next game where we're going to have practice so we're just going to have to come to practice and work as hard as we can and get ready for the next game," Gates said. "Try to put the game in the past but fix the mistakes from this game so we can do better in the next game."

If the Bearcats don't continue to improve throughout the rest of the season it won't be because of a lack of talent.

The Bearcats have plenty of guys who can play. They simply need to keep the right mindset when playing.

"We've got talented players on our team that can score can play (defense)," said Gates. "We've just got to keep the same focus throughout the whole game and not let other team's runs kind of crack our spirit."

Therefore, if the Bearcats are going to win on Saturday they're going to need two things--improved defense and points and rebounds from Yancy Gates.

A Job Well Done

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Lost last week among all the basketball hoopla was the departure of longtime Bearcat volleyball coach Reed Sunahara. At a time when Bearcat volleyball is routinely making national noise, Coach Sunahara was the architect who brought the program to that level of stature.

For those of you who might not know his background, Coach Sunahara came to Clifton back in 1997 as the top assistant to then-head coach Laura Alford. He took over as head coach for the 2000 season and never looked back from there. He's the winningest coach in the Bearcat program, led the Bearcats to two BIG EAST Conference titles and the conference tournament championship. Before that the 'Cats were regulars at the top of the Conference USA standings.

I've had the chance to interview Coach Sunahara a couple of times--the last time, just a few weeks ago as the Bearcats prepared to go into the conference tournament. You can listen to the interview here, courtesy of WVXU. We talked about the growth of high school volleyball, as well as his success on the collegiate level, and how the Greater Cincinnati area was blessed to have so many good girls, as well as boys, volleyball teams in high school.

But before that, he was a panelist on an event we had on UC's campus for the Special Olympics of Hamilton County. Each panelist was asked a question from the audience, and Coach was asked what he thought his greatest accomplishment was. No surprise, it wasn't a conference championship or a win over a heated rival. He said, "When I see our student-athletes graduate as accomplished, poised adults, that's my biggest accomplishment."

It's been a lot of fun watching the UC women's volleyball team have big accomplishments over the last 15 years, with Reed Sunahara leading the way. We wish you all the best in the future, and we're sure you'll have many more big accomplishments down the line.

 

Around the Big East: 1/23

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Cincinnati's Status: (9-10, 0-6) -- As always we will start off with a glance at UC's status in the BIG EAST. The Bearcats are now sitting a game under .500 after starting the season with six straight wins and a 6-0 record. UC has lost all six of its BIG EAST contests thus far; most recently a loss to St. John's at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats had their lowest output of the season with only 34 points against the Red Storm. On the bright side, the Bearcats allowed the least amount points in a BIG EAST game this season, allowing only 51 points. UC joins Seton Hall and Pittsburgh as the only other conference teams that remain win less. Jamelle Elliott's squad will take to the road for three straight road games -- starting in Philadelphia when they face Villanova; then onto Syracuse, NY for a clash with the Orange; and lastly they will be in Milwaukee to play Marquette on Feb. 1.

On a positive note:
Jeanise Randolph had her season-high in points with 10 and her season-high in rebounds with 7 to lead the Bearcats against St. John's.

Next home game: After a three-game road trip where the Bearcats will be in different parts of the country they will return to Fifth Third Arena for a game against No. 20 Georgetown on Feb. 4.

Inside the TOP 25 (AP Poll as of 1/23):
2. Notre Dame
3. Connecticut
11. Rutgers
16. Louisville
20. Georgetown
23. DePaul

Game of the previous week: DePaul v. South Florida -- Two teams in the middle of the pack in the BIG EAST played an overtime thriller last Tuesday (1/17) from Bob Martinez Sports Center in Tampa Bay. USF ended up defeating DePaul who was ranked No. 19 at that time. The Bulls' Akila McDonald converted a lay-up with only nine seconds left in regulation to force overtime and then a Jasmine Wynn led Bulls team rallied to beat the squad from Chicago 66-63. Kaneisha Saunders also had a big game and was tied with Wynn for the team lead with 16 points on Tuesday night. DePaul's Anna Martin had 23 points, but failed to lead her team to victory and the Blue Demons lost only their fourth game of the season, but saw their national ranking drop four spots because of the loss.   

Upset of the previous week: Rutgers v. St. John's -- The trio of Eugeneia McPherson, Nadirah McKenith, and Shenneika Smith all scored in double-digits and gave No. 8 Rutgers their first BIG EAST loss of the season. Coming off a loss against Marquette the Red Storm were able to overcome a half-time deficit and out score the Scarlet Knights by 11 points in the second half leading to their 62-57 victory. The biggest statistic of the game was St. John's proficiency from the free throw stripe where they made 26 of 32 and 14 of 16 during the last five minutes. St. John's has won three straight meetings against Rutgers after struggling to beat them for a decade. The Red Storm is now moving its way up to the upper-echelon of the BIG EAST standings and will meet Rutgers again in New Jersey on Feb. 12.     

Game of the upcoming week:
Tennessee v. Notre Dame -- Tonight the BIG EAST leaders, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the No. 9 team in the country -- the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Pat Summitt's teams are always ready to play in big games and will be a test for a Notre Dame team who is undefeated in conference play and haven't loss since Nov. 20 when they played No. 1 Baylor. The Fighting Irish are undefeated in South Bend this season and will be facing a Tennessee team that has already tasted defeat four times this season. Skylar Diggins will still be the topic of discussion during this match-up, but will face a tougher test than usual because Tennessee has four players averaging in double-figures and athletic guards such as Meghan Simmons and Shekinna Strickland who can limit Diggins' play-making ability.
 
Prediction: I give Notre Dame the slight edge. 72-64 Fighting Irish. 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.23.12

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Big Heads. Big Monday. Big Deal.

I suppose I've woken up more excited. There was the day I moved to Key West. There was the day I can only assume a bout of temporary insanity with Amy Hartman allowed the hottest girl around to say yes to attending a big party with me. There was the day Barbershop 2: Back in Business was released in theaters.

All of those bring that excitement, that feeling where waking up doesn't feel like a chore. You pop out of bed like a kid on Christmas. Or a dad on meth. Depending on how your childhood played out, pick your analogy.

Regardless, should be a fun one tonight. Yes, Syracuse losing at Notre Dame stole a bit of the luster from the night's festivities, but as Bill Koch wrote today, not much of it.

UC still needs to win this game if they want to play for a Big East regular season title. They could officially put their biggest competition temporarily on the ropes with a win tonight. If they don't, this race pretty much becomes a sprint for second place. Not that there's anything wrong with that considering the last five years of the program.

Plus, it's a chance for you Big Head folks to bring the personality and energy to Fifth Third Arena on a national stage. Remember, let's keep it classy, no Bernie Fine stuff -- it will be confiscated, anyway. Look forward to seeing them all. The ones that have been Twitpic'd to me look strong. And if you have extras, bring them, pass them out.

See you all tonight, let's eat...

--- I guess we still need to rehash
some West Virginia nuggets. Because we need to flip the script so fast, I won't go too in depth.

Bottom line: If UC plays like that every night, they will win more than they lose. They run into Gary Browne throwing up a 3-pointer in the face of Yancy Gates he probably hits 15 percent of the time. For the record, he shoots 28 percent from 3-point range, only lofted 28 of them all season and missed both attempts on Saturday prior to hitting the game-tying shot. 

Did they need to do a better job on Kevin Jones (26 points, 13 rebounds)? Yes. But UC wasn't and won't be the first team the front-runner for BEPOY carves up this year.

Dion Dixon makes that layup 90 percent of the time. Refeerees call a foul on Truck Bryant 50 percent of the time. Clock operators actually let the clock run when play hasn't stopped 99.9 percent of the time (sidenote: Only in Morgantown).

At the end of the day, you throw your hands up and say, that's the Big East. They let one get away and that's disappointing. But some nights you play well and lose. It happens. As long as you play well, you should move forward feeling confident. UC does that today. That's half the battle.

--- Anybody paying attention to the play of Yancy Gates? They should be. Mick Cronin said prior to the lifting of the suspensions that it would take a few days for Gates to get his game legs back under him. He didn't play Gates more than 21 minutes in either of his first two games back. Since then, however, his stats of the potential-reaching type stuff.

Last four games (UC 3-1): 11.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 18 of 37 from field (48 percent), 11 of 15 FT (73 percent), 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers.

Cronin wants him to play smart basketball, play defense, rebound, get putbacks, hustle and, did I mention rebound?

He's been doing that to perfection. Gates accepted his revised role with authority and found ways to be a major contributor in doing so. Plus, these numbers have come against some of the premier interior teams in the country.

--- Also, best five minutes of
the season from Cheikh Mbodj at the end of the first half. Huge for restoring Mick's confidence in him. Keyed UC taking the lead at halftime.

--- Scott at BearcatsBlog does
a great job breaking down the game including a few screengrabs that will raise your blood pressure.

--- Much of the talk yesterday and this morning surrounds the health of Sean Kilpatrick. He's been nursing a groin injury but playing through it. He was clearly in pain at the conclusion of the West Virginia game.

Cronin acknowledged it after:

"My concern right now is SK," he said to 700WLW. "He is hurt. Not sure how bad. But we'll find out. We got to get him back healthy."

I have not heard much regarding his status, remember to follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) and I'll keep you up to date as details emerge today.

For now, all we have is this Tweet from him last night:

"Nothing's gonna stop me from fighting with my teammates tomorrow ... #BearcatNation"

Nothing might not be the right word. Nothing except the trainers would be precise.

--- As a reminder, tonight's game is a White Out, so wear your white to the game.

--- Syracuse will be without 7-foot center Fab Melo tonight. He didn't play in the loss at Notre Dame, either. Not having Melo will be a nice reprieve for UC because the height problems they face anyway, but it won't mean much in the grand scheme. When a team has 10 players averaging double-digit minutes and nobody playing more than 29 minutes a game, losing one player leaves little impact.

--- Myron Medcalf at ESPN thinks losing Melo leaves a bigger impact than people (aka myself) think.

Jack Cooley did post 17 points and 10 rebounds (6 offensive) against Cuse without Melo. If Yancy can post those types of numbers along with a nice night shooting from deep, it may be enough to put the Cats over the top.

--- Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com talks about the Orange attempting to bounce back off the loss to ND and brings up trouble shooting and defending the 3-point shot of late.

--- Mike Waters of Syracuse.com with the keys to the game.

--- HOFer Mike DeCourcy places
UC atop the list of must-see games this week.

--- Arena Pulse places
UC-Cuse on the list of top games this week.

--- Two key stats to watch tonight:

3-point percentage: The ultimate equalizer. If the Cats can catch fire from deep -- particularly early to get the crowd into it -- they will be in business. That's the blueprint ND set. They hit 7 of 14 from 3-point range and held a 12-point lead at halftime.

Of course, not falling into the habit of firing 3-pointers just for the sake of doing so will be key as well. Keeping the 3-point attempts at 20 or lower seems to be about the right fit for efficiency most nights.

Consider the Cuse rank 14th out of 16 in conference play sending opponents to the FT line and walking that line of drive/shoot holds even more importance tonight.

Fast break points: Syracuse lives to get up and down for easy buckets in transition. Notre Dame did a nice job grinding out a half-court game. That's not necessarily the Bearcats MO, but continuing to take care of the ball (perfect conference streak with single-digit turnovers continued Saturday) and not allowing the Orange to run out on breaks will loom large in determining tempo.

--- Don't assume somebody else is bringing the Greg Robinson Big Head tonight, students, take the initiative and do it yourself. Multiple faces of football futility and shame won't hurt.

I suggest this shot. Or maybe this one.

Some randomness...

--- Blog and podcast favorites, Ballin is a Habit are still on their college hoops tour. They stopped in Joplin, Mo., to help work on the recovery from the deadly tornadoes. Best piece of their tour by far.

--- Best dunks of the college basketball season thus far. Montage!

--- 30 Rock experienced an up-and-down
run the last year or so, but last week's episode was fantastic. I'd like to see the concept of the Idiot Protest catch on in real life.

"You can't ignore us Liz Lemon, we will be out here every day misremembering movie quotes!"

Plus, Steve Buschemi is returning.

--- By the end of last night's game, Eli Manning looked like the famous photo of Y.A. Tittle.

--- I think Ed Hochuli and Steven Tyler's scarf broke Twitter.

--- Love this story about the girl who outsmarted her kidnapper to get free.

--- Can't wait to hear an Onions! call up close and personal tonight with Raf in the house. Plus, by my accounts the best pure writer/reporter in college hoops, Dana O'Neil, will be in the house.

--- And why not, it just feels like the right day to break this video out.



Previewing the opponent: St. John's Red Storm

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This week hasn't been too kind to the women's basketball program at the University of Cincinnati. During the past week the Bearcats fell at home to the No. two team in the country, Notre Dame, and the No. three team in the country, UCONN Huskies, on the road. Returning to her Alma mater was bitter sweet for head coach Jamelle Elliott, who saw a lot of press and warm reception while in Storrs. Her team's output did not match the thrill, however, as the Bearcats lost 80-37 on Thursday night to drop them to 0-5 in the BIG EAST and a 9-9 overall. Cincinnati will look to bounce back tomorrow when they face St. John's (12-7, 4-2) at home.

The Johnnies are coming off an upset win against Rutgers at home and have built a nice 4-2 record in the BIG EAST thus far. St. John's had three players score in double-figures against the No. 10 team in the country propelling them to victory. The leaders for St. John's this season include; junior Eugeneia McPherson who has scored double-figures in 13 consecutive games. She averages 14.2 points per game this season. The Red Storm has been playing better since senior forward Da'Shena Stevens has be reinserted into the line-up after healing from an early season injury. They are 7-2 since her return and she is averaging a team-high 7.4 rebounds per contest. Junior Shenneika Smith has been named to the BIG EAST honor roll two times this season already and averages 12.8 points per game. The third player averaging in double-figures is junior guard Nadirah McKenith who is averaging 11.7 points per game. The Red Storm is coached by Kim Barnes Arico, who is in her 10th-year at the helm.

The Bearcats must keep plugging away in order to record their first BIG EAST win of the season. Dayeesha Hollins has continued to play well this season, as she scored the team's first 13 points Thursday night at UCONN. Senior guard Bjonee Reaves continues to average in double-figures as well, but her production has been on the decline compared to Hollins. Elliott has not found any other consistent minutes from her bench or the rest of her starting line-up. Kayla Cook and Tiffany Turner went scoreless and while senior Chanel Chisholm added nine points while also contributing seven of the team's 25 turnovers in Storrs. Scoring will be necessary from the entire starting five on Saturday including some statistical additions from Jeanise Randolph and Alyesha Lovett off of the bench.

Tip off is set for 2 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena.

In Addition:

If you haven't read these already; here are some links from stories written about coach Elliott:

Jamelle Elliott Works to Build Her own Program

A special visit for Cincinnati Coach Jamelle Elliott

Bearcats Breakfast 1.20.12

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The knee-jerk reaction of national media cracks me up. It happens in every sport, one win suddenly sways everyone's opinion into the positive and one loss makes the whole team a bunch of bums. Sometimes even one play elicits those opinions.

Being a national media member attempting to know every team isn't easy. Particularly when held the standard set here where I intake UC basketball on a daily basis. That said, the rise of this UC team hasn't occurred overnight. They've been playing at the level they did Wednesday at UConn for more than a few games now. Yet, somehow, it took 40 minutes at Gampel to make everyone believe.

The Bearcats went from not receiving a vote in the coaches poll and a distant 32nd in the AP poll to everyone's flavor of the week Thursday.

Their 70-67 win no doubt fresh in the mind of those putting out power rankings on Thursday, UC moved from non-existent to top 10.

Take a look at the old Worldwide leader, for example
. The power rankings of their 12 analysts had UC as high as ninth and rated No. 19 overall. Three of the 12 had UC in their top 15. Two of those hadn't ranked them all year.

The previous week they received 11 total votes and sat 32nd.

Luke Winn at SI was on the Bearcats bandwagon in preseason, ranking them at a top 10 team. He fell off as UC struggled out of the gate. But, after not touching the Cats any of the previous weeks, they suddenly showed up at No. 9 yesterday.

With one game, the perception changed. The conversation shifted. They went from unmentionable to one of the top 10 teams in the country. Overnight.

Apparently, winning at Georgetown doesn't move the needle but winning at UConn buries it in the red. Oh well, it's why nobody should become caught up in polls and national recognition.

As Butch Jones likes to say, "praise and blame, it's all the same."

Plenty of praise going around today, though. That can change quickly in this conference. Just ask Seton Hall.

Let's eat...

--- Speaking of praise, UC's marketing folks asked me to specifically thank the fans for supporting UC and creating a sell out at Fifth Third Arena for the Big Monday game against No. 1 Syracuse.

The magic number is back: 13,176.

"Great for our community, great for our city, great for the University of Cincinnati," Cronin said. "Big Monday. That's great advertising. What's that worth for two hours on a Monday night?"

If you have tickets you're one of the lucky ones, if not, don't give up hope you can pop over to ticketcity.com and see what you can scrounge up.

Whiteotu.jpgAlso, the game is a white out, so wear white. The student section will be supplied with these, much like the Ring of Red game.

On top of that, for all the students, don't forget your Big Heads. We've been over the list of people that would be great to bring if you need ideas. We've also been over the list of those that would be missing the point.

And if I don't see a Greg Robinson big head, I will be severely disappointed.

Also, if you need to know how to create one of these, you can either go to Kinkos, but that will cost you around $40 or you can download a Rasterbator. Yes, that's the real name. Insert your own joke here and let's move forward amicably.

Rasterbation is the act of tiling out onto smaller sheets a larger image.

Here is the free download of the software. Print, cut, paste, heckle. That simple.

--- More from the praise category
came from Scott Van Pelt yesterday, who dedicated his One Big Thing to talking about UC and the job Mick Cronin has done this year. As many others have said, including myself in this space, the last five weeks have been his best as a head coach.

Great conversation from SVP and Ryen Russillo, though. Their two of the best and they give a great insight into the national pulse around this team nationally.

--- UC held a media availability yesterday with Mick, SK and Yancy. A few good quotes and news nuggets came out of it.

Here was one from Mick I particularly liked.

On deciding not to call a timeout:

"Let's be honest, if we win I'm great, if we lose I'm an idiot," he said. "Most people say that. But for what we get paid, who cares."

--- Scott Springer always liked
Sean Kilpatrick. He's not alone in this fan base. He spoke with SK yesterday about his big shot and posted it on The YouTubes.

--- You know why you have to love
SK beyond his 17 points per game or 3-point dagger against the Huskies? The guy's attitude shows maturity beyond his years.

Most players after a game like that would be talking about how confident they are now and how much the shot is pushing them forward. Not SK. He's staying level-headed.

"Something that my coaches always told me you got to stay even keel," he said. "You can't look at it like you had a good game or hit a big shot or anything. You just got to stay even. I don't think it did anything confidence-wise."


--- Brendan Prunty of the Newark Times-Ledger
points out a specific detail that tells all you need to know about SK. After his shot went in, he immediately broke down into his defensive stance. He also places UC at No. 2 in his Big East power rankings.

--- Adam Zagoria of SNY.com talks
about the White Plains-native as well.

--- Kilpatrick missed the front end
of two 1-and-1s, Gates joked it was because of his superstition at halfcourt before it. The answer sort of faded into a longer monologue about the end of the game. I couldn't but ask what the superstition was after Yancy and SK were done at the podium yesterday. He said it was that SK looked up at the scoreboard and pointed out all four of them had 13 points.

"He said, that's got to be bad luck," Gates said.

Almost on cue, Cronin walked to the podium to speak. "You see what kids think about with the game on the line? You guys are at home screaming at your TV. They're saying, everybody's got 13."

He rubbed his forehead at the latest realization.

"The business that I have chosen."


--- Cronin shouldn't be one to rail on superstitions. He went on to talk about the real reason the team has won these games were his lucky cuff links. The horseshoe links were given to him by his daughter, Samantha, for Christmas.

Only once did he not wear them, when he realized the shirt he brought against St. John's had buttons, not french cuffs.

He didn't make that mistake again.

"You can imagine that shirt is not coming back out," he said. "And I got reprimanded for not wearing them. So it was a double, we got the loss and I got yelled at by a 5-year-old."

--- Look! It's assistant coach Darren Savino sitting next to Bill Murray.

--- Apparently, Gates is talking to himself now. UC fans don't care if he's slapping himself as long as he replicates the 13 and 12 he produced Wednesday.

--- Cronin, not surprisingly, lauded West Virginia. WVU endured five losses this year and most people considered them to be down with a host of freshman and transfers surrounding Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones. Cronin wasn't buying it. Four of the five losses came to teams that were either raneked at the time or have been since (Baylor, Mississippi State, Seton Hall, UConn). All of those were away from home.

Granted they did lose at home to Kent State in their second game of the season, 70-67.

"With all those freshmen," Cronin pointed out, "to open up at home against Kent State, a veteran team, you got to have an 11-year contract to do that -- which he does."

Cronin thought West Virginia looked fatigued on the back end of a rough stretch over Christmas when they were beaten handily by Seton Hall and thinks they just the same could be tied with UC at 5-1 in the Big East. Rather predictably, Cronin didn't miss a chance to take a veiled shot at the pollsters in the process.

"They are arguably as good as anybody in the Big East in my mind. Cincinnati-West Virginia Saturday is maybe the best regular season game between two non-ranked teams that I've ever seen. Neither one of these teams are ranked. Think about that. I want you to look at the rankings and see who you think is better. Both of us against some of those teams ranked 12th, 14th, 15th in the country. See who you would take on a neutral floor. That's where the Top 25 can be really, really irrelevant. They are a Top 20 team. Period. End of story. Not even up for debate. They are going to finish in the top four in this league and it's going to be a tall order to win on Saturday."

Here are the rankings, you can answer Cronin's question for yourself or throw up looking at the fact Louisville continues to be ranked despite their train wreck of a conference season.

--- UC players think people should start to notice them, but aren'r concerned with it, this from Bill Koch.

--- West Virginia's Kevin Jones is probably the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year. The guy is averaging 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

At 6-8, 260 pounds he's a matchup nightmare because he can pop out and work the perimeter while also dominating on the glass. Not to mention he's ranked 30th in the country in turnover rate.

Every play runs through him, he produces points, boards and rarely turns it over. Among those used on at least 20 percent of possessions, Jones leads the Big East and is ninth in the country in offensive rating (126.1). For reference, Sean Kilpatrick owns a 116.3 offensive rating, good for fourth in the Big East.

Cronin pointed out he can't match up with Yancy on him because Jones would take him too far away from the basket. Likely the Justin Jackson/JaQuon Parker combo will take the duty. The height mismatch will be nothing new for Park, who spent much of the night on 6-9, 260 pound Alex Oriakhi on Wednesday.

"(Jones) is as good as there is in this league," Cronin said. "He can make the 3, he can post up and he's the best rebounder in, probably, the country."


--- More than Jones, the Bearcats should be concerned about PG Truck Bryant. He's the difference maker for West Virginia.

Take a look at his splits in wins/losses over the last eight games.

WINS
Opp          Pts   FGA/M  FTA/M

Nova         34     12-23     6-7
@Rutgers 29      7-13    11-13
GTown      25      7-16     9-11
Rutgers    18       5-12     5-8
Marshall    22      7-20     6-7
AVG        25.6     8-17     7-9

LOSSES
Opp          Pts   FGA/M  FTA/M
Baylor         16    5-15      5-7
Seton Hall   11    3-16      3-4
UConn         8     2-13      3-4
AVG          11.6   3-15      4-5

--- Correlating Bryant's offensive struggles to losses is no coincidence. Usually, that stems from him being unable to get to the free throw line. Keeping him off the stripe will be essential to keeping him off the scoreboard. West Virginia has trouble finding enough offense from other places when Bryant struggles from the field.

--- For UC, that will mean stopping the trend of points guards posting career numbers.

Maalik Wayns (39) and Shabazz Napier (27) both managed career highs against Cashmere Wright and the Bearcats.

Cronin points out Napier's numbers are a bit misleading because he had only 17 points with 1:30 to go. That said...

"Rest assured, Cash is going to be watching edits of his defense, especially late game," Cronin said. "Too much space, hands down, things of that nature. I think Ge'Lawn being out, Cash is playing too many minutes. That is a problem. Especially when you are playing against Napier and Wayns, every play is a pick and roll and you are getting hit by a 6-10 guy on a ball screen every play. That will wear you down."

--- As for the latest on Guyn, Cronin said he showed progress on Tuesday but not enough to practice or play. He's hoping to get in a full practice with him soon. He won't play him until that happens, though. Playing Saturday at WVU was not ruled out.

--- Stopping Bryant could be even bigger if big man Deniz Klicili can't play for WVU.

--- Notes from the notes: With a win, UC would be the first Big East team to win eight consecutive conference road games since Syracuse started the 2009-10 season winning doing just that.

--- West Virginia has beaten UC in three consecutive meetings.

--- Some Friday Randomness...

--- Isn't this woman a little old to be busting in on a reporter with a giant inner tube strapped on her shoulder?

--- GQ talks to Turd Furguson.

--- Fred Stoller published this Kindle Single about his year as a staff writer on Seinfeld with all kinds of inside info. Definitely worth picking up. I know some of you don't do the kindle thing, not that there's anything wrong with that.

--- Fausto Carmona placing a new spin on Player to be Named Later.

--- It's Friday, big weekend on the way, down-home trip to the country culture of West Virginia, life in the Big East is crazy, the long-awaited future is now for Bearcats basketball. What else fits all of those things better than Outkast's Rosa Parks?

Ah ha, hush that fuss.

Skill begins with SK

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I've always liked Sean Kilpatrick.

From the moment I first saw him playing summer ball at Woodward High School, I knew he was a gamer.

He had charisma and a shot and wasn't afraid to use either.

Even though he's friends with Lance Stephenson and Lance had crazy skills, I thought UC's team chemistry that summer was better with Sean than with Lance.

At any rate, I'm glad Sean is the one still here.

If you missed the Connecticut game Jan. 18 (and I missed the actual winning shot since I was coaching a basketball team at the time) you missed Kilpatrick taking Huskie fans from ecstasy to agony in a matter of seconds.

Shabazz Napier had just hit a long trey to tie the game at 67. then with 9.5 seconds left, UC inbounded the ball to Sean.

Seven seconds later, "SK" hoisted a three that silenced the crowd and the Bearcats notched the 70-67 win over No. 11 in Storrs, Connecticut.

You can't spell skill without "SK" (nice idea for a column).

I caught up with "Killa" the day after the big shot at Fifth Third Arena:

Bearcats Breakfast 1.19.12

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Where do you start after a win like that?

You could talk about Sean Kilpatrick and the cold-blooded nature of his 3-pointer in the face of two UConn defenders.

You could talk about Mick Cronin deciding to let Kilpatrick play it out and stealing any possible advantage away from Jim Calhoun in the final seconds.

You could talk about this team's remarkable ability to win on the road -- now with seven in a row on the road in the Big East. That includes three in a row against ranked teams.

You could talk about five players in double figures as this offense continues to find ways to score consistently -- now averaging 71.4 points per game in Big East play if you take away the St. John's debacle.

You could talk about the incredible journey this team is on from Crosstown Shootout to now, building to a midseason crescendo Monday against Syracuse.

You could talk about the national respect this team deserves but hasn't received while winning 10 of 11 while other teams fall to rubble and keep receiving ranking recognition.

You could talk about how that lack of national respect clearly fuels this bunch every step of the way and has since the middle of last season.

You could talk about how high the ceiling is for a team to steal a win by going into a sold-out arena when the defending national champs haven't lost in 10 tries this season.

You should talk about all those things. And most who read this blog regularly know I'll probably touch on all of them again.

For me, I don't just want to talk about the 70-67 win against No. 11 UConn, rather how UC did it.

In many ways, they did it by beating Connecticut at their own game.

UConn was supposed to be the big, bad giant. Emphasis on big. With height advantages at every position -- and not small advantages, we are talking nearly half-foot differentials in some spots -- the Bearcats shut down the inside game of the Huskies.

They made UConn play guards vs. guards. The Cats will play that game with any team in the country. And win most of the time.

With Yancy Gates and 6-foot-4 JaQuon Parker manning the interior for half the game against 6-11 Andre Drummond and 6-9 Alex Oriakhi, the Huskies managed only six points and 12 rebounds between the both of them.

In fact, here are the combined point totals of the UConn bigs, who hovered over UC like skyscrapers:

Drummond, Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander: 86 minutes, 14 points, 19 rebounds.

Gates: 36 minutes, 13 points, 12 rebounds.

By himself, Gates nearly matched the production of all five UConn big men.

This was supposed to be speed vs. quickness and Cronin played it as such. For the majority of the game, it was a four-guard lineup as Justin Jackson found foul trouble and Parker hit shots from the outside.

Yet, where the Beatcats were supposed to be outmanned and overwhelmed on the inside against the Big East's tallest teams, not only were they not outmanned or overwhelmed, they were effective.

"We have enough good players that we shouldn't have lost this game," Jim Calhoun said. "I thought we would have a great advantage inside.  It didn't look like that worked out very well because we were jumping and throwing one-foot passes inside...We just did not get anything inside done.   But it's no shame to lose to Cincinnati. They can play the post with Gates and they can spread you out. They're hard to play."


Sure, the Bearcats were outrebounded 41-32. Take into account, UConn grabbed 45 percent of the possible offensive rebounds. That number sits right at their season average of 44 percent.

On the flip side, UC grabbed 36 percent of their own on the offensive glass. At the end of the day, giving up that much height, the Bearcats came out big winners in that stat.

Combine that effort with the continued locomotion of the Turnover Margin Express where the Cats turned it over but six times to UConn's 11 and there you have the difference.

UC hoisted 62 shots and UConn only 59. Both teams shoot between 42 and 44 percent from the floor. Bearcats win.

Shooting well from 3-point range kept UC in the game, but their ability to contain UConn's crazy size advantage finished the job. With a little help from Kilpatrick.

You could start many places today, but after a win like that you can't help but begin to think where this team could finish.

Let's eat...

 --- Apparently the national media was finally paying attention last night. Links galore. And in case you didn't see it or hear it. Follow this link for Dan Hoard's call of SK's 3-pointer and here's video highlights from SportsCenter.

--- Andy Katz talks about UC
clicking on all cylinders, praises Cronin and also posted an interview with Kilpatrick.

--- Matt Norlander at CBSSports.com says UC clearly owns the rights to the title of second-best Big East team right now.

--- NBC Sports points out that in
post-brawl world, UC is a contender.

--- Rick Bozich praises Cronin.

--- Dan Hoard on Kemba Walker watching his fellow NY guy SK take down his Huskies.

--- Last team to win seven consecutive Big East road games was Pittsburgh when combining the end of the 2010 season with beginning of 2011 season.

--- Here's a photo gallery from the game. But none is better than this one.

--- Bill Koch's Enquirer game story with quotes from SK and Cronin.

--- More game reaction from the UConn perspective from the Hartford Courant. Napier said he gave SK a nudge in the leg and Jeremy Lamb touched his fingers on the final shot. No matter.

--- Since Raf is coming here on Monday and in honor of what Kilpatrick pulled off in the final seconds last night, a little Best of Raf Onions! montage seems in order.



Sorry Kemba...It Was Kilpatrick's Time To Shine

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After hitting a jumper that helped Cincinnati build a 12-point lead before halftime, Sean Kilpatrick looked up in the stands and saw a familiar face:  Former UConn star - and Bearcat-killer - Kemba Walker, now in his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats.

"When I hit a three in the first half, he looked at me and gave me a little wink," Kilpatrick told me.  "He's a New York guy like me, and having him at the game was big - especially in the middle of the NBA season.  He's a great player and I'm happy that I got to see him."

SK game-winner.jpg

The last time that Kilpatrick saw Walker, the Connecticut guard ended UC's season by scoring 33 points in the Huskies 69-58 win over the Bearcats in last year's NCAA Tournament.  But on Wednesday night in Storrs, CT, Sean played the hero by drilling a 3-point shot with 2.5 seconds remaining to give Cincinnati a thrilling 70-67 win.

"The last time that I hit a game-winning buzzer beater was at White Plains (High School)," said Kilpatrick.  "This one was big and I'm happy that I got the win for the team."

The sophomore guard could have clinched the win much earlier at the free throw line, but twice missed the front end of one-and-one foul shooting opportunities in the final 1:30.

"It would have been a tragic loss," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "We started missing free throws when we were up by eight with our best foul shooters getting fouled."

"That rim did me dirty," said Kilpatrick.  "The ball was going in and it rolled out.  Coach Cronin said, 'Don't worry - just run back on defense.'"

But while Sean was hustling back to guard Jeremy Lamb, the Huskies' leading scorer didn't get the ball down the stretch.  Instead, it was UConn point guard Shabazz Napier burying three clutch treys, with the last one tying the score with 9.5 seconds to go.

"When he hit that shot, I just rolled my eyes and thought, 'Oh no, not again,'" said Kilpatrick.  "When I looked up the scoreboard and saw that it was tied, I was like, 'Yo!  We have got to do something.'"     

Sean took matters into his own hands.  After catching the inbounds pass from JaQuon Parker, Kilpatrick dribbled into the front court, pulled up at the three point line, and calmly sank the game-winner.

"I was going to drive and try to get fouled, but once I saw my man close the lane, I was like, 'You know what?  I've got to take the shot,'" Kilpatrick told me.  "It was plain to see that it was up to me to take the shot, so I took it."

And he made it, giving the Bearcats their seventh consecutive Big East road win, and their second over a Top 15 team in the last ten days.

"They have a great team full of All-Americans, a Hall of Fame coach, and it was a sold-out arena," said Coach Cronin.  "When you're able to come in here and get a win, people are going to stand up and take notice.  That's what our players want.  They want to be a ranked team whether they say it or not.  They want to be a team to be reckoned with, and they want people to respect them as individuals.  To do that, these are the type of games that you have to win."

"I hope it opened some eyes, but you can't really worry about that," said Kilpatrick.  "It's all about the Bearcats."

Walker was clearly impressed.  As Kilpatrick walked toward UC's team bus after the game, Kemba was waiting by the exit to congratulate Sean and exchange phone numbers.

I asked him what he thought of Kilpatrick's dramatic shot.

"I was mad as hell," said Walker.  "But he's my guy so it's all good.  He played good, man."

**********

It was great to see former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield in attendance at Connecticut on Wednesday.  The former UC point guard who helped lead the 'Cats to their last Sweet 16 appearance in 2001 is still playing professionally in Japan.


Satterfield at UConn smaller.jpg

 

I hope you'll come out and join us for the Mick Cronin radio show on Thursday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it in person, you can tune in and call in on 700 WLW.

 

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.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.18.12

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Bearcats at No. 11/13 UConn tonight, 7 p.m., ESPN2. Big. Game.

I posted a new podcast last night. Dan Hoard returned for his second stint Inside the Bearcats. It was really great stuff, as usual. I highly recommend a listen. We even break into about 10 minutes of Bengals talk for those of you interested where Dan tells why he was looking to high-5 all the players after their 34-3 loss to Detroit in the preseason.

Anyway, I shouldn't have to beg you to listen, just go do it.

Also, Dan just posted a blog on the improved play of JaQuon Parker and the magic broomstick here.

Let's eat...

--- Sad to see volleyball coach Reed Sunahara resigned. He did wonders for the volleyball program and the university. I didn't have time to do many stories talking to Reed, but he always seemed like a great guy. There was no denying what he did with the volleyball program, though.

Two Big East conference titles, 2011 Big East tourney crown, three C-USA regular season titles and they've won 20 or more matches in 11 of 12 seasons.

He spent 12 years as the volleyball coach at UC and he left some huge shoes to fill, but a program as prepared as any time in its history to fill them.

Best of luck to him.

--- Also, some quick football stuff before talking more about tonight's game. Andrea Adelson conducted a Q and A with Butch Jones as he puts a bow on 2011 and looks toward 2012. It's a two-parter. Here's Part I and here's Part II.

--- Andrea also took a look at where Derek Wolfe will fit on the next level. Steve Muench of Scouts,Inc. called Wolfe a fringe second-round pick and pegs New England as a nice fit because of their hybrid 3-4, 4-3 attack.

ESPN has him ranked as the No. 76 overall prospect, which places him as a third-round guy.

We'll see, but those are some nice projections and the highest I have seen. Let's hope that happens for DWolfe.

--- I'm completely two days late on this, but Ralph David Abernathy IV talked about his grandfather's best friend, Martin Luther King and what returning that kick in Memphis meant to him.



--- Pat Forde touches on the UC-XU responses to the brawl in his debut of Forde Minutes. Quality lead-in to that about the irresponsible behavior of some coaches lately and the mixed message it sends to student-athletes.

--- The Hartford Courant takes a profile look at Mick Cronin and the job he's done since the brawl.

--- They also look at how UConn approaches this game without guard Ryan Boatright.

Some great points here. The Huskies have been turnover prone in their two losses at Rutgers and Seton Hall.

Opp          TO (Napier TOs)
Seton Hall 13 (5)
Rutgers     20 (4)
WVU        12 (4)
ND            10 (1)

Without Boatright, their backup point guard, increased pressure will come on Shabazz Napier to be on the floor. He played all 40 minutes against Notre Dame. If UC can attack Napier and get him in foul trouble, Connecticut could have a world of trouble handling UC's pressure.

Also, Andre Drummond proved himself to be susceptible to turning the ball over. In the loss to Rutgers he gave it away seven times. Yancy Gates has been great lately at getting his hands on the ball in the post and disrupting any flow on the interior. If he can frustrate Drummond with his defense, it could be the key to a win.

--- Cashmere Wright in
the 62-second drill. Hilarious. And, by the way, if you see a giraffe running around Clifton let Cash know he needs to do a better job containing his pets.

--- Bill Koch and Mick talked extensively
about Cheikh Mbodj and how the injury is hindering his first year at UC. Worth a read.

--- UC going for its seventh consecutive Big East road win tonight. Still can't believe it when I type it.

--- I'm breaking out the old Stats for Victory today, but I only need two.

If UC wins you will see 20+ points off turnovers.

If UC wins you will see more free throws shot than 3-pointers.

Enjoy the game tonight.

Randomness...

--- Judd Apatow is making a Knocked up knock off following Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters a few years down the road. Big Paul Rudd fan, so I'm interested.

--- Betty White as
a dating icon. I'm uncomfortable with this line of thought.

--- Everybody has to support an
d watch my guy Rich Linville, aka Scoreboard Rich, as he takes on the toughest baseball history questions in MLB Network's Baseball IQ show.

--- In honor of UC's six-game
Big East road winning streak on the line tonight, it's an ode to the original WWF Road Warriors. Wwwwwwwhhhhat a Rush!






JaQuon Parker and the "Magic" Broomstick

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On the all-time list of people with magic broomsticks, you have:

A)  The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

B)  Quidditch players in the Harry Potter books.

C)  UC assistant basketball coach Larry Davis.

Huh?

OK, so maybe Larry's broomstick isn't magical, but it has helped turn Bearcat guard JaQuon Parker from a guy who only made three more 3-point shots than you did last year (he was 3-for-20), into a 58% shooter from beyond the arc this season (15-for-26).

JaQuon Parker smaller.jpg

Parker had a mechanical flaw where he twisted his feet in the middle of his shot, so Davis suggested that he practice shooting with a broomstick lying on the floor between his feet.

"At first I looked at him and said, 'Are you crazy?'  But it's been good for me," Parker told me.  "For the first five minutes I kept landing on it.  I never fell down, but it was close.  I stumbled a few times.  He kept telling me that it would really help my shot.  It worked."

"I was trying to find a way a long time ago to help guys that turned their feet when they shot the ball," Coach Davis told me.  "Once you have everything lined up in a straight line to the basket it's easy.  I decided to put a broomstick on the floor to force them to stay in a straight line with their feet.  If you don't, you fall on the broom so that's how it started."

After averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds in 23 games last year, JaQuon is up to 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in 11 games this year.  In games where Parker has made more than one basket, the Bearcats are 8-0. 

"When I came back here after the summer, I was really hitting shots," said Parker.  "The guys were all saying, 'He can shoot now,' so I knew I had improved."

Broomstick aside, there is no mystery behind JaQuon's dramatic improvement.  It's the result of many hours of hard work in the gym.   

"I told him at the end of last year that we had to have a serious talk about whether he was going to stay at Cincinnati or not," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "Playing at the highest level means that you have to be totally committed and you have to develop your game on offense.  You can't just show up at practice and be a good guy and play hard on defense.  You have to be a totally committed basketball player.  He took it to heart and he did it.  You have to give him all of the credit because he did a great job in the off-season."

"He let me know that if I worked hard, I would be an important piece next season, so I took that seriously," said Parker.

But even before that conversation with his head coach, Parker realized that he needed to improve his work ethic.

"I think it was the second-to-last game last year," said Coach Davis.  "We were out doing shooting drills before the game and he looked at me and said, 'Coach, I blew it.'  I said, 'What do you mean JaQuon?'  And he said, 'I didn't work last summer like I should have.  I have nobody to blame but myself.  That's not going to happen again.  I'm going to work my butt off and when I come back, I'm going to play.  I am going to play.'"

"When I went home, I worked out with Maurice Riddick who played professionally overseas," said Parker.  "He's a real close friend to the family and I got a chance to work out with him every day for the month-and-a-half that I was home."

"He definitely came back in the fall a much more confident basketball player," said Coach Cronin.

And while Parker is not going to continue making 58% of his 3-point shots, he's just as unlikely to go back to being the player who did not make a trey in his last 11 games last season.

"Oh man, it was really tough," said Parker.  "I think I tried too hard to make shots instead of just going out there and shooting it.  Just seeing the ball go through the net helped me get my confidence back.  It's a lot more fun when you're making shots."

**********

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.

Speaking of young Sam, it's been a long time since I posted a photo.  Like his dad, he had two football teams to root for this year.

Sam at PBS smaller.jpg

Episode 7: Inside the Bearcats Podcast

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The first ever guest of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast, Voice of the Bearcats, Dan Hoard, stopped back for his second visit this week.

We chat about Chuck Machock's streak, his claim to Letterman fame, what would make Mick Cronin breakdance at center court of Fifth Third Arena and break down all aspects of the Bearcats as they approach the most brutal three-game stretch on the schedule. I would be remiss having Dan on and not chatting about the Bengals as well, so we spend about 15 minutes talking about this past season -- Dan's first as the team's play-by-play man.

Great stuff as always. You can read Dan's blog here at GoBearcats.com or over at Bengals.com. Of course, you can hear him on 700WLW on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. live from Storrs, Conn.

Here's the rundown:

Minutes 1-5: Pleasantries, introductions and possible violation of copyright laws. We find out the streak is reaching incredible levels and prepare for it to go national again on Big Monday.

5-10: What has been the biggest surprise of UC's best start in Big East history and how the evolution of the offense has played into that.

10-16: We hear from Mick about turnovers and discuss the need for the turnover margin start to flip over from football to basketball.

16-21: UC going for its seventh consecutive Big East road win. What happened that this team can handle this?

21-24: What do the lack of national rankings mean? Does the committee care? Should anybody care? Does Louisville have some sort of blackmail on every Top 25 AP voter?

24-27: Why Big Monday will be the greatest thing since sliced bread and kudos circulate all around for the recent roaring crowds.

27-38: Dan discusses why he wanted to high-5 all the Bengals players after they got owned 34-3 in the preseason at Detroit and what it was like calling his first NFL season. We go into the Bengals season, our favorite moments, the future and then take some shots at Subway. (Sorry, Jared, I only need eight more points for a free 6-inch club, don't take my points away!)
 
Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Bearcats Breakfast 1.17.12

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More good stuff from Mick Cronin and Cashmere Wright at yesterday's media availability. They touched on myriad of topics, including some on the value of the basketball and crazy turnover stats coming out of this team. I documented those yesterday if you want to play catch up.

Mick and Cash also jumped head first into the memories of watching UConn go on to win the national title after beating UC in the second round.

Coach talked multiple times before how he felt he was going to vomit when he realized he was facing a possible second-round matchup with UConn. He's always said he thought his team could have made a run had the bracket fallen differently. He went into a little bit more detail Monday. Bill Koch documented in a blog post yesterday.

The quote from Cash brought a chuckle.

"I guess you would always want the team you lost to to win it, make you feel better," he said. "But I still didn't like it."

Let's eat...

--- This matchup in beautiful, majestic Storrs, Conn., will be all about contrasting styles. UConn's height vs. UC's quickness.

Many of the Bearcats conference games will play out under this concept, but none more obvious than Wednesday. That was accentuated even more with guard Ryan Boatright likely out while an ineligibility investigation takes place.

"If he is still out, it hurts their ball-handling but it helps their size," Cronin said. "It forces them to play 6-7 and taller at four positions. What Notre Dame found out was that's not always good for you if you have to play taller. It's hard to find an open shot that's not a 22-footer."

Take a look at what the height differential will be if Cronin decides to fight height with speed and play four guards.

1 Cashmere Wright 6-0 vs Shabazz Napier 6-0
2 Dion Dixon 6-3 vs Jeremy Lamb 6-5
3 Sean Kilpatrick 6-4 vs Roscoe Smith 6-8
4 JaQuon Parker 6-4 vs Alex Oriakhi 6-9
5 Yancy Gates 6-9  vs Andre Drummond 6-11

That's a total height differential of 13 inches. The Huskies already are second in the league in block percentage (16.4%) and first in the league in effective FG% defense because they allow so few uncontested, unaltered shots around the rim.

Their presence will always play in the back of Wright's mind. He's had enough problems finishing lately, anyway.

"You realize in the Big East you aren't getting a lot of calls when you go in there," he said. "You better stop and shoot and actually make the shot. You never know from game to game how the different ref is going to ref. Some games they will be tight and some games they'll let you go out there and just play."

Not only is shooting among the trees on the inside more difficult, but shooting over long arms on the perimeter, especially when SK and Parker are giving up four inches, makes for a long night from deep.

The last two games in particular, UConn has put the clamps down defensively.

Opponent      FG%  3P%
WVU           32.3    25.0
Notre Dame  32.3    23.1

Both WVU and Notre Dame were 21 of 65 from the field. Three of the last four halves, UConn held their opponent under 30 points.

Only one way exists to flip that defensive differential and it's with steals and turnovers.

"Go try to win at UConn and play halfcourt basketball for 40 minutes," Cronin said. "Ask Notre Dame. Because they only had 53. You got to get easy baskets. For us, last two games, 20 points a game in transition off turnovers. It is big."

UC will have to get 17 turnovers -- more precisely -- at least 20 points off those in order to take down the Huskies.

--- If you don't know about Andre Drummond, who most tab as a Top 5 pick, you should read this. And watch this.

--- Liked this quote from Mick talking about the key to his team not turning the ball over:

"Biggest thing I can tell anybody that is coaching, anybody is playing," he said. "We say it every day. All you got to do is watch a turnover. Nine out of 10 times it's guys trying to do too much. If you just keep it simple we have enough talent. That's our motto on offense. Everybody don't try to make a tough shot, don't try to make a great play. Just give the ball to the next guy. We don't need that. We don't need any heroes. Be a team."

--- Cash said he was leading the battle for most deflections over the team with Dion and Yancy on his heels. This board has really become the symbol of the team's success. This is no joke when they talk about how much emphasis the players place on it.

"We just feel like they put the deflection board on the locker room," Wright said. "Everybody swinging trying to battle for deflections every chance they get."

What does the winner get for owning the most deflections?

"You talk trash to teammates," he said. "That's all that counts in the locker room."

--- Ge'Lawn Guyn didn't practice
Monday. Cronin pointed out that doesn't necessarily mean he won't play Wednesday.

"He's day to day," Cronin said.

--- Dana O'Neil says it best when discussing the Bearcats at the sixth spot in her Big East power rankings.

"6. Cincinnati: Just how good are the Bearcats? We'll know by the middle of next week. This is Cincinnati's gauntlet: at Connecticut, at West Virginia and then home against Syracuse. One win would be good, two huge and three a reason for serious joy in the streets."

--- Randomness...

--- Community board game. You're whole brain is crying.

--- Kendrick Perkins received a reception on his return to Boston that Scott Rolen would have loved.

--- If we see a final 30 seconds with half this stuff, I'll consider it the best ending I've seen. White team is down two w/ 30 seconds left when the video begins.


Bearcats Breakfast 1.16.12

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I could only place my head in my hands in disappointment. I felt somewhat responsible.

On a great day for the UC basketball where the team and crowd combined for one of the better program wins of the Mick Cronin era, all I could see in my memory when I left was the single Nick Lachey big head taunting me in the student section.

(I will reiterate, though, a great crowd on Saturday, all 10,255 should be proud)

Now, this is no knock on Lachey. He's a great public ambassador for UC athletics and while we'd rather have Ashley Judd as our courtside celebrity, he certainly represents the city with passion.

I opened the Big Monday Big Head initiative last week and while we are training for Monday against Syracuse, one did pop up at Nova and it was Lachey. Let's remember here people, we want to create Big Heads that elicit the ire of the opposing team. Not poke fun at ourselves.

That said, most I've talked to said they were saving their heads for Monday, so I expect a great Big Head turnout against Syracuse. And while the effort of the Lachey head is appreciated, let's just remember this lesson going forward.

I personally apologize for that, I will try to teach us all to do better. Or at least bring Vanessa Minnillo big head to place next to him.

On to serious topics, let's eat...

--- The wins against Georgetown and Villanova were two of the most impressive back-to-back games in Mick Cronin's tenure. Maybe last year's Marquette/Georgetown close to the season would top it. But the conversation about ends there.

Going on the road to beat a top 15 team then following it up by taking down a team with four McDonald's All-Americans that plays to its potential in a big way and gets a heroic performance like that from Maalik Wayns is nothing shy of incredible.

(Seriously, 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, what a show. He was single-handedly carrying Nova down the stretch. Mick Cronin called him "like Barry Sanders with the basketball." Agreed.)

UC couldn't ask to be playing much better entering the roughest three-game stretch of the season. @UConn, @West Virginia, home against No. 1 Syracuse on Big Monday.

Bill Koch wrote about that topic.

--- Let's take a second to discuss what this stretch means to the Bearcats and the NCAA tournament.

The Bearcats still fight an image of pretenders among the elite analysts. Jay Bilas ranked UC No. 43 in his latest index. His primary point: UC only ones one victory (Georgetown) against the Kenpom.com and Sagarin top 50.

While so many love to throw around the outdated RPI stat, those two are much better predictors of success and end-of-the-year position because they eliminate so much of the strength of schedule which dramatically shifts -- specifically for UC's backloaded tough games -- as the year progresses.

Point being: In the eyes of the committee, UC still needs a load of quality wins. Not just a few. Nobody in the room in Indianapolis will give a hoot that Villanova played one of their best games of the season Saturday. They'll only care that they are now 8-10 overall.

In the next three games, UC will play three teams in the current KenPom Top 50. UConn (31), West Virginia (24) and Syracuse (3).

Then, they will only play four games against teams owning that distinction the rest of the season. Marquette 2x (23), Louisville (39) and Seton Hall (33). Three of those four are at Fifth Third Arena.

Nothing impresses a committee like road conference wins against top teams. That's why Georgetown was so big and why UConn and West Virginia will be as well.

Nobody will trash UC for losing to any of these three teams, but not coming away with at least one victory would be the Cats in line for the nervous bubble chair come Selection Sunday. There are only so many opportunities to earn signature wins.

Moral of the story: The time is now.

--- The good news is this team picked the right time to face them. There is no better team in the conference at possessing the basketball than UC right now.

The Turnover Margin Express is clicking on all cylinders.

They currently rank first in Big East play in both turnover percentage on offense (10.4 percent of possessions) and in creating them on defense (25.4 percent).

Those numbers are good for ninth in the country and 21st in the country, respectively, when, taking the entire season into account.

Along those same lines they lead the conference in steal percentage on offense (4.3 percent) and steal percentage on defense (16.9 percent).

UC only turning the ball over three times against Villanova belongs as stat of the year so far in my book.

--- Question: How good is the 10.4 percent conference play turnover rate?

Here are the national leaders on the season:

Team          TO%
Purdue        14.7
Missouri      14.9
Wisconsin   15.1
Weber St.   15.2

How about the significant differential at the top only counting conference play. Only four teams are even under 20 percent, with UC all the way down at 10.4.

Team           TO%

Cincinnati     10.4
Notre Dame  15.7
Syracuse     16.4
WVU           19.1

Also, for the record, no team ever finished a season below 12.4 percent since the stat first started being recorded in 2003.

To also be turning teams over on defense at the top rate in the league makes for the perfect storm of frustration for opposing coaches. Though, the margin isn't near as wide there.

Team        TO%
UC           25.4
Syracuse  25.2
Rutgers    24.1
DePaul     24.1

--- Bad news for UConn considering the above stats: Freshman guard Ryan Boatright continues to miss time as a review of his eligibility is conducted.

He's averaging 10.5 points and 3.5 assists while playing 26 minutes a game as their primary ball-handler beyond Shabazz Napier.

--- Chad Brendel with some extras from the weekend, including Mick Cronin's discussion about rebounding. That's a legit concern entering this stretch of games against three top rebounding teams.

--- The turnover margin being the best part of the smaller offense, the rebounding would be the flip side. UC ranks 15th in the conference in offensive rebound percentage and 12th in defensive rebound percentage.

--- Jermaine Sanders didn't play
Saturday, but nothing is wrong with him. Cronin just said he couldn't find a time to sneak him in there.

--- Congratulations to Dion Dixon for being named the Big East Player of the Week. He averaged 22 points in two wins against Georgetown and Villanova.

Dixon was relieved about his 4 of 4 start from 3-point range Saturday after hitting only 8 of his last 44 coming into the game.

"Finally," he said. "It feels so good to make some shots."

--- Headed to UC media availability in a bit, so I'll have to post one quick bit of randomness for you.

--- All eyes and ears were on Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes last night. He did his best not to disappoint.

--- In honor of the Bearcats' big week and importance of these three games in the big picture, I'll offer a little Foreigner.



Hit me with your best shot

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On Saturday, the Bearcats didn't just earn sole possession of second place in the Big East, they proved they can handle the best punch of one of the conference's most talented teams and not blink. 

CINCINNATI -- Some nights, teams run into a buzzsaw. The inherent nature of the Big East guarantees it.

That's how great squads lose in the 18-game gauntlet of the Big East. It's why the mere discussion of a team surviving conference play undefeated meets a dismissive head shake and crazy scowl.

The league contains too much talent, players and coaches alike.

When a team that entered the game 15th in the conference from behind the 3-point line buries 11 of their first 17, the signs start to appear. When their best scorer goes off for a career-high 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists like Maalik Wayns did, it would be easy to throw up the hands and concede.

These days happen.

Only, a funny thing happened on the way to one of those days. The Bearcats won anyway.

A team with four McDonald's All-Americans showed up in Fifth Third Arena and threw their best punch, one that would make Floyd Mayweather quiver. Yet, Cincinnati remained standing, victorious.

UCNova.jpg

"That says a lot, really," Yancy Gates said. "It actually says how good we are."

How good are they? The answer to that question came into clearer focus on Saturday.

The pressing Wildcats defense typically terrorizes guards. Only four teams this season managed single-digit turnovers against them this year and none with less than seven.

Yet, UC only gave the ball away three times. Three. The tally tied a school record. Possibly even more remarkable, the Bearcats relinquished one turnover after halftime of a game that didn't see either team lead by more than five points for the final 18 minutes.

To win in February and March, to survive the intense atmospheres and must-win urgency, teams need great guard play. Saturday's effort will win nearly every time.

"Their guards were outstanding; they really were," Villanova coach Jay Wright said, admitting he's never seen a team only commit three turnovers against him. "And the balance of their guards, they spread it out and it keeps them fresh. They isolate different guys. They share the ball with each other. They are very impressive."

Even when missing shots, the impact resonated. Cashmere Wright's 2 of 14 effort continued an ugly spell of shooting. Yet, his six steals, five assists and five free throws altered the complexion of the game. Sean Kilpatrick, battling through a leg injury that slowed him the majority of the day, still managed a quiet 14 points. Dion Dixon, who entered the game making 8 of his last 44 3-pointers, buried his first four of the game on his way to his second-consecutive 22-point effort.

Still, when Villanova pressed the guards, the ball slipped inside to Yancy Gates left without help on the post.

Wright called Gates the perfect complement. With each passing game, Gates finds more comfort in the four-guard attack. With 16 points, nine boards and three assists on Saturday, he showed the inside effectiveness he can provide.

"Oh yeah, especially from early in the season where every time I touched it there was somebody digging," Gates said. "Now I sit back and play my position, they are so worried about the guards driving and the 3s, once I do touch it, it's one on one."

Suddenly, with multiple facets clicking, an offense containing as much flow as a blood clot in November, pumps life into this team's postseason expectations Saturday.

For Cronin, that's the lesson learned from the 82-78 victory.

"It speaks to our ability to score the ball," he said. "This is the kind of game you weren't going to win if you couldn't score. When another team has got people putting the ball in the basket the way they were you have to be talented enough to answer them. We don't have those eight-minute scoring droughts that we were famous for. That's the difference."

Postseason aspirations are built on games like Saturday. The combination of talent, effort and execution raise the ceiling. Saying you want to win means little, being able to do so when Wayns drops 39 points means more.

Cronin wouldn't go so far as to call it his team's best of the season. Stopping No. 11 Georgetown on the road wipes away that contention.

"My business, your best win is your last win," he said. "So, best win of the year, I'll give it to you."

In actuality, the shot at best win of the year sits on the doorstep of the next three weeks. The defending national champions, Huggins' Mountaineers and the No. 1 team in the country await.

Sitting all alone in second place in the conference, the Bearcats will receive their best shot. Following Saturday, they enter with confidence they can take it and win.

"It's fun," Cronin said. "I think we are capable of playing well. I think we are evolving."

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Cincinnati -- Skylar Diggins didn't look to shoot the ball from the opening tip. Instead, Diggins was content with running the floor and dishing the rock to whoever she saw open. She made it known that her passing abilities were as good as her scoring prowess by flaunting in style every time she dropped a dime. The BIG EAST preseason player of the year had 11 assists and seven rebounds to complement her lowest scoring output of the season of four. Irish senior Natalie Novosel or "Nasty" as her teammates call her was the sharpshooter of today's contest. She started off 6-6 from the field, 2-2 from deep, and perfect from the free throw stripe (5-5). She had 18 of her 21 points in the first half. Notre Dame doubled Cincinnati in the first half leading 42-21 at intermission and finished off the game with a 76-50 win. Dayeesha Hollins showed a spark for the Bearcats who committed 22 turnovers due to Notre Dame's pressure. Hollins scored 14 points and added four assists. Senior Chanel Chisholm also showed some aggressive play but wasn't able to get in a groove only scoring seven points. Bjonee Reaves had eight points on 11 shots. Hollins was the lone game ball honoree this afternoon for a Cincinnati that is still looking for its first conference victory.

"I think by far they are the best passing team we have faced all year," head coach Jamelle Elliott commented during the post-game press conference. "They definitely took advantage of our size in the post and took advantage of those high, low feeds. I think they are by far the best passing team and overall most disciplined team we faced so far this year."

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

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 8 --
Dayeesha looked to have her quick step from the beginning of the game, but Notre Dame's smothering defense made it tough for Hollins to get her teammates involved. The Cincinnati native had 14 points, but most importantly was the only Bearcat player that seemed to give Notre Dame's defense any trouble. Hollins and Elliott stressed the fact the the players around Hollins must gain confidence in order to make the offense work in the future. Passing up shots is not an option according to Elliott, but was a common theme during this BIG EAST tilt.

"I think she looks really good," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said about Dayeesha Hollins. "She's so hard to guard and we couldn't contain her. We tried to double team her and we weren't as effective as I would of liked. I think she really got off in the first half -- we did a better job in the second half guarding her, but I think she's going to be a very good player in the BIG EAST."

"Dayeesha is obviously our best player; I want her to have the ball in her hands as much as possible," Elliott said. "I just think we need somebody else to step up and make plays. Right now Dayeesha is kind of the only one on our team that is able to be successful against these types of teams. Teams are going to continue to take her away."  

Previewing the opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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This next stretch of two games for the Bearcats may be tougher than any two games for any program in the country during any season. Head coach Jamelle Elliott takes her team back to her Alma Mater, UCONN this coming Thursday for what should be an emotional moment for Elliott. Returning to the arena where she dominated college ball; Elliott and the Bearcats will face a team that has dominated the them since their inclusion in the BIG EAST. The Huskies are a team that has actually dominated most teams in college basketball in the recent years, except for the national runner-up squad in Notre Dame that UC will see tomorrow afternoon at Fifth Third Arena. This is one of those moments when the UC basketball fan sighs and shakes their head. Two game versus the no. 2 and no. 3 teams in the country, respectively are never fun. Then again, I guess you can look at it as a chance to drastically change the path of your season. Winning those two games wouldn't just be a great accomplishment. Winning those two games could vault the Bearcats into the projected NCAA tournament field and boost their confidence for their best BIG EAST finish.

"We're just trying to get better everyday as a team," Elliott said. "It just so happens that we have a tough stretch playing the number 10 team in the country, then the number two team in the country, and then the number three team in the country."

Notre Dame is propelled by All-American candidate and the conference's preseason player of the year, Skylar Diggins, who is averaging 16.9 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. In my estimations, Diggins is battling Baylor's Brittney Griner for national player of year honors and the first overall pick in the WNBA draft should they both come out. It will be tough enough for the Bearcats to focus on following Diggins every where she goes tomorrow, but they also will have to be cognizant of Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride who also both score in double-figures; Novosel with 16.2 points per game and McBride with 12.2 points per game. Graduate student Devereaux Peters averages a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game.

"It's more about us," Elliott said. "The last 20 minutes of practice we did go over a couple of the half-court sets because obviously we want to know how we are going to guard their screens and everything. One of the things I do want to get better at is our zone. I want to be able to play more zone. I want us to execute in the half-court offense especially against the teams that are going to come out and deny us. We're going to see a lot of pressure these next two games. Hopefully this next two game stretch is really going to prepare us to be really successful toward the end of conference season. "

The run-down:

The Fighting Irish stand at 16-1 losing their only game this season against the no. one team in the land, the Baylor Bears. They are undefeated in conference play at 4-0 and are coming off a 20-point road win at Georgetown, who is ranked no. 17 in the national rankings. Notre Dame has scored 90 points or more in seven games this season and even topped the 100 point mark scoring 128 points in a game at Mercer. It's OK, you can sigh and shake your head again UC fans.

The Bearcats will need a heavy dose of, well, everything and anything tomorrow afternoon if they look to take down this juggernaut. Leading scorers Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves must score over the 20-point mark and try to limit Diggins' output as much as possible to be successful. Kayla Cook is an important player as well because of her three-point shooting abilities, which will have to be on point tomorrow in an effort to limit Notre Dame's scoring runs and in order to cut down leads where UC can stay within striking distance. Their hard work on blocking out and playing sound defense in practice will have to show as UC cannot allow the Irish to convert on second chance opportunities. They must also limit the Irish's three-point shooting abilities to below average, which may hurt their confidence and force them into turnovers. It is expected that the Bearcats won't get too deep into their bench, so Alyesha Lovett will have to take advantage of her minutes and not become a downgrade off the bench. She will have to become a spark plug rather contributing to the final box score. The return of Jeanise Randolph needs to continue to complement Tiffany Turner and for the Bearcats to win, I believe Randolph will need to have a break-out game.

"You get in trouble when you say 'this is an easy one for us' and now all of a sudden you look bad and you never want to look bad as a top five team," Elliott said about taking advantage of Notre Dame in a trap game scenario. "Injuries can play a factor, so you have to play every game as it's the same way and I'm sure Notre Dame is thinking the same thing."
 
Additional game-time information:

The game is set to start at 3 p.m. pending the finish time of the men's game against Villanova that is being played at Fifth Third Arena at noon. If the men's game goes past 2 p.m. for any reason, then the women's game will not start at 3 p.m., but 60 minutes after the conclusion of the men's game. If the men's game finishes on-time or early, then the women's game will still keep a 3 p.m. tip-off.  

 

Watching the line

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Finding the balance between driving to the hole and firing away from 3-point range represents the latest evolution of the four-guard offense - specifically for leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick.

CINCINNATI - Sean Kilpatrick and his teammates sat in the Verizon Center locker room prior to Monday's pregame shootaround and Mick Cronin stood in front of them, rapidly shifting into tirade mode.

This was a particularly epic one.

The topic was his team relying too heavily on the 3-point and increased reluctance driving to the basket. Following a game against St. John's when the Bearcats shot 7 of 32 from 3-point range in what Cronin called one of his most embarrassing losses, the fiery coach had zero plans to hold back.


cronin mad.jpg

"It was a very intense conversation," Cronin said with a smirk of understatement.

The intensity erupted midway through when Cronin slammed his hands down on a table. His Rolex snapped.

"Yeah, it was a real nice watch," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We just looked at him thinking he was going to stop and he just kept going."

Cronin didn't even notice his busted watch until after. His players did. And nothing drives home a point quite like Rolex parts scattered across the locker room floor.

"Lord knows how much money he spent on that watch," Kilpatrick said. "If he can do something like that, then that's something we need to do."

So, they did. After averaging 29 3-pointers the previous eight games, the Bearcats only shot 13 times from deep. The result? Their biggest win of the season, a 68-64 victory at No. 11 Georgetown.

"Mostly, er, all the time, whenever he says something it is true," Kilpatrick said. "When you put that in your game and believe in the coach and the system and what he is trying to teach you, it obviously works for your game."

Finding the proper balance between attacking the rim and firing away has been at the core of the necessary maturation of this developing offense for the entire team.

"It can become a crutch," Cronin said of the 3-pointer. "You can lean on that crutch too much. You rely on trying to make shots, the percentage never fails. They always even out. You take tough shots you are going to make 22 percent on average, you take great shots you are going to make 40 or more on average.

"There is no point of having a spread-out offense if all you are going to do is take bad shots. You can run whatever offense you want if you are just going to take bad shots."

Nobody more defines the dilemma more than Kilpatrick.


Kilpatrick.jpg

In high school, he racked up 28 points per game in White Plains, N.Y. as a slasher. He penetrated the lane with the ease and finished with efficiency. Upon his arrival at UC, however, his 3-point shot developed.

Last season, he hit 37 percent, but only fired 3.5 attempts per game. His 3-pointers accounted for 47 percent of his shots. This season, those numbers grew - specifically when the offense changed to the four-guard attack.

Now, he's hitting 39 percent, but shooting seven 3-pointers per game. They account for 56 percent of his shots.

Finally, when looking at the box score where Kilpatrick launched 15 of his 21 shots from 3-point range against St. John's, Cronin approached Kilpatrick about the trend.

"The day after he was like, look at this, you got to go to the basket a lot more," he said. "This is unbelievable."

Thus evolved the latest chapter in the development of the leading scorer. Finding fixation with a 3-point shot that allowed his numbers to skyrocket, he now attempts to scale back that excitement to become the most efficient offensive weapon.

"Sometimes your strength can be your weakness," Cronin said. "You are making shots, him in particular, you can rely too much upon it. True scorers get to the foul line."

Kilpatrick, who Cronin calls the best on the the team at driving for contact, ranks among the worst three on the team in free-throw rate. For reference, 19.9 percent of his attempts this year come from the free-throw line compared to 42.9 percent for fellow guard Dion Dixon.

Against Georgetown he shot five free throws, his most since shooting six against Arkansas-Pine Bluff -- his season high.

"If they are playing your shot, you got to be able to penetrate to the basket, get your teammates some kind of open layups and get yourself going to the rim so you can at least start with your shot at the free throw line," Kilpatrick said. "If you can do that I think it will make the game a lot more easier."

That was the lesson learned Monday when Kilpatrick shot his second-most free throws and only five 3-pointers to tally a career-high 27 points.

His offensive partner Dixon followed the same model. He took out all the anger from his scoreless game Saturday on the basket. He would shoot 10 of his 15 shots inside the arc and get the free throw line for six attempts. He finished with a season high 22 points.

Utilizing an attacking mode is reactionary to the run of prolific shooting from deep. Cashmere Wright and the other guards are feeling the pressure build on the perimeter.

"Early in the season they was really letting us shoot, they wasn't really pushing us off the line like that," Wright said. "Right now, it's hard to get an open 3. Every time you are open somebody is running out there wanting you to go to the hole and shoot."

Thus the obvious frustration from Cronin. If the defenders want you to go to the hole and shoot, then happily accept the invitation.

Clearly, the conversation in the locker room of the Verizon Center was a long time coming but was one that needed to occur at that moment. Inevitably, it bought Cronin a win - as well as a trip to his watch guy.

"It's going to cost me a lot of money, that conversation," he said.

Norm represented

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Before there was "Represent the C", "Catapult", "Cattitude", "The Team Behind The Teams", "U Gotta C It", "Football You Feel", "Next Man In" or any of the umpteen catch-phrases used to promote and attract attention at UC, there was Norm Oxley.

I really don't know Norm's origins with the program, other than his daughter, Cynthia, was once Director of Marketing for Bearcat athletics and was a cheerleader when I was in school.

I met Norm during my tenure covering UC football on radio and through numerous trips to conference tournaments in the Great Midwest and Conference USA basketball days (when conference tournaments were affordable).

Initially, he was just an older guy that seemed to be on all the football trips and all the sidelines helping the equipment and training guys.  It was later that I picked up on Norm being a loyal contributor to Bearcat athletics.  In 1997, he won the inaugural Strubbe Distinguished Service Award among UCATS, the Bearcat booster organization.

Just goes to show you, never assume a guy handing out towels or Gatorades is nobody.

Norm Oxley was definitely somebody. Sadly, after an illness he passed away Jan. 12.

To those that think the Lindner Center has always existed, that Varsity Village has been in place for years, that Marge Schott Stadium has always been spectacular, the Sheakley Athletic Center (Bubble) blows up on its own and that Oscar Robertson had a statue built shortly after graduating, you probably haven't a clue who Norm Oxley is.

That's your loss.

There's an old country song by Barbara Mandrell called, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool". Not that Norm or I were great old school country fans, but that pretty much sums up Mr. Oxley.

He supported Bearcat athletics when Nippert Stadium had Astro Turf as hard as concrete and was temporarily condemned.  When there was no on-campus arena and students had to be bussed to Riverfront Coliseum to watch mediocre basketball, Norm was supporting his cheerleading daughter.

When football games were held at Riverfront Stadium out of necessity, when no league would have UC football and when the Bearcats finally made a bowl game after years of obscurity, Norm was there.

At football games, he would invite me into the locker room at halftime to get warm if we were playing a cold weather game (sideline reporters battle the elements--ask Tommy).  He'd offer an extra sandwich or can of pop after the game also (the players are seemingly fed continuously on road trips).

I doubt you'll find a harsh word about Norm Oxley from any football player in recent memory.

He basically was good to everyone he came in contact with.  My oldest is now getting a master's in athletic training and worked the Bearcat sidelines for a few seasons.  Knowing that most of those kids work harder than anyone can imagine, Norm was always looking out for them in a "grandfatherly" role.

On basketball road trips, Norm was always there with his three daughters and their families and seemed to know where one could gamble no matter the locale.  Often times, work would pull me away from fun, so Norm occasionally adopted my wife as his fourth daughter and watched after her as he would is own.

I recall one year, we even shared a ride to Pittsburgh with the Oxleys and Norm made a four-hour ride seem like 15 minutes.  Whatever steel or industrial town we passed, Norm had been there.  Odds are, he probably was as giving and caring there as he was everywhere else.

He was proud of his family and a proud Bearcat.  When I last saw him this fall, he wasn't at his usual place on the sideline.  He was hovered in the shade near UC's Nippert locker room. He still had his rings on with pride and was still decked out in red and black, but I could tell he wasn't quite himself.

Still, he smiled and asked about my wife and kids.  Some people will do that in passing as a throw-away line, others actually care.  Norm was the latter.

He cared and he contributed to a lot of people's lives at UC in a lot of ways.  It's tough to measure a man's influence in life, but in my book Norm Oxley was as loyal and dedicated a Bearcat as you'll ever find.

I have no say-so in what transpires at the University, but it's my hope that Norm Oxley is memorialized in some fashion this upcoming football season.

Notebook: Flipped standings not a sign of weakness

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The Big East didn't only live atop the list of the best conferences over the past five years, they've owned property there. Rented it out to their friends. Repeatedly posted pictures of the view on Facebook.

Only, this season, the conference had to foreclose on the top spot. The Big Ten lives there now. At least, the national narrative insists as much.

The defacing of Big East stalwarts like Louisville (1-3), Villanova (1-3) and Pitt (0-4) along the with the rise of less-traditional powers like Cincinnati (3-1), Seton Hall (4-1) and Notre Dame (3-1) have fans and media alike puzzled.

Among the teams picked in the top half of the preseason coaches poll, only four own winning records in conference play. Ranked Georgetown was picked to finish 10th and Seton Hall in the bottom half as well.

It's early to be placing judgments, but stats and eyeballs don't lie. This isn't your father's Big East this year. Shoot, it isn't even your older brother's Big East.

"It's weird," Dion Dixon said. "But you can expect that. In the Big East you don't know what is going to happen. But it is kind of weird seeing the top teams that have been in our league down like that."

Weird? Yes. Sign of weakness? Not necessarily. If anything, those criticizing a perceived decrease in depth this year, should look in the opposite direction, according to Mick Cronin.

"I think that's unfair to Cincinnati or Seton Hall or Rutgers because people think that Pitt is supposed to win or Louisville is supposed to win," Cronin said. "The bottom has gotten much better. Which I said was going to happen. Schools want to win and they are throwing money at their programs to catch those at the top who have unbelievable facilities and things of that nature. It only gets worse. It only gets harder to win because what you see is teams improve that were struggling."

Toss in the No. 1 overall team in the country and Cronin will tell you what you can do with the "Big East is down" theory. He'd prefer to push his theory on the importance of veteran players. He's seen it tried and true in the rebuild of the Bearcats and watched it cripple prominent programs early in this conference season. 

"It shows how hard it is to win in this league, what this league is all about," Cronin said. "You better have some veteran guys. Our league is not for the faint of heart around the rim. That's really a big adjustment for new players in this league. You do not get bailed out by officials, you have got to finish."

--- Cronin's case in point will stand across the court at Fifth Third Arena on Saturday. Villanova lost three senior 1,000-point scorers (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena) and replaced them with three juniors who contributed 27.8 points per game last season (Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and Mouphtau Yarou). 

Consequently, the Wildcats enter at 8-9 overall and owning only a win over doormat DePaul to their conference credit.

Villanova is staring down the possibility of finishing below .500. Talk about a stray from the norm. The last time the Wildcats finished with less than 20 wins was 2004, much less below .500.

"We all assume, you got this guy back, you got that guy back," he said. "Sometimes it's addition by subtraction and sometimes when you subtract it really hurts. For them they really lost a lot of guys like Antonio Pena that was the heart and soul of their team."

--- Bit of news coming out of the press conference today. Ge'Lawn Guyn, who spent Monday night in the hospital after a collision against Georgetown will not play Saturday against Villanova.

As for any availability or analysis beyond that, Cronin wasn't budging.

"How long he's out I don't know," Cronin said. "Head injuries, it's a day-to-day thing with stuff like that. I don't get into that, I've been advised by people that have more degrees than me that are doctors to stay away from specifics. He is out. He is evaluated daily. Hopefully he'll be back sooner than later, but he will not play Saturday."

JaQuon Parker is expected to play Saturday. Parker took an elbow to the sternum and had trouble breathing and that's why he didn't come back to play Monday.

--- Cashmere Wright's hot streak disappeared quicker than 2012 eyeglasses the past week and a half. Following four consecutive double-digit games against the four lower-rung opponents where he shot 26 of 45 (58 percent) from the field, he hasn't broken into double digits in any of the last five games. He's 13 of 50 (26 percent) from the field over that span including 3 of 18 from 3-point range.

What's the answer?

"I just got to get back in the gym," Wright said. "Like before practice and after practice, got to go shoot get my game back right. I can't allow me going cold to keep happening. I got to start hitting shots sooner or later."

Missing that many shots would make any player tentative. While Wright insists he's not afraid to let it loose, he did admit there are better options and he finds himself acting on them.

"I still go out there and take my shots," he said. "Because (teammates) are hitting shots I make sure I look at them first. So, if they open and I'm open I'd rather get them the shot because right now I feel they are making more shots than me."

--- If you want to listen to the entire press conference with Mick Cronin, click here. If you want to hear Dixon and Wright, click here.

Q & A with sophomore forward Jeanise Randolph

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Sidelined with a back injury for most of the season, sophomore forward Jeanise Randolph is back in the rotation for the Bearcats. Her size and presence down low is a key addition for a team looking to get on track in the BIG EAST. Below is a Q & A with Randolph on returning to the court.

Q: What is the best part about being back in the rotation?

JR: "Being able to play with the team since I haven't been able to play for 11 games straight. I'm just very excited to able to play with the team and try to help them out."

Q: What was the hardest thing about sitting out and watching from the bench?

JR: "Knowing that I can't help and knowing that I can't go out there a grab rebounds. Knowing that I can't do something about what's going on out on the court and knowing that although it's a good learning experience to watch and be able to see from a different point of view, it's just hard not being able to actually go in there and do something."

Q: What kind of grind is the BIG EAST?

JR: It's a hard grind. You have to make sure you are taking care of your body, make sure you're coming in to the training room, making sure you keep your grades up, making sure you're listening to the coach, and staying focused. There's no time to slack off and you just have to make sure that you are mentally there and physically there."

Q: How does this team take a step forward during the rest of the season?

JR: "Basically listening to our coach and everything she tells us about transition, boxing out, rebounding. We need to stay mentally focused and stay mentally strong. If she tells us to do something then we need to do it. We don't have time for mental lapses because if we do we can go down by ten points in a game, so we just need to focus and we just have to keep pushing through everything."

Q: How has this team stuck together this season during the highs and lows?

JR: "In practice everybody is encouraging each other and getting on each other for mistakes or making sure everyone is paying attention. The captains are being really great and making sure that we're staying focused, making sure that we're physically and mentally there. After practice we hang out, eat together, and if people need their space we give them that space, but making sure we stay as a team and making sure everybody is there for each other."

Q: How is the team preparing for the stretch run featuring games against Notre Dame and UCONN?

JR: "These couple days leading up everybody stays in the training room, everybody is going to class, everybody is focusing in practice and going hard every time. You also want to make sure you're taking care of yourself because if you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be home for a couple of days to rest it. It's basically just staying relaxed and not stressing over anything and just having fun."

Q: How does the team handle the emotional and mental ups and downs of a season like this?

JR: "It starts with learning from the losses. We don't want to go into a loss and lose because of something that happened last game. We have to build off of a loss and we don't want anymore losses where we dug ourselves in a hole. We want to lose because they were better than us. We want to win and we need to move on. You can't dwell on the past and we need to make sure we do something in this game that we didn't do in the last game. They talk about carry over in practice and we need to carry over good things. If you mess up just continue to play; everybody messes up and it's just a part of the game."

Q: What are some other things that you enjoy while competing in a basketball game?

JR: "I enjoy blasting some one off of a screen or getting a great screen for my team. If I can get an easy bucket I'm excited as well. When I see my other teammates take a charge or if they go to the basket strong then that gets me excited. Sometimes when I take charges it gets me hyped too, but anything can get me excited no matter if we are down or if we are up I like the intensity."

Q: If you had to pick the perfect finish to the season for your team, what would it be?

JR: "Basically I want the seniors to go out with a good season. I want them to finish strong, I want to win the BIG EAST, and I want to make it to the NCAA tournament. I want the seniors to leave Cincinnati and say 'I'm proud of my team and excited to see them play next year'. I want to leave the conference and people to say 'I didn't know Cincinnati was that good' and 'Cincinnati is going to do something in the BIG EAST'. I want people to know that we're someone to play with."

Micks And Match

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It's a new year and a new Cattitude on the court at the Shoe and Mick Cronin deserves a lot of credit for yes, how he handled the Crosstown Shootout, but more important how his team has played since then. They have gone 8-1 with impressive road wins at Pitt and Georgetown, and narrowly missed clawing back to beat St. John's at home.

I know so many thought without Yancy Gates and because of the Big East schedule this was going to be a dreadful period of basketball. But thanks to Mick's ability to rally the troops, opening himself up to additional offenses, and giving players the green light, this team has found itself with a versatile style that can fit any opponent. The net result is a more confident team and fan base.

One of the other moves Mick made was the letter to those fans and alumni asking for their support and it seems to be paying off as attendance has been significantly better. UC basketball I think is very close to regaining its market share with fans and high caliber recruits. Winning in the Big East on the road opens eyes and helps players see themselves as the missing piece to a program capable of going further into March where success resides in the form of Sweet 16's and Final Fours.

Whether or not this happens with this years recruiting tally remains to be seen. One thing that remains a constant in all of this is that Mick is willing to put in the work, do the non-traditional and traditional all in the name of long term success. While it may not be happening fast enough for some I think the consensus to those that matters is it is working and that's critical. Getting a vote of confidence is the number one key to recruiting high profile athletes who want to believe you're going to be there by the time they arrive next year.

So I have no crystal ball and can't tell you how things will work out but I can say without hesitation that what Mick has done and had to do because of the obvious challenges is working. I honestly believe it will only get better.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 1.12.12

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Not a ton of stuff here in the Breakfast this morning, only because I'll have more this afternoon after the UC media availability at 2:30 p.m.

Plus, I just bought the new iPhone, so I have a lot of playing around to do. In fact, I'm just hoping all my productivity isn't lost for the next months while I Shazamm every song that comes into my life. Thanks to all the Twitter folks who helped me with the iPhone/Droid decision yesterday, the thoughts came in handy toward drawing me over to the dark side of Apple.

Anyway, got a few storylines in my head for today's media session, but mostly talking to Sean Kilpatrick about offense and the 3-pointer vs. driving philosophy. The guy is one of the most prolific scorers in the conference right now and I find the method to his scoring madness so interesting. His reliance on the 3-pointer increased dramatically, but he's always considered himself a drive for contact type. The battle between fire from deep and play to attack must play into his head every day. It certainly did for the entire team against GT when they only shot 13 3-pointers.

So, I'll analyze that.

Also, looking to discuss the new world order of the Big East. I will attempt to do so without mentioning Razor Ramon, but will likely fail.

Let's eat...

--- Seriously, what is going on in this conference? Pitt lost to Rutgers last night, 62-39, and didn't score more than 20 points in a half. I think the Panthers have officially gone down the Big East slide "Christmas Story" style and Rutgers was the foot of Santa. They aren't coming back, folks.



--- Rich Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal
briefly touched the topic of the upside-down Big East with UC flipped to the top. In case you missed it yesterday, I broke down the teams to look at why the argument can be made for the Cats as the second-best team in the conference.

--- Stand by Syracuse making a run at 18-0 in conference. Think they go 16-, but they definitely have as good a chance as anybody to pull it off.

UC probably has as good a chance as anybody to take the Orange down. It will take a team that get hot from the outside to frustrate their zone and can ride a home crowd to the win. Jan. 23: Not sayin', just sayin'.

While on that topic, student tickets for that game are already sold out. Presumably, everyone with one of those tickets will be hauling in a Big Head as part of the Big Monday Big Head Initiative. If you aren't sure how to go about it, contact @JFreeman83 on Twitter, he'll steer you in the right direction.

--- More on that topic,
UC is hosting a Happy Hour of ticket deals tonight from 5-9 p.m. with Mick Cronin even manning some of the phone lines.

People, not to go all used car salesman here, but these deals are absurd. Two tickets to ESPN games, including Big Monday vs. No. 1 Syracuse for $24? Is this real? Check out the menu of options.
RingRed.jpg
--- First things first, Saturday's doubleheader will be a Ring of Red game. The Ring of Red shirts are in. I've always wanted to be cool enough to wear a shirt with a hashtag on it. #Anniesmove #CommunityInsideJoke

The shirts are free for all the students.
Regardless, wear red on Saturday, people.

--- Bill Koch touching on a
topic that deserves to be talked about: Whit Babcock is everywhere. Know that face, guys and gals, you never know where he'll turn up. Babcock is as hands on an AD as I've ever come across. Hard not to like the approach.

--- Mike DeCourcy with his mid-season awards, nothing for UC, but an interesting read, of course, from the Hall of Famer.

--- People want to talk about how UC's win at Pitt is diminished now. Fine, but did you know 19 percent of college basketball hasn't won a road game yet this year?

--- Dana O'Neil. Nobody better.
This time on the unassuming, jovial Cody Zeller of Indiana.

--- UC football added a home-and-home with Toledo. They will play Oct. 20 at the Glass Bowl, then at Nippert in 2014. The home-and-home is the interesting part of the announcement. Not many BCS-conference teams play on the road in the MAC.

In fact, last year, here are all the BCS teams that played inside a MAC stadium.

Penn State 14, @Temple 10
UC 27, @Miami 0
UConn 17, @Buffalo 3
@Ball State 27, Indiana 20

There are 13 teams in the MAC, and only four games were played with BCS squads visiting their home stadium. One of those was UC's long-running Battle for the Victory Bell series with Miami.

Penn State at Temple was played at The Link in Philly where tons of PSU fans could gather on top of the home Owls fan base.

Indiana played BSU at Lucas Field, which while technically a home game for Ball St., allowed a ton of IU folks to come.

That really only leaves on true home game and that's UConn going to Buffalo.

Not saying this won't be a nice series, but going on the road against teams you should beat becomes almost a lose-lose. You'll never get the credit you deserve for beating a MAC team, no matter how good they are. But, you got to commend Butch Jones for not shying away from going to the other team's house just because of the perception.

Of course, I'm sure Toledo wishes they would have WR Eric Page for that game next year. Instead, he's going pro.

--- 30 Rock returns tonight. They've had some ups and downs in recent seasons, but Jack Donaghy still brings it. Here's his guide to manipulation. More on the blog this afternoon.



Bearcats Breakfast 1.11.12

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It's been great having the Ballin is a Habit guys in town. After taking in the watch party on Monday, we sat down for a lunchtime podcast at Montgomery Inn yesterday.

You can listen to the podcast here
.

I've claimed since posting my first blog here that my goal is to make you feel like through the content I put up here, you feel like you are on the Bearcats beat as well. I want it to feel like you understand all the sights, sounds, notes and quotes we hear. Nothing brings that more than essentially sitting down to lunch with us as we BS about basketball and their road trip.

Hope you enjoy it as much as Rob and Troy did the ribs. Though, that may be impossible.

For the record, there also may be a pretty hilarious And1 mixtape of our pick-up hoops game that involved members of the UC staff yesterday. It will likely be placed in the Sports Information wing of the Unathletic Hall of Fame.

Please don't analyze my offensive efficiency or points per possession rating. It is poor to quite poor.

Let's eat...

--- Saturday's doubleheader of
the UC men hosting Villanova at noon then UC women hosting Notre Dame after is being dubbed a Ring of Red game. So everybody remember to wear red.

Hopefully it doesn't match the color of Mick Cronin's face if his team continues to the ugly trend of losing early afternoon games. The more I think about the 19-5 after 2 p.m. against high major teams and 1-6 prior to 2 p.m. stat, the more my jaw drops.

--- Bill Koch wrote about the Georgetown win ease the latest pain of the season. He also reported that Ge'Lawn Guyn is OK. He spent a night in the hospital in DC then flew back to be with the team yesterday.

--- Mike DeCourcy wrote about Mick Cronin's endgame strategy Monday night where he essentially "iced his own shooter." Great analysis of Cronin's desire to avoid any craziness that happens across the country on a nightly basis.

--- Thought Rick Pitino said it well, after his team lost 90-59 (!) at Providence (!) last night.

"Sometimes you have the one game a year, you can't really explain why it happens. You just have to get on to the next game."

Cronin and the Bearcats did that well at Georgetown.

--- A question that came
up in yesterday's podcast was, who is the second-best team in the Big East?

UC can make a legitimate claim on the spot right now. Hard to believe we're saying that, but take a look at the competition.

Cincinnati (3-1): One loss in conference with road wins at Pitt and Georgetown under their belt.

Seton Hall (4-1):
They are 4-1 with double-digit wins against West Virginia and UConn. Their four BE wins have come by an average of 16 points. But, let's be honest, it's still Seton Hall. Should we be believers yet?

Notre Dame (3-1): They are 3-1, but they are lacking in many areas, plus UC beat them handily by 16.

UConn (3-2): Who exactly have they beaten? Packed with preseason pub they have the capability to become an elite team, but for now, they are living off of wins against Harvard and Florida State while losing to Rutgers and the Hall.

Georgetown (3-2): Sure, but, well, there was Monday.

West Virginia (3-2): They're offense is reliant on two players, but they are in the conversation. Will be a fun game in Morgantown on Jan. 21.

Marquette (1-2):
They've lost four of six.

Louisville (1-3): Dumpster fire right now.

Looking at the current layout, UC and Seton Hall are battling it out for the second-best team (everybody had that prediction in November, right?). What does that mean in the long run? Absolutely nothing, but it's fun to consider where this team could stand in March.

--- Eammon Brennan at ESPN
briefly broached this exact topic with UC/Seton Hall leading the conversation.

--- Remember, the Big Monday Big Head Initiative
is underway. Get your big heads and bring them in for the Jan 23 game against Cuse. I had a few more suggestions come my way from a source close to the Syracuse fan base.

Former Richmond coach Dick Tarrant (dating back to 1984 might push the Big Head demo, but will definitely dig at longtime Cuse fans)

Former Vermont guard T.J. Sorrentine, who did this to the Cuse and Gus Johnson's vocal chords in 2005.

--- Bearcats Blog, Down the Drive and Bearcats Nation conducted a Roundtable on the conclusion of the football season. They allowed their awards for offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, best hit, etc.

There was no category for best GoBearcats.com blogger/reporter, Scott didn't even invite me to participate and also didn't show up at the Bearcats watch party. There may be dissension among the ranks here.

--- Andrea Adelson posted her way too early football power rankings for 2012. UC lands at fourth. Hard to disagree for now, there are a ton of questions with 21 seniors -- and prominent ones at that -- moving on.

Names like Isaiah Pead, Zach Collaros, Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer will be replaced with names like Jameel Poteat, Munchie Legaux, Jordan Stepp and Nick Temple. They'll need to prove the belong before they're given much credit.

--- Randomness...

--- Walking while texting, we've all done it. Casey Neistat of the New York Times isn't a fan.

---  Are you suffering from SEC Fatigue?

--- This 3-year-old doesn't flinch when a lion goes crazy against the glass at her in the zoo. Glass or not, that is some scary stuff. I think we have a future GI Jane.

--- Just such an unpredictable headline.

--- Wearing the shortest shorts
ever while hanging out with what may or may not be a crazy, old man -- that's so Raven.

--- Since you saw the And1 Mixtape of unathletic basketball skills at the top of the post, only seems fitting to have the real deal the bottom.




Episode 6: Inside the Bearcats Podcast

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The Inside the Bearcats Podcast is taking an experimental turn this week. This week we welcome in the guys from Ballin' is a Habit, Rob Dauster and Troy Machir. They are currently breezing through Cincinnati on a nationwide college basketball tour. Their site is one of the premier college basketball blogs in the country and created an incredible following, including from this reporter.

These guys know college basketball as well as anybody and they are in the middle of one of the most interesting journeys any blogger has ever done.

Rather than hold a stuffy conversation over the phone, it seemed like a fun concept to welcome them to the Queen City the right way and take them out for their introduction to Montgomery Inn Ribs.

So, today, we invite you to come to lunch with myself, Troy and Rob -- and our lovely wait staff. Disregard out chatting with our mouths full as we talk about BIAH, map out their long journey, discuss the importance of dental hygiene, handicap the Big East, Vince Gill, Georgetown-UC observations, nationwide cuisine and hear Rob and Troy's amazement at the moment they truly realize the genius that is Montgomery Inn.

Not exactly your ordinary, typical podcast, but an interesting look inside UC and the Big East basketball conversation in a relaxed, free-flowing, carnivorous atmosphere.

Minutes 0-11: Here we are at Montgomery Inn, who is Ballin is a Habit, how did they get started and what are they thinking packing into a Hyundai Santa Fe with 170k miles on it and covering the US?

11-18: Mapping out the trip, including an incredible run of six games in six days along with the importance of toothbrushes and wireless hot spots. 

19-24: Georgetown-UC reactions and handicapping the Big East race in a year where there is Syracuse and everybody else. Could UC be the make a push to be the second-best team in the conference?

24-30: National perception of UC and how the weak middle of the conference will effect tournament resumes. Will it hurt UC's chance with a lacking non-conference slate.

30-33: Who are these people contending for Big East player of the year?

33-36: Rob has seen Villanova and relays his thoughts as we contemplate the absurdity of UC's struggles playing before 2 p.m. against high-major foes.

36-40: Why the reformation of the Big East will push us all close to tears.

40-43: Rob tells a disturbing story that ends with his pants down. We all share our concerns.

43-52: Twitter craziness, best of trip thoughts and, of course, reflections and rankings of Montgomery Inn on the trip's food board. (Hint: It's not last)


Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Bearcats Breakfast 1.10.12

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Great time last night at the UC-GT Watch Party at Martino's on Vine. Rob and Troy from Ballin' is a Habit were great to hang out with and I realized, since Troy is a Georgetown guy, for the first time in my life I could talk trash about my Ohio U. athletics.

He was a good sport, though, so no need to rub anything in. Others took a different route.

Regardless, good times and thanks to all those who showed up to watch UC's biggest win of the season.

Plenty to get to there, so let's eat...

--- In case you missed it, here are the highlights.

--- This was the sixth consecutive
Big East road win for the Bearcats. Looking back to last year and this year, Pitt was the only team to accomplish that feat. They opened last year's conference season with six consecutive conference road wins then lost at St. John's going for No. 7.

Whether the road streak comes by virtue of playing better with their backs against the wall as Mick Cronin suggested Saturday or they thrive without the pressure of the home court, who knows. These road wins against ranked teams earn major points with selection committee. Last night's game is one that will continually come up when weighing the Bearcats resume.

"Great effort by my kids, proud of them, great win for us," Cronin said. "You know, we've had some wins over Georgetown, we've been fortunate here lately but this is the best team ... we had and the best Georgetown team we've been able to get a win over."

--- Dan Hoard wrote about a big effort from big man Yancy Gates. Great read and perspective.

He returned to the starting lineup and showed what he can bring to the four-guard setup. His presence and effort defensively are the types of characteristics UC fans have been begging for since he arrived. Gates managed 10 deflections. He's been giving that effort consistently since his return from suspensions.

--- UC finished with 34 deflections
overall. "Against Georgetown," Cronin said, "that's a monster number."

--- In this space yesterday, I said the key stat would be for UC to force 17 turnovers. If so, they would win. They forced 17 turnovers exactly, the final coming on the Hoyas last possession in which they failed to tie the game.

Say whatever you will about the inconsistency on offense, this team can play some defense and rattle just about any team in the country with it.

--- I will be writing about this later in the week, but another observation mentioned in Sunday's Morning After was Sean Kilpatrick's propensity to take 3-pointers vs. drive to the bucket. The lack of contact created took away a major part of his game. The same lack of contact was true for the entire team. UC ranked in the bottom 10 percent in the country in FT rate.

They clearly made a conscious decision last night to flip that stat. The 3-point attempts dropped from 32 to 13. The free throws rose from 12 attemps against St. John's to 22 against GT.

Not only was 13 the lowest number of 3-pointers shot since the offense changed, it's not even close. And since the schedule amped up, this was a high for free throw attempts as well (obviously, some assistance to GT needing to foul in the final minute)

Opponent    3s        FTs

Wright St.   14-32   8-18
Radford       10-21   15-20
Ark-PB        15-28   18-29
Chicago St.  16-35   7-9
Oklahoma    7-30    15-20
Pitt              11-27   3-6
ND              8-27    13-18
St. John's    7-32     8-12
GTown         4-13    18-22

--- It's no coincidence their top two scoring games against high-major competition were ND and GT. Attack the basket to draw contact more often and good things happen. We'll see if that same shift continues, but scaling back the 3-pointers and boosting up the free throws provides a recipe for more consistent offense.

--- Rob Dauster talking about UC's big win at NBC Sports.

--- Congratulations to coach Cronin
for win No. 100 at UC last night. There were a lot of people who would have bet he never saw that number and that's no slight on his coaching abilities.

--- Bill Koch's game summary
includes Dion Dixon calling Saturday his worst game at UC. Monday was one of his best. Need to see that aggression to the bucket much more often. He fell into the same 3-point concern as Kilpatrick, both can penetrate and finish so well, but rely too heavily on the jumper at times.

--- Thirteen total steals last night, including four apiece from Dion and SK. That number is the second highest of the season (Arkansas-Pine Bluff).

UC has won the steal category in each of the last seven games -- all by at least three.

I may have to break out the nickname the football team was riding this year: The Turnover Margin Express.

--- Speaking of football, how about that national championship game last ni......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

--- UC ended up finishing the season in the Top 25. They were 21 in the Coaches Poll and 25 in the AP.

--- Andrea Adelson posted
her final power rankings with UC second and wondering what might have been.

--- UC will be hosting an exclusive Signing Day dinner if you are interested. Here are the details. The event sold out each of the last two years, so you may want to move on it.

--- Tommy G spoke with
Butch Jones for the first of a two-part season wrap yesterday.

--- Randomness...

--- Mo Egger with a great take on Barry Larkin's HOF nod. Can't agree more.

--- Tim Tebow set a new sports Tweets per second record on Sunday.

--- We were actually talking the unfortunate career plummet of Dan Cortese last night. And the need for a 10-point shot. I miss Rock N' Jock.

--- Death to cursive!

--- Definitely my favorite
sports sign of the year. This is the type of outside-the-box creativity I demand out of all of you.

--- Coachella 2012: Black Keys, Radiohead, Dre and Snoop. Yeah, that might be a good time.

--- With the Coachella announcement, want to post one of my favorite Radiohead songs. Have a good one, everybody.



Small Stats, But Big Role For Gates in Bearcat Win

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In the first half of Monday's game at Georgetown, Yancy Gates did exactly what a big guy is supposed to do on offense - he used his size and strength to get close to the basket, squared his shoulders toward the rim, and went up with authority.

And he still couldn't make a shot.

"Oh man - it was just one of those nights," Gates told me after the game.  "Those were shots that I can make in my sleep, but I really wasn't frustrated by it.  I was just trying to find other ways to get into the game."

Gates in traffix.jpg

Yancy finished with modest stats - 8 points and 7 rebounds - but head coach Mick Cronin said that the senior from Withrow High was a big key in the Bearcats 68-64 win over the 11th-rated Hoyas.

"I've never been more proud of Yancy Gates," said Coach Cronin.  "He had 10 deflections which for him is off the charts.  For any big guy - that's off the charts." 

"I think that was a career high," Gates said with a laugh.  "I had to find some way to contribute, so I tried to smack the ball around."

Gates spent most of the game guarding Georgetown center Henry Sims and forced him to commit five turnovers.

"Yancy played through a lot of things tonight that have been a challenge throughout his career," said Coach Cronin.  "We do not win this game if he doesn't hang in there mentally with his defense.  That was a huge, huge effort from him on the defensive end.  A lot of other guys did a lot of things, but that was big for us."

The Bearcats managed to win even though Georgetown shot 59% overall and 60% (6-for-10) from 3-point range.  UC overcame the Hoyas' hot shooting by forcing nearly twice as many turnovers (17) as they committed (9). 

"Georgetown is the most precise offensive team in the Big East," said Coach Cronin.  "They always shoot a high percentage, so what you have to do is get some turnovers.  If you don't disrupt them at all, they'll just carve you to death.  To get 17 turnovers was huge for us.  Points off turnovers was the difference in the game - it was 20-7 for us.  The kids are so committed to getting deflections right now - we ended up with 34 tonight and against Georgetown, that's a monster number."

"When you get deflections, it disrupts the other team's offense and helps keep them out of rhythm," said Gates.  "Even if you deflect it and don't get it, they still have to run and pick it up and reset.  That's been the focus since I got back so I've tried to be a part of it."

The win improved Cincinnati's record to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in the Big East and atoned for Saturday's discouraging home loss to St. John's.   

"It's was a great win for our team - it shows them what we're capable of.  But so does (last) Saturday," said Coach Cronin.  "As (assistant coach) Darren Savino likes to say, 'You're a peacock today and a feather duster tomorrow.'  The danger with this team is complacency.  I have to find ways to keep these guys locked in.  It's a long grind and we have to make sure that guys are showing up to play on game day.  When they throw that ball up, you've got to be locked in and ready to go.  In this league, anybody can beat anybody."

"We felt like we gave a home game away on Saturday," said Gates.  "The good thing about playing in the Big East is that you lose that game, but you have a chance to come to a place like Georgetown and get a win.  Saturday we play Villanova at home so we need to get another win and keep rolling."

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.

Around the Big East: 1/9

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Cincinnati's Status: (9-7, 0-3) -- As always we will start off with a glance at UC's status in the BIG EAST. Sitting at 0-3 following a road loss at No. 10 Rutgers on Saturday, the girl's are searching for their first BIG EAST win. The Bearcats were led by Bjonee Reaves who had 15 points. Rutgers limited top-scorer Dayeesha Hollins to nine points, which allowed for their 11 point victory to come a lot easier. The Bearcats had trouble with the press of Rutgers in the early going, but settled in and were able to gain confidence in the second half. Still it wasn't enough.

The Bearcats only shot 21 percent in the first half, only scoring 15 points, which put them at an early halftime deficit. Even with the return of the bigger players in Jeanise Randolph, UC still were out rebounded 37-25 and were out-scored in the painted area, 26-18.

Next Up: After a week off for preparation, the Bearcats will host No. 3 and the BIG EAST leader Notre Dame at Fifth Third Arena at 3 p.m. on Jan. 14.

Inside the TOP 25 (AP Poll as of 1/9):
2. Notre Dame
3. Connecticut
8. Rutgers
18. Georgetown
21. DePaul

Game of the previous week: UCONN v. Notre Dame -- Notre Dame topped UCONN at home in an overtime clash on Saturday. This was the game of the week as advertised and it did not disappoint. Preseason BIG EAST player of the year Skylar Diggins led the way for the Irish with 22 points and was aided by teammate Natalie Novosel who scored 20 points of her own. UCONN had their 57-game BIG EAST winning streak snapped in this game. UCONN, who was one spot in front of Notre Dame in the national rankings now sits one spot behind after this game. This was the first time Notre Dame has beaten UCONN back-to-back times (last win was in last season's Final Four), a feat that has not been done recently by any college basketball programs. The Irish join Rutgers as the only undefeated teams in the BIG EAST standings.  

Upset of the previous week: DePaul v. Providence -- Providence's Teya Wright completed her eleventh double-double of the season scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the Friars shocked the No. 21 team in the country. This was Providence's first win over a ranked team since Jan. 7, 2009 when they beat Pittsburgh, the No. 20 team in the country at that time. DePaul only had eight available players for this game due to an injury bug, so that played a roll in the upset. Keisha Hampton, who averages 16.6 points for the Blue Demons, was sidelined for the second straight game with a leg injury. Providence (9-7, 1-2) now has the exact same record as the Bearcats, but with this win gained a victory in the BIG EAST that UC does not have.   

Game of the upcoming week:
Louisville v. Rutgers -- This weeks' game of the week is on Saturday Jan. 14 when Louisville travels to Rutgers for a TOP 25 clash. Rutgers is looking to keep pace with Notre Dame atop the BIG EAST standings. Both of these teams are looking to strengthen their NCAA tournament resumes. The Scarlet Knights and the Cardinals both have 13 wins. Rutgers has won four straight games, while Louisville is coming off a loss to St. John's. Rutgers is 8-1 at home, while Louisville is 7-3 on the road. This game is at 2 p.m. from Louis Brown Athletic Center. 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.9.12

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Want to start off today with an invitation to all of the loyal blog readers -- and even you slackers that show up only when you hear I wrote more about facial hair.

We're going to have a UC-Georgetown Watch Party/TweetUp tonight at Martino's on Vine. It appears we'll be set up upstairs. The guys from Ballin Is A Habit, who are on their cross-country tour will be there taking the game in with us. (Look for more from them later this week)

Should be a good time and a chance for those of you I haven't met in person, which is almost all of you, to swing by, chat and you can tell me how young I look compared to the sketch that makes me appear on the verge of collecting MediCare.

Let's eat....

--- Obviously, this is a Bearcats blog, so I try to keep it relatively UC-centric, but I can't help but briefly deviate today.

Barry Larkin, my sports idol growing up may be announced as the latest member of the Hall of Fame today. Everybody has that player when they were a kid. The one player who you always said you were when you played imaginary games in your backyard or whose number you grabbed out of the uniform bin in little league.

For me, as a young kid growing up in Cincinnati, I wore No. 11 and played shortstop. In any sport I play to this day, I always wear No. 11.

I went to Moeller, where Larkin is revered as one of the great Big Moe products. I spent my formative years taking in his Wire-to-Wire World Series title and then an MVP season. He was the perfect role model on and off the field. He played the game the right way, always said the right things and took the high road.

And he could rake.

Today, as well as the day he's inducted in Cooperstown, would be one of the cool moments where an idol who you always thought was under appreciated (how many All-Star Game starts did Ozzie Smith unjustly steal from him?) earns his due.

A HOF nod for Larkin would be a win for all the kids in the city like me that grew up positively affected by the way he played and handled himself. Mothers and fathers should be role models, not necessarily athletes, but when athletes do set the perfect example, it can have a significant impact. That's what I'll hopefully be celebrating today if Barry Larkin earns his rightful spot in the Hall.

--- Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com
backs up my point.

--- Jayson Stark reveals his ballot with Larkin as a no-brainer.

--- John Erardi finds parallels
between Larkin and Rose.

--- Moving on to the Bearcats,
if you missed it, I broke down some of the concerning trends UC is facing as they move forward from the St. John's loss in yesterday's Morning After blog.

--- UC runs into a Georgetown team dealing with similar circumstances. They come off a disappointing loss, their first in conference this season and are struggling to hit 3-point shots. The Hoyas were 2 of 14 from deep against WVU.

--- Bill Koch looks at bouncing back from a loss in a difficult place to play.

--- Of course, two of UC's biggest wins last year came against Georgetown. The Bearcats defense throttled the Hoyas, holding them to only 46 points at their place. It was UC's first road win against a ranked team in seven years.

For Georgetown fans, it was also the day Chris Wright broke his hand and their season fell apart (no need to bring that up to the BIAH guys tonight, they're Georgetown fans).

Of course, the Hoyas return trip to Cincy the final day of the season was the shining moment of last year's run to the tournament. The 22-point drubbing was a coronation of the rebuilding project and return to relevance.

The Cats also beat Mizzou in the first round of the tournament at the Verizon Center, so it's not an uncomfortable environment for them.

--- A quick look inside the KenPom breakdown of GU. The Hoyas are ranked No. 13 by his numbers. None of their stats jump off the page at you. They are one of the better teams in the country defensively, as they rank 14th in defensive efficiency and 28th in effective FG% defense.

More than anything, Georgetown has been finding ways to win. They came back from 20 down to beat Marquette last week, but couldn't topple the deficit against WVU.

The Hoyas showed some serious resolve in their win a Louisville, holding off a wild Cardinals charge where they pulled even with a little more than a minute to go. Georgetown settled in and executed critical possessions with Yum! Center crowd going bonkers.

--- Key stat tonight: Georgetown turnovers. UC ranks second in the conference in turnover-percentage defense while the Hoyas are in the middle of the pack protecting the basketball and had 15 turnovers against West Virginia. If UC can force 17 or more turnovers, they win the game.

--- A win tonight would be victory
No. 100 for Mick Cronin at UC. 

--- I'm late on this from last week, Doc wrote a story on the divergent directions of UC-XU since the brawl for Sports Illustrated.

--- For anybody who is still paying attention five weeks later, the anti-climatic conclusion to the national title hunt is tonight with Bama-LSU. The only good news to come out of college football this week will be that changes involving the postseason appear to be on the horizon.

--- Actually, there is good news
, the future Big East members went 5-2 this bowl season.

Winners: UC, Rutgers, SMU, Houston, Boise State
Losers: Louisville, San Diego State

From the I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin' files: ACC went 1-6.

--- Randomness...

--- Charles Barkley hoste
d SNL this weekend and outside of a brief reference to UC in the Liberty Bowl, there was this sketch with Chuck taking shots at Shaq and Inside the NBA.

--- Tweet of the day: Comes from the fallout from Ben Roethlisberger's ridiculous fedora he sported at his postgame press conference.

"@Elisemenaker: Big Ben murdered Professor Plum in the dining room with the candlestick"

--- The #DeOccupyNBC Movement can officially come to a close, since whoever was running NBC Primetime was either fired or flogged into submission as they admitted Community will return in the spring.

--- Gary Busey is doing weird car dealership ads? This seems so out of character for him.

--- GPS has added an "avoid ghetto" feature. Hopefully, "avoid Kenwood Mall" is right around the corner.

--- The dropping of Cable TV is a fad I won't be jumping on board with anytime soon, but I may soon be in the minority.

--- It's Cashmere Wright's birthday, so I'll post the last minute of the Oklahoma game, one of the brightest moments of his breakthrough season.



The Morning After: St. John's 57, UC 55

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Nobody on press row could say they saw the Bearcats loss coming against St. John's on Saturday. Mick Cronin on the other hand spotted the loss coming like a NY Subway train.

"The lack of focus began the minute we started today," he said. "You know in practice, I knew this morning."

Consequently, the Johnnies broke out to quick starts at the beginning of both halves and turned out to be too much for the Bearcats to recover from.

What was Cronin's concern going forward? Was it 56 missed shots? Was it taking 32 3-pointers and only hitting seven? Was it the tip-in at the buzzer?

None of those, really.

The problem was he hoped this team would be beyond this. He hoped they would be able to do what they traditionally haven't the last few years: Handle success.

Did he think they were past that?

"Honestly, no," he said. "But you hope, you hope as a coach."


Instead, the latest setback displayed a team not veteran enough to keep the everyday intensity while riding the wave of success.

Even more concerning from Cronin's angle, those not handling it were the centerpiece veterans of the team's resurgence.

"I can't get my senior guards to pressure the ball, I have to yank them and put in freshman," Cronin said. "The reason we lost, we were not ready to play. We played as individuals, we played with no focus, no energy, poor preparation, poor leadership, failure by the coaching staff to get the team ready, failure by players to get themselves in a mental state ready to play.

"That ought to answer why the final score said what it said.
'


It certainly creates a great jumping off point. The critical question going forward is why did this happen and how do the Bearcats avoid this in the future?

Let's explore...

--- As for putting a finger on where the lack of focus and motivation came from? "You'll have to ask them that," he said.

So, we did.

Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright, both as down as I've seen them in a long time, took the blame on their shoulders.

"
Something we got to fix," Wright said. "We got to figure out a way to get everybody going everyday in practice. We can't come out like we did today. We came out not ready. We came out like we knew we was going to win and wasn't ready for the fight."

Cronin talked this week about the need to keep their mojo going. The team needed to maintain the edge and energy that epitomized their seven-game winning streak. Granted, making 20 of 76 shots doesn't help any mojo.

But in the eyes of the Cats, that shouldn't be the deciding factor in victory/defeat.

"Because you don't make shots, don't mean your mojo is gone," Kilpatrick said. "You got to prepare yourself to make them shots and you have to prepare yourself mentally to win the game."


--- While the Bearcats players took in an earful after the game from Cronin, they weren't alone across the country in letting their guard down, certainly not alone in their conference.

Take a look at some results from yesterday:

- Notre Dame 67, No. 10 Louisville 65 (2OT). That's ND going into the Yum! Center and pulling off a win.

- Rutgers 67, No. 8 UConn 60. The Huskies fell at the RAC to The Rut, who were 0-2 in conference to this point.

- West Virginia 74, No. 9 Georgetown 62. Maybe not a huge upset, as WVU has been playing well, but this was a Hoyas team not ready to play Saturday as well.

None of these results make the Bearcats performance OK, they do make them standard. And with a win at Georgetown on Monday night, nobody will care about what happened on Saturday against the Storm. The biggest concern being when you face young, inexperienced teams like St. John's at home in this conference, you need to win. When a stretch of four of five games against the Top 25 awaits, there's not denying that truth.

--- Great quote from assistant coach Darren Savino on Twitter this morning: "One day a peacock, the next day a feather duster."

--- Cronin thinks he may have figured out some of the reasons why the Bearcats have played so well on the road lately. Dating back to last season, they have won seven of eight games on the opponents' home floor. The only loss came in this year's Crosstown Shootout.

"
I think I figured out why, we seem to only play hard when our backs are against the wall," he said. "Maybe that is the reason. We'll see. At some point you think this group of guys, especially our upperclassmen would realize that it's fun to win, it's fun to play hard and people will respect your individual game you'll have a chance to actually make it as a player. But you have to show up to play every day."


Can't deny their spurt at the end of last season came from the team feeling backed into a corner following the St. John's loss and Gates being put under heavy fire.

This year's spurt came as the Crosstown Shootout forced them into survival mode. Cronin is trying to learn where the motivational buttons lie with this team.

That said, I'd be shocked if they don't come out with maximum effort and focus on Monday. The only problem being, max effort and focus won't be enough at the Hoyas. They'll need to make some shots.

--- Cronin also mentioned
the trend of struggling in these early afternoon games.

"Look at our record in day games," he said. "Two o'clock or earlier the last two years."

Well, you asked, coach. So here you go. I'll only use those against high-major teams.

2010-11
@Villanova  Noon   L  72-61
@Syracuse Noon   L  67-52
vs STJ        Noon   L   59-57
vs UConn    Noon   L   67-59
vs GTown    2 p.m. W 69-47

2011-12
@Xavier     12:30   L  76-53
STJ            2 p.m. L  57-55

--- That is 1-6 in games at
2 p.m or earlier against high-major teams. Their record against high-major teams at other times? 19-5.

--- This isn't exactly
a run through the CYO league. These were almost all against the conference big boys. That said, only the win against Georgetown and two losses to St. John's were really close. 

--- For what it's worth, Saturday vs. Villanova (noon), Feb. 26 @USF (noon) and March 3 @Villanova (2 p.m.) are the only games that will fit into that category, not counting possible postseason matchups.

--- Cronin pre-emptively struck on any questions about 3-point shooting with his opening statement and was sure to point out this wasn't about shooting.
 

"You play bad, you lose," he said. "Welcome to the Big East. Today we played awful. Again, not talking about shooting the basketball. That is a weak excuse. It's weak and it's soft. Has nothing to do with getting a rebound, getting a defensive stop. Stopping their best player late the game."


That being said, Saturday was the worst shooting performance of the season.

They finished 20 of 76 for 26.3 percent from the field. The previous season low was 27.9 percent twice (Xavier, Oklahoma).

They finished 7 of 32 from 3-point range for 21.9 percent. The previous low since the offense change was 23 percent against Oklahoma. On the season they have twice been worse, 6.3 percent at Xavier and 18.8 percent against Alabama State.

The emerging trend has been an all-or-nothing shooting cycle. When a few players are missing, everyone is missing. That was the case against Oklahoma and again against St. John's.

Talk about effort all you want, these were wide open looks missed over and over and over again. Apparently, this team will have nights like this and their success against the best teams will be determined by the shots are dropping or missing.

It's been a 50/50 shot through four games against high-majors. They've shot over 40 percent twice and under 30 percent twice.

Where is the middle ground? Hard to figure when there are seven players in the rotation that shoot 3-pointers on a regular basis.

--- I've tweeted this the last couple games: Sean Kilpatrick driving the bucket > Sean Kilpatrick shooting 3s.

Now, SK can shoot from the outside. He's hitting 38 percent on the season. But, he's so effective slashing to the basket, it seems like a wasted opportunity when he launches 3-pointers guys in his face. The tight defense his 3-point prowess has elicited would seemingly be able to open up his slash-and-cut game. Since the offense change, here are SK's splits:

2-pointers: 21 of 41 (51%) 1.02 PPP
3-pointers: 27 of 75 (36%) 1.08 PPP

Yes, the points per possession are better when taking 3s. Also, take into account his propensity to get to the foul line when he attacks the basket. He shoots 75 percent from the stripe, with free throw numbers that PPP would rise. Also, know the drive-and-kick philosophy fuels the four-guard attack.

UC ranks 331st in the country for percentage of points that come from the charity stripe (15.5%). Much of that is from their best contact offensive player avoiding it by firing 3s.

SK needs to keep taking 3-pointers -- he's an incredible weapon from deep and the points per possession dictate that. But keeping that in the 6-11 range would be more effective in the grand scheme of things than anything in the 12-16 range.

Stat of the night: It would be wrong to include any stat other than this one as stat of the night. UC missed 56 shots.

Here are the five lowest shooting percentage days in UC history with their total shots missed:

1949 LaSalle    65 16%
1949 Butler      65  20%
1949 Butler      62  22%
1952 Duquense49  22%
1949 Miami     54  24%
-------------------------------------
2011 STJ         56  26%

Morale of the story: The 1949 Bearcats struggled with accuracy. If there were more of these stats in the record book I could give you more of a modern era idea of most missed shots, but that would be a little too depressing of research for right now.

Quote of the night: Mick Cronin on the final tip-in at the buzzer:

"We tried to steal the inbounds pass instead of what we talked about in the timeout, which was everybody switch what need to switch, keep the man front make them take tough shots over it. We got beat, forget the tip-in, it should have went in. We try to steal the ball and let best player turn corner. So, poetic justice I would say on the tip-in. The Basketball Gods giving the team that deserved to win today the victory.

"It's hard to block out when you are in a scramble because somebody is getting beat off the dribble and you got guys running around trying to steal the ball, what were we going to do turn around and shoot a 70-footer?"


Bearcats Breakfast 1.6.12

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Last night I engaged in a Twitter discussion. Very rarely is that sentence followed by anything productive, but today may be the exception.

BigHeads.jpgDuring the pregame of the Notre Dame game, I mentioned the full student section but lack of big heads, that have become so much a part of the college basketball atmosphere these days.

One UC fan let me know they had a lovely purple Brian Kelly face the ND folks watching at home would surely enjoy.

Then, I ended up talking with @JFreeman83 last night about a project he said he was brainstorming about for Big Heads for the Big Monday game against Syracuse. I like this. Not to be a follower because this is going on everywhere, but the section needs some personality and giant heads seems like a step in the right direction.

So, I asked Twitter for suggestions and, as is seemingly always the case with the medium that changed the game of procrastination forever, people responded.

I plead to the students that read the blog to take these ideas and run with them...directly to Kinkos, or wherever the heck you guys go to make those things. From what I gathered last night, the student section would essentially be a sea of the Cuse Hall of Shame. And Fabio. And Pee Wee Herman.

The obvious suggestion I received was Bernie Fine. Two things on that: 1) Too soon, 2) Big Heads aren't meant to be inappropriate, as this one definitely is, they are meant to be subtle, ridiculous and humorous.

That said, if you insisted on going that direction, JFreeman was suggesting photos of all-time famous Bernies. Kosar, Madoff, Weekend at Bernies Bernie, etc. I'm not saying this should happen or would be politically correct, but will only point out that is more the direction we are looking for here rather than the obvious.

Here's the list of suggestions I would condone:

Keith Smart (If you're too young, watch this)
Greg Robinson (the face of futility and despair)
Greg Paulus (the other face of futility and despair)
Eric Devendorf (walking, talking human garbage in the eyes of Cuse fans)
Lisa Lampanelli (Got to be the most embarrassing famous Cuse grad)
Isaiah Pead, w/high fade haircurt, please (246 yards of total offense anyone?)
Connor Barwin w/stache (Because CB is fantastic and the stache so strong)
Leo Rautins (spray tans with Syracuse connections equal laughs)
Any random D-list celebrity (I received tons of these. Pick anybody)

The face is now in your court, folks. Expectations are high to add some spice to the student section.

You students are supposed to be the forward thinkers and creative minds of future generations. (Cue inspirational horn accompaniment) Start today. One Big Head at a time.

Let's eat...

--- At Mick Cronin's press availability
yesterday (full video here) he talked about keeping his team hungry. An easy way to do that is keep them out of the Top 25. They haven't handled it well the last few years and clearly play better with a chip on their shoulder.

"Don't vote for Cincinnati," he said. Bill Koch posted a blog about it.

Cronin admitted later to be joking, but keeping his team's focused mojo going was not a laughing matter. There will be lulls maneuvering through the 18-game conference grind. Right now, he pointed out, UC is making a lot of mistakes, only covering them up with hustle. Against the best teams, hustle will only do so much. The mistakes need to stop.

Keeping his team realizing they haven't arrived yet and drowning out those telling them how great they are is part of the motivational game you play with 21-year-old kids.

This group is constructed much different from last year's. That's been part of the issue with developing toughness through the disastrous first eight games of the season.

"Part of growing as a team is me learning how to push the right buttons on a team," Cronin said. "Last year I had a veteran group and they played hard. I didn't really have to worry about it. This year I've had to focus more on making sure we are playing really hard. Make it a habit for them. Whatever it is, you got to keep these guys having fun, you got to keep the mojo going."

The seniors last year did so much to keep the train moving last year, particularly Spidey Tights himself, Larry Davis. As those who read this blog know, he was one of my favorites. He was a favorite of Cronin, as well.

"I didn't have to worry about firing a team up when I had Larry Davis -- not the coach, the player. He could fire a dead man up. Some of our veteran guys, that was my problem, getting those guys fired up all the time. We changed the way we practice. Every drill we do I do even teams, we keep changing it up. There's a winner and a loser."

--- Watch Bearcats Sports Weekly with Mick Cronin. Seriously, do it. You're just killing time anyway.

--- St. John's comes to town looking for any type of offense. They are 207th in field goal percentage and 311th in assists. The way UC is playing defense right now, teams that don't pass or shoot it well on the road get gobbled up whole.

Louisville is as close to a replica of UC going right now and the Johnnies at one point missed 25 of 26 shots against them in a home loss.

The St. Susanna fourth graders that played at halftime Wednesday hit more shots.

Bearcats Blog had an email conversation with Rumble in the Garden, a STJ blog. They talked about all those offensive woes and, of course, The OC. By the way, I concur on Misha Barton.

--- Jeff Borzello at CBSSports points
out St. John's may struggle this year, but their program isn't the house of cards it appears.

--- I know I talked yesterday about the early season road woes Big East teams experience. It led to a point about how remarkable UC's win at Pitt was and how tough it will be for ND and STJ to earn a win in Fifth Third.

Well, Pitt lost at DePaul last night, which proves the BE road theory, but certainly diminishes some of the shine off the win at The Pete.

I'm going to have to write that again to properly wrap my brain around it, Pitt lost to DePaul last night. Actually, this is going to have to be like Bart in the open to The Simpsons.

Pitt lost to DePaul last night.
Pitt lost to DePaul last night.
Pitt lost to DePaul last night.
Pitt lost to DePaul last night.
Pitt lost to DePaul last night.

Still having trouble digesting it.

Pitt has now lost four in a row for the first time under Jamie Dixon. Give some credit to the Blue Demons, though, who are now 10-4 and 1-1 in the Big East.

--- Villanova...
.not very good.

--- Xavier is making everyone who sat in the student section for the Crosstown Shootout attend a reflection session.

--- Today is Sean Kilpatrick's birthday. He's a great basketball player, but he's an even better kid. Here's a link to Kilpatrick cracking his teammates up in the locker room doing an impression of asst. Larry Davis prior to the tournament game last year.

--- Andrea Adelson wrote a piece on the UC seniors proving her wrong this year.

--- Next step for those seniors is Senior Bowl for Isaiah Pead and a number of others will join him at the combine in Indy soon after. The official list of invitees to the combine should be out in the near future.

--- Randomness...

--- The Bengals playoff win drought can legally buy beer today.

--- The next 1 for 26 scoring drought
for St. John's, they should attempt Louisiana-Lafayette's effective method of playing six guys at once. Would certainly free up some open looks.

--- Wall Street Journal with a humorous look at all of you heading back to the gym for your NYE resolution. "Beware a hip gym with a Wilco step class."

--- Charles Barkley not exactly the perfect spokesman for Weight Watchers.

--- If you are going to go on national tv and pick a school, tell your mama first. There are going to be some cold dinners for Landon Collins in the near future.

--- I'm Ron Burgundy?

--- In honor of the Bengals last playoff win, I think one of the great jams from 1991 is in order. Makes me want to breakdance in a puddle. Yeah, you may think this song is terrible now, but hey, it's better than The Other Guys.

When The Game Ends, Practice Resumes For Davis

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As I type this sentence, it is 12:27 on Thursday afternoon - nearly 16 hours since the Bearcats won their 7th straight game by beating Notre Dame 71-55.

I wonder if Jeremiah Davis III is still in the gym shooting.

Davis vs Notre Dame (365x471).jpg

After every Cincinnati home game, long after the fans have exited and the only people in the stands are members of the cleanup crew, Davis can be seen launching shot after shot after shot.

"I started doing that this year," Davis told me after the Notre Dame win.  "Things weren't going the best for me at the beginning of the year and I'm here to play basketball, so I might as well be in the gym.  I've definitely noticed a difference."

Haven't we all.

The freshman guard from Muncie, IN did not score a point in his first four college games and went 0-4 from 3-point range.  But in his six games since, Davis is averaging 7.0 points in 13 minutes of playing time, and has drilled 8 of 13 treys (62%).

"He loves basketball and he's not afraid to put in the work," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He's got great parents that have instilled a great work ethic in him.  In recruiting, when you get a chance to meet a kid's parents, you know what he is going to be about, because you know you're going to get support from home.  He understands that hard work pays off because that's what his family is about and that's what he is about."

"I appreciate Coach Cronin for saying that," said Davis.  "Coach Cronin is a great guy too.  Sometimes people misjudge him a little bit, but he's a great guy.  He's a coach you definitely want to play for.  That's why I came here."

Davis played a key role in Wednesday's win over the Fighting Irish.  Cincinnati held an 8-point lead when Sean Kilpatrick went to the bench with foul trouble with 10:23 remaining in the first half.  Davis helped UC quickly increase the lead to 13 points by scoring eight points in the next four minutes.   

"In the first half after SK got his second foul, Notre Dame went exclusively to the zone," said Coach Cronin.  "Dion (Dixon) was struggling and Jeremiah Davis gave us a huge lift.  Their zone was effective - we only scored 31 points in the first half - but it would have been even more effective if it wasn't for Jeremiah Davis stepping up and knocking in some shots and giving us solid defense."

"My teammates did a great job of getting me open," said Davis.  "I just try to be a team player and everything worked out."

Davis is not the only Bearcat freshman who has made a big contribution during the winning streak.  Jermaine Sanders went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in wins over Wright State and Radford, Ge'Lawn Guyn scored a career-high 11 points against Chicago State, and Kelvin Gaines had 7 blocks in the same game.

"I like our mix right now because our freshman can really help, but there's not a lot of pressure on them," said Coach Cronin.  "It might be Jeremiah one game, Ge'Lawn another game, Jermaine Sanders another game...those guys are going to jump up and help us.  But it's nice that they're coming off the bench.  Three or four years ago, we were trying to win with Yancy and Dion starting in their freshman year in this league.  You just can't do it."

Davis knows his role and is embracing it.

"I'm having fun," Jeremiah told me.  "I love Bearcat Nation, I love Cincinnati, I love my family and coaches.  It's a great time right now.  After that brawl, everybody got closer together.  I think you can tell on the court.  We love each other and we're going to do anything we can for each other."

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 Morning After: UC 71, Notre Dame 55

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The night where everyone wondered what would change proved that very little did. That's what I wrote my column about following last night's win against Notre Dame.

The hot topic circulating around the media room after, however, was the remarkable, divergent paths taken by Xavier and UC since the brawl.

Mo Egger talked about it in his blog today.

The Dagger at Yahoo! touched on the topic.

They do a fine job of tackling the issue, so I won't go too much farther. However, I will say this: I've never seen one event change two teams so dramatically. I've been covering sports professionally for eight years and watching them closely my whole life. I've never seen anything like it.

Amazing what triggers and releases confidence. I truly believe it all comes back to that. Talk about schemes and bodybags all you want. This is one team suddenly confident in its own skin and another not so much.

Those wild intangible feelings and thoughts so often tossed aside by the stat-wizards (myself included) are so important. The results of the last 25 days prove just how much effect they can have.

Wild. Just wild.

--- I won't go too much more into Yancy Gates. He was the story last night. I wrote about him. Bill Koch did as well, pointing out that some of the concerns about how he would play almost seem silly now. I'd concur.

The most significant stat that popped out to me was he only took four shots. He played with the understanding that the offense didn't run through him anymore. That rightfully was the primary concern, but I'd claim Yancy has never been a selfish player. He's always been a conscientious, team guy. You can accuse him of being a lot of things, unconscientious and selfish aren't among them. No reason to believe that would change now.

--- Nice to see the ovation given to Gates as he entered the game last night. I would say it was rousing, but it wasn't a standing O. Funny how people not at the game tweet something as fact and people claim it to be so.

--- Dion Dixon did it again last night.
His game has developed an interested trend. He's quickly becoming the team's closer. When it's winning time, it's Dion's time.

Take a look at the last four games that have been close coming down the stretch.

Georgia: Dion buries three consecutive 3-pointers and scores 10 of his 19 points in the final six minutes to spur the comeback victory.

Oklahoma: He didn't connect on a few late 3-pointers, but he did knock down all four free throws in the final minutes as part of the win.

Pittsburgh: He scores seven consecutive points -- the final seven of the game for UC. After going 0 for 2 from deep, he buries a 3-pointer as seven of his 13 points come in those final five minutes.

Notre Dame: Dixon scores 11 of his 18 points in the final five minutes. Not only that, those began once ND cut the score to its lowest of the second half at 8 points. He knocked down a 3-pointer to extend it to 11 -- he was 0 for 6 from 3 prior to that -- then went 6 of 6 from the free throw line to help put it away.

I had to ask Dion, is he the closer?


"Everybody see themselves as a closer," Dixon said. "If I got it going, they are going to come to me. Whoever got it going we are going to go to them at that time. These last couple games, I've been having it going."


The crazy element of Dixon's heroics are in half of these games, he hasn't hit a shot all night when he starts gettin buckets late.

"That's the mark of a senior, never rattled," Mick Cronin said. "Couldn't' make a shot but late in the game he wants the ball and makes every free throw."


When thinking about what he's doing, I think of a 2009 UC game against Marquette here the Bearcats desperately needed. Lazar Hayward was 0 fo10 from 3-point range during the game, but needing a triple in the final second he knocked one down cold-blooded in the final seconds.


How great, senior players shoot prior to the final seconds mean little. Dion is becoming that.


--- Not only did Dixon have it going, he entered into the record books as he became the 47th player in the history of UC to score 1,000 points.

Dixon wasn't going to hide it, he was well aware of where he stood in the record books with that one.

"After last game, I told Cash, I need nine more points to get 1,000," he said. "It feels good. It feels great, actually. First couple years I wasn't really thinking about it. As I got a little older I started thinking about it."


--- I feel like I say this in every Morning After, but forget the suspensions, schemes and attitudes -- the biggest difference in UC's turnaround is JaQuon Parker.

Park continues to play lights out. He hit a heat check in the beginning of the second half where he dropped three consecutive 3-pointers, with a player closer to his face each consecutive attempt. All net. He scrapped for five boards, had a steal and an assist.

Hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers, he's now 14 of 22 on the season from deep. Stupid numbers.


"We talked a lot early about us being a better offensive team, we should be, because we have guys that can make shots and guys can beat their man off the dribble," Cronin said. "It just took us a while to find our rhythm with that. But a lot of that is JaQuon Parker, guys. A lot of that is having JaQuon out there. He allows you to play four guards at times because of his toughness."


--- I'm sure everyone assumed Jeremiah Davis would score 10 points in 15 minutes last night, right? He's the latest freshman to have a big night. More on that coming tomorrow. (Teaser!)

--- Hey look, it's Tommy G on ESPN's site recapping UC's win against Notre Dame along with Brooke Weisbrod.

--- Mick Cronin discussed minutes for Yancy as he goes forward last night. He admitted it was probably a mistake playing him the 36 minutes per game he was averaging earlier this year. Especially with the pace becoming what it is, that would be even more difficult from this point forward.

"Early in the year he was playing too much," Cronin said. "Cheikh was hurt, most importantly, JaQuon Parker was hurt. He plays 21 minutes tonight. He's probably a 27-minute -- when you are 270 pounds you can't play 36 minutes. That's probably my fault, I should have just played other guys. I should have thrown our freshman out there more."


--- The Bearcats are one of three teams still undefeated in Big East play. Yes, already. Syracuse and Georgetown, both 3-0, are the others.

St. John's is 1-2 in conference, with a win at home against Providence. They'll arrive to Fifth Third much like Notre Dame, a young team really struggling away from home.

The Johnnies haven't beaten much of anybody, but they are 0-5 away from home this year. One was a one-point loss to Texas A&M at a neutral site, another a six-point loss at Detroit. The rest were all by double figures.

--- A season-high crowd of 10,142 were in the house last night and the place had as much energy as the building has felt since the end of last year. Both student sections were packed and rocking pretty good.

The numbers were expected with Wednesday being the first game of the mini-plan that includes Cuse, Nova and Louisville.

Cashmere Wright had a big smile on his face as UC jumped out to an early lead at the first media timeout and the crowd was roaring. You could tell right then, they had a positive effect on the players.

"We definitely feed off of it," Dixon said.

Stat of the night: UC went the first 15:43 of the game without committing a turnover. They led by 13 at that point.

Quote of the night: With all eyes on Yancy, on one of his first possessions he hit a left-handed baby hook on the block. I asked if getting the first one out of the way and getting into a rhythm helped ease him back into the game, he offered this:

"Honestly, I wasn't even thinking about it," he said. "I'm not a freshman, I've scored in games before."


Indeed. He's now 25th on UC's all-time scoring list. Probably not my strongest effort in the phrasing of questions.


The more things change...

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Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj returned to the lineup with everyone outside the program concerned about what would happen. What happened was more of the same scrappy, gritty victories that marked the first six games of the seven-game win streak.

CINCINNATI - The writers analyzed. The bloggers wondered. The fans worried.

What would happen when Yancy Gates returned to the suddenly surging Bearcats?

Only, while the writers, bloggers and fans grinded stats and theories, Gates and his teammates practiced and laughed. They weren't concerned. Not in the least.

"It didn't matter because I knew," Gates said of the outside discussion of his role. "I'd been in practice. I knew the style, I knew I was going to fit in."

As a 71-55 UC victory unfolded on Wednesday, the truth became apparent. Gates was right. There was no need for concern. The four-guard offense zipped around Gates on the inside, as the he collected eight boards, hit 3 of 4 shots and blocked three more.

Gates played his role. He did so happily. This wasn't a night when 6-foot-9, 265-pound senior stole the spotlight. There were no thunderous dunks or gaudy numbers. He grinded in the shadows: deflections and blocks, passes and screens.

He finished with a +/- of +3 in his 21 minutes.

The offense altered since Gates last appearance, but more than any schematic adjustment, the mindset of the team is the most drastic change from Xavier to Notre Dame.

"Everybody is more focused coming out of the locker room," Gates said. "Even coming into the locker room before the game. Everybody focus is high coming off the bench. It helps everybody's energy level. Everybody is worried about winning."

It's also all they're doing. As much as Wednesday was a change for the Bearcats, it played out exactly the same as the previous six games. UC scrapped for deflections, it irritated the opponent with the press, it aggressively let fly from 3-point range.

Different components. Same result.

"When he came in the game you could tell that he was trying to fit in with us and he was giving us a chance to do our thing we were doing when he wasn't here," Cashmere Wright said. "We still gave him the ball like last time when he was here. We just trying to gel and make everything work."

Any concerns about nerves were quickly erased as Gates moved to the scorers table at the 14:31 mark with a cheer from the crowd serving as the soundtrack.

"I noticed it," Gates said of the fan reaction. "It helped ease it in."

The cheers grew louder as soon as he entered. A swipe on a Jack Cooley post move for a steal was soon followed by a left-handed baby hook. A soft jumper from the right baseline and fading jumper from the left side added up to a perfect first half shooting in his return.

He only took one more shot the rest of the way, and finished with his second-fewest points of the season, but his effect was felt even beyond a team-high eight boards.
"I really don't think its the rebounding," Wright said. "It's the presence he brings on defense. Our defense is a scheme, a lot of scuffling and rotating, He knows the five spot. So when we rotate, he knows where he is supposed to be at, he blocks shots and get the rebounds. It gives us more opportunities on offense to score and more room for error on defense when we do."

For Mick Cronin, Gates, along with Cheikh Mbodj, bring versatility when gameplans begin to stray.

As Kilpatrick and Wright both found first-half foul trouble, the versatility provided by the return of the suspended players provided an immediate impact. Cronin swapped to a standard two-guard attack with Gates at center running next to Justin Jackson.

"People say is that going to mess you up, those guys coming back?" Cronin said. "We need them. To think youa re going to be able to play that small throughout 18 games in the Big East was probably unrealistic. Guys are going to wear down over time. The versatility is the key."

Versatility was the key to a long day for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

"Our scouting report today went twice as long," he said. "The four-guard stuff and into the two-big guy stuff. And we saw both of it."

What he mainly saw was a brand of UC basketball admittedly unfamiliar to him. The confidence and swagger emanating from this team struck him during the game and after.

"This group has the best vibe about them (of any Bearcats team) and we have played them a lot and repeated them a couple times," Brey said. "I compare a little bit to our team last year, just old and we were men. I said it during one of the timeouts to our assistants, it is kind of men among boys right now. Very impressed by them."

Hard to argue with the assessment right now. On a night Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon combine to shoot 2 of 13 from 3-point range and new pieces adjusted to game speed of this offense on the fly, the Bearcats won going away, never leading by less than eight the entire second half.

The brawl and fallout officially became old news on Wednesday. UC's ascension and Xavier's freefall running remarkable, divergent paths in the aftermath.

Now at full strength, the old adage holds true: The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Considering it's all working in Big East play, that's a story bloggers, writers and fans should be talking about.


Locals among the Liberty Bowl heroes

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The Liberty Bowl champion UC Bearcats featured many budding stars that came from the area high school ranks. 

Butch Jones and staff have continued to recruit the best local talent and many of these young men experienced and participated in UC's Liberty Bowl victory in Memphis Dec. 31.

Since I cover area high schools during the day job, I shot some photos of a few and they are posted here.  Sorry for any photographic glitches, I was hired to write and then handed a camera. We learn as we go.
millsfrey.jpgcoombsschaffer.jpglozierbomar.jpgmilligan.jpgdetemple.jpgbujnoch.jpgmiliano.jpguc31,vandy24.jpg

From top to bottom: Cameron Mills (Colerain) and Drew Frey (Clinton-Massie) come off the field after a defensive play; associate head coach/special teams/DBs Kerry Coombs (ex-Colerain head coach) and JK Schaffer (La Salle); Colin Lozier (Colerain) and Maalik Bomar (Winton Woods) in pregame drills; Danny Milligan (St. Xavier) runs routes before the game; long snapper Tom DeTemple (Moeller) surveys the Liberty Bowl field; Austen Bujnoch, No. 76, (Elder) awaits to take the field with teammate Dan Sprague; Tony Miliano (Elder) drills a 44-yard field goal for the Bearcats in the second half; and the final score from Memphis on the Liberty Bowl Stadium scoreboard.








Game Balls & Player Ratings: USF Bulls

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Another lead was taken from the hands of the Bearcats last night as they fell at Fifth Third Arena for the second time in conference play this season. Leading by four points at the break (31-27), the USF Bulls pulled away in the second half out scoring the Bearcats by seven. The Bull's charge came from their bench, which scored 28 points, while the Bearcats' bench only added seven points to their total of 55 (Jeanise Randolph and Alyesha Lovett were the only bench players to see action). Dayeesha Hollins led the way for UC with 22 points for a team that shot 50 percent in the first half versus only 34 percent in the second half. Points in the paint were a bright side for the Bearcats though, as they out scored the Bulls by 16 near the basket. There were obvious struggles during last night's game and it came from Kayla Cook and Bjonee Reaves who shot a combined 1-12 and added only three points between the two of them in 73 minutes. Reaves was shut out for the first time this season. Chanel Chisholm and Tiffany Turner scored in double-figures for UC and helped keep the score close. Chisholm added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Turner scored 10 points and pulled down four boards. Hollins, Chisholm and Turner receive game ball honors for their efforts and production.

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

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 -- This girl knows how to lead this team and she does it not only in the huddle but also by example on the court. Hollins got off to a red-hot start connecting on two three-pointers during the first two minutes of action last night. She led all scorers with 22 points and was the reason the Bearcats had the lead at halftime and kept this game close. She took a boat-load of shots, but I see no problem with that because of the struggles demonstrated from her fellow guards, Reaves and Cook. Hollins is on her way to becoming an All-BIG EAST performer this season.

"I just play whatever is available to me, and I take advantage of it, so I just play the game, pretty much," Hollins said. "It's better, I am good."

2. Chanel Chisholm, 8 -- The Bearcats were dominant in the painted area last night and a lot of that credit goes to this senior guard. We all know Chisholm's game is getting to the rim and finishing with power, but she has also been a great re-bounder this season with two double-doubles and nearly another last night. She may not show up every game based on how the team is shooting from deep, but Chisholm gave the team a much needed spark last night and has continued to be a leader for a team looking to find its way in the BIG EAST conference.

"I thought Tiffany (Turner) and Chanel (Chisholm) as post players stepped up. But you have Kayla Cook and Bjonee (Reaves) combine for 73 minutes and between the two of them, they were 1-for-12 on the floor. So you can't have our best player denied and then the other two perimeter players not having any productiveness, just as far as helping us in the scoring column," Head coach Jamelle Elliott said. "You just can't have two guys that play over 35 minutes a game going 1-for-12. Why did they go 1-for-12? You know, I don't know. Were they not making shots? Were they not aggressive? Especially when our best player is taken out of the game we have to have others guys step up and help us win. Kayla plays hard for 40 minutes defensively. Bjonee, I think she takes some breaks off whether it is her knee or something else."

3. Tiffany Turner, 7 -- Still in her role in the starting line-up, Turner was able to score in double-figures last night while adding to the domination in the paint. She was effective shooting the ball (5-7) and added four rebounds. Even though her rebounding numbers should be up in a game like this, Turner is still a pivotal part to this operation. She played 26 minutes, while Jeanise Randolph only saw 14. They will continued to be platooned at the forward position this season, but it seems that Turner is still the more productive one of the two, at least for now. 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.4.12

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The same pattern repeats itself year in and year out in the Big East: early in the conference season, home teams thrive. This was especially true the last few seasons when the parity in the conference ran so deep.

Learning how to win on the road in hostile environments takes time in this conference. By the end of the season, the numbers begin to even out, but early on road teams tend to struggle mightily.

At first glance, it would seem those numbers are slightly more moderate with home teams going 10-5. Considering the increased disparity between the top five and bottom five this season, that's actually reasonable. Looking closer at the breakdown of all five conference games, though, it seems the same early-season formula is in play.

If you aren't one of the premier teams in this conference, you are going to have problems winning away from home early on.

Of the five losses by home teams, all of them came at the hands of a ranked opponent -- except for UC@Pitt.

- Georgetown topped Louisville in one of the better games this season.
- UConn squaked by USF, 60-57
- Syracuse predictably throttled DePaul
- Louisville beat up on what looks more and more to be a bad St. John's team
- And, of course, UC taking down the Panthers.

In all 10 other Big East games this season the home team won. Those include two upsets of ranked teams:

- Seton Hall took down No. 10 UConn last night by 12 (Same SH team that was crushed on the road in the Carrier Dome)
- Notre Dame 72, No. 22 Pitt 59 in South Bend

I waste your time at the beginning of the Breakfast with this for two reasons:

A) The next two games are those the Bearcats SHOULD win. Following trends of how difficult it has been for non-top tier teams (aka young teams, aka ND, St. John's) to win on the road early in the season, winning games with the home environment and opponent's inexperience on your side are critical. You must swipe winnable games in this conference at every chance.

B) These stats display how impressive UC's win against Pitt was. They literally did what no other unranked team in the conference has done this season -- win a road game. Personally, that tells me perhaps these Bearcats deserve to be ranked, but that's a discussion for another day. Having veterans leading the way helps since the core of this group finished off the regular season winning four in a row on the road last year shows they know how to win in unfamiliar locations.

Both of these concepts play a major role tonight against ND. The Irish are 9-0 at home this year, including the Pitt upset. They are 0-5 away from South Bend.

While the Big East remains a study in struggles on the road, the Irish are case in point.

Their losses: @Maryland (78-71), @Gonzaga (73-53) and neutral floors vs Indiana (69-58), UGA (61-57) and Mizzou (87-58).

Not much shame in the schedule, but the results are undeniable. With so many tough games ahead, winning these next two inside 5/3 are critical.

Let's eat...

--- Of course, 5/3 needs to create a home-court advantage or else you might as well be playing in the auxiliary gym. Down the stretch last year, the crowds and energy in that place were 90sish (it's a word if I say so). Even though there were about 4500 at US Bank the other night, the place rocked as UC made its comeback. The noise made a huge difference.

Mick Cronin wants that to continue. He wrote this letter to the student body asking for their support as the conference season begins.

It's well said and politely asks for their help in being a part of what Cronin knows can be a special season. For so often there has been this battle between fans and the recreation of the Bearcats, whether for schedule, prices, interest, whatever. Cronin continues to try and bridge that gap especially with the students. This isn't some revolutionary move or one that will change the game of UC hoops. Not at all. Just a nice gesture and one that should remind students how much they are needed and what kind of impact they can have -- for free, by the way.

Cronin didn't have to do this. He did. The latest example of a coach who keeps making all the right moves.

--- Expectations are for a good crowd tonight. You can get tickets starting at $12 or take the last opportunity to hop on the ND, Nova, Cuse, Louisville mini-plan for $100.

--- The return of the suspended players comes tonight, for more details check out yesterday's Breakfast which I did what half of you did on checks written yesterday and listed it as 2011.

Bill Koch also outlined what they are stepping into in this piece.

AP's Joe Kay tackles the topic.

Chad Brendel with another analysis.

All include the same mantra from Mick: These players will show up, play team basketball and do what I tell them to do.

--- As Bill touched on in his piece, fair or not, a portion of fans view UC's emergence as addition by subtraction of Gates. From my seat on press row, that's simply not the case. The return of free and easy basketball where nobody is afraid to shoot and everybody gives relentless effort every second changed this team. One that all season I've been saying needed to be perimeter-driven.

Now, who knows what we will see tonight when the new players return to the rotation. Though, as Cronin pointed out yesterday, don't expect to see crisp basketball. It takes a few games to get back into rhythm. Even some of the Bearcats don't know what to expect, but I'd be shocked to see anything but the same effort and energy as has been displayed for each of the six games. And that's been enough to win to this point. It likely would be again tonight.

--- Cashmere Wright stat watch: 38 assists to six turnovers the last six games. His A/TO rate the past six games sits at 6.3:1. The national leader for the season is Dave Sobolewski at Northwestern (4.6:1).

--- Notes from the notes:
UC ranks among the nation's leaders in fewest fouls committed (9th-14.4), scoring defense (16th-57.4 points), turnover margin (22nd-4.1) and blocks (25th-5.5).

--- Mike DeCourcy does a HOF
job debunking the myth about soft, home non-conference schedules. Thank you.

--- Jake Curtis of the SF Chronicle
points out that UC isn't the only team using the four-guard lineup successfully. See Mizzou and Colorado.

--- Not sure what's worse, that
in-depth Bubble Watch columns are being written the first week of January, or that I looked through it.

Sidenote for the millionth time: Stop using RPI as an indicator of team value this early on. Once schedules and results begin to float to their level in early February we can talk. For now, it's as useful as a car with no steering wheel. (I'd debate heavily its usefulness altogether, but that's for another day. I'm trying to keep my blood pressure down)

--- Without doubt, UConn losing
last night at Seton Hall should grab everyone's attention. Seton Hall appears for real.

First thought that popped into my head when I saw that score? Holy moly, is Syracuse good. I'm not saying they will, but the Orange have as good a shot to go undefeated in Big East play as any team I can remember since UC joined. I predict 16-2.

--- Some randomness....

--- Phillip B. Wilson of the Indy Star wasn't a big fan of Bill Polian, apparently.

--- San Diego coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith kept their jobs. In related news, Jon Lovitz has a string of new movies coming out.

--- What would you do if a mouse was found in your can of Mountain Dew? Filing a lawsuit would be high atop the list.

--- Starbucks addicts, you're going to want to put down your lattes before reading this link.

--- OK, so,
Stephen Tyler, Alice Cooper and Wierd Al walk into a club -- stop me if you've heard this one.

--- Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons says he was thinking about brunette girls when he made the game-winning kick last night. When I can't write a story, I do the same thing. I can confidently say it does not work with the same efficiency.

--- Have to admit just the mention of Wierd Al makes me think of my favorite of his parodies. Even Ezekiel thinks my mind is gone.



Previewing the opponent: USF Bulls

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The BIG EAST schedule is back and what better time to start conference play than after the Bearcats won the Hilton Garden Inn Hokie Classic in Blacksburg, Va. Cincinnati's second BIG EAST contest will take place at Fifth Third Arena tonight at 7 p.m. and will be against the southern-most BIG EAST squad, the University of South Florida. The Bearcats have a 14-7 series advantage against USF and have beaten the Bulls the last two times they have played them. The Bearcats, who are 9-5 (0-1 in the BIG EAST) will compete against a 8-6 USF team, who has recently lost to the University of Dayton, a team that UC beat earlier in the season. This is USF's first BIG EAST game this season.

The Bulls are led by an impressive senior guard, Jasmine Wynne, who is averaging 15.9 points per game. The Jacksonville, Florida native has scored in double-figures in 10 straight contests for the green and gold. Wynne also averages a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game while junior guard Kaneisha Saunders leads in the assist category averaging 2.9 per game.

Different than UC, the Bulls have a veteran coach in Jose Fernandez who has been with the program for 12 seasons and has an overall record, close to .500, at 178-174. Jamelle Elliott, the former UCONN stand-out is off to her best start as the head coach at UC.

The statistical leaders for the Bearcats are, Dayeesha Hollins, who is leading in scoring averaging 14.4 points per game. Tiffany Turner continues to lead the rebound category even with Jeanise Randolph back from injury, as she averages 7.9 rebounds per game. Dayeesha Hollins also leads the team in assists with 3.6 per game and has been very impressive lately, especially in her 26 point outing against Virginia Tech on Dec. 28.

Last season's match-up was one of the closest game since the two schools started playing in 1996. UC beat the Bulls 56-55 and tonight's match-up looks to be a close encounter again when examined on paper. The Bearcats should match-up relatively well with the team from Tampa Bay, with Dayeesha Hollins being an athletic guard who will be able to defend Wynne well. It should be another exciting night at Fifth Third Arena. Come out and support your women's basketball program.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.3.11

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Little late start this morning since I spent last night up late locked into the Fiesta Bowl where I actually witnessed a coach deciding a redshirt freshman was more trustworthy than Andrew Luck.

The redshirt freshman kicker, of course, was not -- twice. I feel for the kid because it wasn't his fault. He never should have been put in the situation to hit a 37-yard field goal for the win. Not when Luck was driving down the field with zero resistance, then David Shaw decided to stop trying to score.

Yet, I digress.

Regardless, a great day of bowl games yesterday. I was just so happy games like the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl didn't mean anything in the big picture. Phew! That would have been terrible if they were part of a playoff. (*Sarcasm font)

Let's eat...

--- Spent yesterday afternoon
at the UC media availability talking with Mick Cronin and Sean Kilpatrick about the return of three suspended players and how the heck they will mix back in.

The entire presser is here.

Mick was purposely concise in discussing the situation. He didn't want to reveal too much and, obviously, was uninterested in placing any roles or expectations on the returning players.

Let's quickly note that Octavius Ellis will not be back as he still nurses his broken hand. And Cheikh Mbodj may not be back, either.

Jeff Goodman at CBS reported that Cronin is considering redshirting both of them because of injury. Ellis, in my opinion, will happen. With Mbodj, Cronin has an interesting decision to make. How much will he be needed with the new setup of this offense? He'd seemingly be a nice fit defensively guarding the rim and helping out on defense, but playing behind Gates and Jackson, where does he fit in?

Worth keeping an eye on.

Back to yesterday's comments, Cronin clearly wasn't paving the way for Gates to be thrust into the middle. He wouldn't confirm nor deny that the senior would start and when asked if it is safe to assume the starting lineup will change he said, "it's not safe to assume anything."

From Cronin's perspective, there is no reason to rush anybody back.

"The hardest thing those guys have all fought is practicing knowing you are not going to play," he said. "It is hard. It is hard to stay focused. It is hard to have a sense of urgency; it is tough. You try to change things up for them and do different types of workouts for them but there is really no substitute. Trying to keep those guys on edge, yeah, we worked them as hard as we can, but it is not the same. I would not expect any of the three guys to be sharp. I just don't. Hopefully they can give us some depth."

This team found itself by playing as a group, by finding an unselfish streak in all of them. In the return of these three players, that won't go away. Cronin is making sure of that when talking more about the roles of the suspended players Wednesday.

"We are going to play to win," he said. "Everybody needs to do whatever job they are asked to do. That is part of being on our team. If I ask you to fill up the water at timeouts and that is what is important to us winning then that is what you need to do."

--- Cronin has been mixing up the teams
in practice with Cheikh, Shaq Thomas, Yancy playing with either Dion or Cash on their team.

"They usually beat us when it's five on five," Cronin said.


From a players perspective, nothing will feel different Wednesday night.

"They have worked us harder than normal," Kilpatrick said. "Those are the guys that even though they haven't been playing with us in games they have been working us real hard. Nothing has really changed. It's the same old team."


--- Bill Koch touched on this topic including some quotes and info from his road trip to Pittsburgh.

--- Kilpatrick earned honors
as Big East Player of the Week. He averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds in the Cats two wins against Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. He was the first UC player to win the award since Deonta Vaughn in 2008.

Lost in Kilpatrick's offense has been the evolution of his defense. Cronin pointed out his hustle and defensive discipline flipped two possessions in the final minute against Pittsburgh.

One was a dive for the ball where he skidded across the floor to help come away with it.

"He dove seven feet in true Pete Rose fashion, belly-flop, head-first," Cronin said. "You look on film and say how did he even think he could get that? The other guy got it, but he stole it from the guy on the dive. Huge possession."


The other was the charge he took on the next possession with about 30 seconds left.

"He said it hurt, though" Cronin said, laughing.

"If that's what it takes to win," Kipatrick chimed in. "If it takes a charge to get that W, then that is what I am about."

Helping SK change his mentality from scorer who has to play defense to defensive player who scores has been part of his maturation -- as it is with many young college players. The way he's accepted his job on defense has been the biggest difference in his game from freshman year to sophomore year.

"I know with the team we have had the last couple of games, I play a significant role in that," he said. "If I don't do a lot of the things on the court that I normally don't do then there is a slight chance that it will be a long day for us. That's what I try to do, get more deflections and more rebounds and at least more steals. I don't really worry about the points or anything like that."

--- Don't forget, the last days
are upon you to pick up the $100 mini-plan that includes ND, Villanova, Syracuse, and Louisville. Not sure what else you want of a Benjamin. (The kids don't call them Benjamins anymore, do they?)

--- The latest AP and Coaches polls came out yesterday with UC still on the outside looking in. Still some work to be done to win the voters over. Pitt's losses to Wagner, Long Beach State and Notre Dame devalue the win a bit.

That said, as everyone knows, plenty of opportunities to impress lie ahead. If UC finds a way to beat ND, St. John's, Georgetown and Villanova, they will crack the poll again on Jan. 16. Really, going 3-1 over that stretch as long as it includes a win against Georgetown would also put them in. I don't see any way they end up in there next week. They didn't receive a vote in the coaches and were 32 in the AP.

--- For those of you wondering about the TV for the UC-ND game on Wednesday, here are the details via Tommy G, though, the exact FSO channel locally is still unknown.

Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame TV info for 1/4 on Big East Network: FSO(more info coming), MSG+, TW-Wisco, WHAS (L'Ville), COX-NO, COX-RI, ESPN3

--- If you don't read Ballin' is a Habit
every day, you should be. Anyway, they are embarking on a 60-day college basketball tour that will roll them through Cincinnati next week. See their schedule here and shoot them some suggestions and buy them a drink since they are paying for it all themselves. Or just donate.

--- Tom Groeschen with some more
of the aftermath of UC's 31-24 Liberty Bowl victory, including Butch Jones rightly calling this the greatest time in UC football history.

Randomness...

--- Apparently, it's never too late to tell your husband/wife to get the heck out. I guess this 99-year-old man thinks he's ready to tear the club up.

--- I'd do a lot of things for $1,000. Getting this tattoo is not one of them.

--- Snoop Dogg hosted
The Price is Right. Nothing quite says OG like Plinko.

--- Hybrid sharks! Aw, C'mon!

--- My favorite headline of the day:
"Mayan Calendar predicts doomsday in 2012. Or not."

--- Was headed over to YouTube
to find some music and the YouTube gremlins recommended this to me. They know me so well. I can't resist. Have a good one.

The Pead goes on

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Sorry, this wasn't posted here earlier, but I just arrived back with my wife and two younger sons on Monday. 

We didn't feel like making the long drive on New Year's Day, so we took a detour in Nashville to watch Mick Cronin's men take it to Pitt.  Just like the Liberty Bowl, it was delightful.

Anyway, in Memphis, I didn't take all of my work gear, so I was limited to posting on Facebook and Twitter.  I did interview Liberty Bowl MVP Isaiah Pead on the field after UC's 31-24 win over Vanderbilt.

If by chance you missed it on either of those outlets, here you go.  I also took some pictures of some of the local high school products at the bowl for the Bearcats, so some of those may appear here if I can figure out how to do it.

I'm getting better at technology, but I have multiple gizmos to deal with these days.

As for the recent events, it certainly was one of the better weekends to be a Bearcat that I can recall.

We drove to Memphis Thursday night and listened to a former UC offensive coordinator's team "Tomahawk Chop" a former UC head coach's squad, followed by the UC basketball team's comeback win over Oklahoma courtesy of XM radio in the first half and Dan Hoard in the second.

Friday, we took the kids to Graceland and Rendezvous and saw the parade on Beale Street.

Saturday, your Bearcats played with a quarterback at less than 100 percent and defeated an SEC team in it's home state.

Sunday, UC beats Pitt in its own gym in a game most had written off.

Other than spending two and a half hours trying to get from the 71/75 split in Northern Kentucky to Anderson Township Monday, I'm a happy dude.

Here's No. 23 for you and hopefully I'll have more.

Butch Ball Y'all

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The University of Cincinnati Bearcats have won a bowl game that most people have heard of with their 31-24 win over Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis New Years Eve. But more important if you're a Bearcat fan was continuing proof that Butch Jones has a plan. I think back to many who questioned him last year when his cupboard was bare and he openly said so as if he was making excuses, which he wasn't. 

But now after winning their share of the Big East title with back up and seldom used quarterbacks; the loss of Zach Collaros and rallying the troops after tough losses to West Virginia and Rutgers, Butch and his staff have to be given credit and room to grow. His turning down offers quickly and agreeing to a new deal let recruits know he's serious about staying here which should aid in getting "yes" answers from those who were sitting on the fence.

UC and the new Big East will have some highs and lows but winning bowl games and big games will take care of the nay sayers. Being a consistent challenger for the title will be UC's goal and if Butch has anything to do with it I think his sights are set on pure dominance of the conference and proving they are still a BCS player.

I am excited to see what happens next year not only in the Big East but on campus; Bearcat football should maintain its explosive offense with some returning skill players and incoming recruits but also because they have established expectations courtesy of the coaching staff. To build a program I think you have to set the bar high and challenge the players to raise their level of play to its standard, not lowering the bar to meet theirs. I have no doubt this is already in play.

So with one respectable bowl win over an SEC school, progress has been made in the football vision of Butch Jones. What happens next will certainly add to his desire to make Bearcat football a top tiered program and worthy of major bowl invitations. And the way you supported him with your attendance at the Liberty bowl is the icing on the cake in more ways than one.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 1.2.12

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Wow, what a weekend for the Bearcats.

I suppose it could have been better, but unless you played the Powerball...

First, UC caps off a breakthrough season under Butch Jones for their 10th victory in one of the more exciting bowls and fourth quarters of the entire bowl season. Zach Collaros takes every snap to change the final view of his career from being carted off the field at Paul Brown Stadium to holding a trophy at the Liberty Bowl. Isaiah Pead goes out the way he spent all his days at UC, breaking off game-changing runs and looking like the best player on the field.

A senior class that reset the expectations at UC left with its first bowl victory.

Second, undermanned and outsized, the Bearcats basketball team goes into a place it hasn't won since 1979 and pulls out a victory against No. 22 Pitt. The Panthers are struggling right now, but this was supposed to be a mismatch. With only 6-7 Justin Jackson manning the middle against the top offensive rebounding team in the country that should have been all that mattered. Instead, grit and hustle forced 17 turnovers and the team that couldn't hit a shot against Oklahoma gave way to the Bearcats from the first four games of the streak.

A team everyone counted out after the Crosstown Shootout went a perfect 6-0 without any bigs.

Happy New Year, indeed.

Let's eat...

--- Posted this on Twitter immediately after the game, stating that not many teams have won 10 games in four of the last five years. At the time it was just a blanket statement I assumed to be true from general knowledge. Yet, when I don't get to do some type of statistical research for a few days, my shoulders and neck start to twitch like a character from Trainspotting.

So, I had to look up how many BCS programs have won 10 games in four of the last five years.

Just six. That's it.

Virginia Tech (the only team to win 10 games in each of the last five years)
Oklahoma
Ohio State (who many UC fans point out technically won 0 in 2010, so shouldn't be listed)
Oregon
Alabama
Cincinnati

That, my friends, is keeping good company.

--- Really, for Liberty Bowl talk,
I'd like to revert all the way back to the Pep Rally on Friday. Both teams and their fans gathered on Beale St. for the festivities. However, an interesting thing happened, when Butch Jones stepped up to the mic. The polite, well-mannered coach couldn't resist himself. As the absurd chant of "S-E-C, S-E-C," came from the Commie faithful... (Zack Morris timeout)

If you win 15 SEC games in 10 years are you still allowed to chant S-E-C? All I kept thinking off was the kid who is 47 inches tall coming up just short of the 48 inches requirement to ride the Vortex. You have to be this high to ride the ride. Shouldn't there be some type of minimum requirement to use that chant? Somebody check the patent.

(And we're back)

So, as Jones heard the S-E-C chant, he cracked off a "that's overrated" toward the Commies base. As he went on, you could almost see him steaming thinking about it. Only a few seconds later, he broke out this gem.

"At UC, we don't get excited for six wins, we win championships."

How about you, coach. Like it. It all starts at the one-minute mark.



--- As for the game, here are the highlights in case you missed it.

--- Isaiah Pead showed off his incredible vision and second-level spurt one last time for NFL scouts to drool over. It wrapped up one great career in Cincinnati.

Pead finishes his career with 545 carries (6th all-time), 3,288 yards (3rd), and 27 TDs (3rd). He averaged 6.03 yards per carry.

His six 100-yard games this season tie for fourth all-time at UC.

By the numbers, he won't go down as the greatest running back in Bearcats history. But he's in the conversation. Reggie Taylor, Allen Harvin and DeMarco McCleskey top the record books as the best running backs in school history, but looking at their best seasons, Pead's this year stacks right up there.

Take a look at their signature seasons in comparison to Pead:

RB               Year   Att    Yds  Yds/Att
Harvin           1978  233  1,283  5.5
Taylor           1986  264  1,325   5.0 
McCleskey   2002  315  1,361   4.3
Pead            2011  237  1,259   5.3

So, Harvin narrowly takes the nod, but this is completely forgetting Pead's contributions in the passing game. Specifically late in the season, so many of those bubble screens were essentially set up as Pead runs.

He also caught 39 passes for 319 yards, taking his season total in offensive yards from scrimmage to 1,578 yards on 276 plays. In Harvin's '78 season, he didn't catch one pass.

While I can't make a fair comparison to Harvin, Taylor or really even McCleskey because I didn't see them play on a regular basis, it's pretty obvious there were few more productive seasons in UC history by a running back. If Pead isn't the best running back to come out of UC he's at least a close second.

For my longtime UC fans that read the blog -- if you saw the other three, let me know. How does Pead compare? Where do you rank him?

--- Since when you talk about Pead, you must talk speed, how about we talk about Ralph David Abernathy IV. We've seen that one coming for a few games now, including when he got run down by the kicker against Syracuse. It didn't happen this time and RDAIV wasn't getting caught from behind. The kid can fly. Putting him back there this season was one of the most underrated great decisions made by Butch Jones this year. He could have placed a veteran back to return kicks. He could have gone with DJ Woods who has plenty of speed and had done it in years past. But he wanted some explosive, fresh energy.

That energy swung the momentum and won him a bowl game.

UC finished 2010 with just one kickoff return of 40+ yards. They had four this year.

Plus, for the grandson of a civil rights leader to do this in Memphis, one of the homes of the civil rights movement, is just a script that Hollywood would throw out for being too unbelievable.

--- Instant game analysis
from the Big East Blog at ESPN.

--- Jones called Zach Collaros the best story of the bowl season a few times this past week. After the game, although ZC showed rust and didn't look as crisp as normal, Jones pointed out in this ESPN society you only see the highlights, but the eight hours per day spent in the training room go unnoticed.

Just him being out there was a minor miracle, him taking every snap serves as the perfect final memory of the warrior and competitor he was for the program the last few years.

--- Adrien Witty. My head still hurts after watching that hit.

--- George Winn. Guy manned up for physical yards in a thankless role all season then (thanks to a busted chin strap on Pead) he earns his highlight moment. Another in a long line of great stories.
copshelmet.jpg
--- How about the cops on the UC motorcade sporting the C-Paw on their helmets. Nice touch.

--- All things considered, from the activities during the week, to the game setup pregame to the actual victory in exciting fashion, and I assume there was a bit of NYE revelry on Beale St., the Liberty Bowl ended up being a perfect spot for UC this year. I'm not saying Miami wouldn't have been nice, but this really worked out splendidly.

--- Moving on to the Weekend of the Bearcats, Part II. Cronin called it and we wrote about it on this blog at the very beginning of the season, JaQuon Parker is this year's Dion Dixon. If you didn't know, you'd have assumed watching the first half last night that Parker was the team's leading scorer. And that's not just because he was hitting 3s. Even before he started catching fire from deep, he was the most aggressive UC player offensively, attacking the basket with confidence.

Yes, the offensive change made a difference, but the insertion of Parker did as well.

Here are Parker's numbers since being inserted into the starting lineup: 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 turnovers.

Parker's sample size is too small to qualify at this time, but his offensive rating from Kenpom is 136.1. The current national leader is Damien Lillard at Weber State with 132.5.

--- I can't remember a UC team scrapping this hard in ages. How many rebounds, loose balls did they win by pure hustle? Whatever number, they were worth more than four points. That's why UC wins this game.

This quote from Mick to Bill Koch at The Enquirer:

"We're playing unbelievable right now," Cronin said. "I'm just proud of my team. Extreme effort at all times. It's very easy to coach my basketball team right now. I can make adjustments. Everybody's locked in, everybody's focused and we're making some shots."

--- After finding 16 deflections
in the final eight minutes against Oklahoma, that energy rolled over to Pitt.

"I told our guys that for us 40 deflections equals victory," Cronin said. "We were going to have to steal rebounds that we can't get because of our lack of size and we're going to get 17 or more turnovers. We got 17 turnovers and 41 deflections and all that was with relentless effort by our guys. When you watch those guys play you wonder how they do it, they are so small. Our center is 6-6 and a half, 215 pounds."

--- There's an uninformed narrative that circulated at a few places today, specifically this story from a usually credible source of The Dagger blog at Yahoo! and then Beyond the Arc at NBC.

Both seem to suggest there are only two options as Yancy Gates and co., return from suspension Wednesday against Notre Dame: keep the same four-guard offense OR return Gates to the lineup.

They don't seem to understand that Gates playing the 5 in the four-guard offense does both. Justin Jackson, while quick and athletic doesn't provide anywhere near the offensive presence or pure rebounding prowess of Gates. Nor does he have the physical ability on screens or ability to hit a jumper.

Now, this transition will be dicey to be sure, but to think that because Gates is reinserted into the lineup, anything about the play of Parker, Cash, SK or Dion will change doesn't hold water. He's only a different piece holding down the middle. A much larger, imposing piece.

"We should be better," Cronin said. "We have more depth. We'll be able to withstand foul trouble. We should be able to press more and be more aggressive. We should be an even better team. The one thing about it, the guys have been in practice. It's different when you don't have guys because they are hurt.  Like Tray Woodall for the last month has been hurt and different guys are out with injuries. For us, it will be different in game situation. We don't put them all the time as the scout team. We try to make the teams different but even every day so they all get used to playing each other."

--- Big East power rankings out from ESPN. UC lands sixth.

As Cronin has said seemingly hundreds of times during the rebuild, winning in the Big East requires quality veteran players. It is as proven as the sun rising in the East. Youth just gets gobbled up and exposed in the intensity and grind of the schedule.

There is a ton of youth at the bottom of the BE this year, specifically at some schools perennially at the top of the conference. Villanova and West Virginia top that list.

The depth of the conference is far from what it was in recent years because of so many young teams. That greatly increases UC's chances of the double-digit conference victories it will likely need to score a second consecutive trip to The Dance.

--- Not much to randomize today since there was so much UC content, but wanted to officially wish everyone a happy new year and post this video of what I think had to be one of the coolest places to be as midnight struck. Phish was playing at Madison Square Garden and dropped thousands of balloons onto the crowd then played a wild up-tempo rendition of Down with Disease while people sprung up and randomly levitating above the balloons and crowd. Hard to explain. Well, just watch.