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February 2012 Archives

Bearcats leave no doubt

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For anybody wondering if the Bearcats had enough left in them to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament field, after a 72-61 win against No. 8 Marquette, there remains no doubt.

CINCINNATI - Bury the bubble watch. Crumple up the blind resumes. Forget the RPI formula.

None of those will be necessary. To reach the NCAA tournament, teams need to win games. They need to beat quality opponents.

Dixon.jpg

With a resounding exclamation point that shook Fifth Third Arena and the outskirts of Clifton Wednesday night, the Bearcats emphatically stamped their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

In the aftermath of 72-61, Mick Cronin grabbed the public address microphone, thanked the crowd for their support and made the first public announcement of his thoughts on the matter.

"We will see you all in New York and then the NCAA tournament," he said.

To be sure, his team left no doubt.

Watching the Bearcats beat the eighth-ranked team in the country with a few lucky calls or a night shooting the lights out would open to question the validity of even the strongest of wins. Yet, to throttle a team who won 12 of the last 13 games all while missing nearly every 3-pointer tossed up extracts luck from the building.

"We were up 19, I said, well, if we ever make one we'll win by 30," Cronin said. "Whenever you can dominate a game and your best shooters can't throw it in the ocean speaks to how well you played on the defensive end."

For the most part, at 4 of 24 on the night, they never did. It didn't matter.

The memories of watching Marquette run up and down the floor in Milwaukee seemed a distant memory as UC flipped the point margin 28 points.

In the locker room before the game, Cronin wrote one sentence on the board. No need existed for complex theories or Xs and Os.

"Take care of the ball and we will win."

UC committed just seven turnovers. Not only was that the lowest number against Marquette all season, but no opponent managed less than 11 against them.

The Golden Eagles may be the best team in the country in transition. Cronin thought they were the best at scoring off their defense he'd seen since he's been coaching. Somehow, here were the Cincinnati Bearcats outscoring Marquette 19-5 in fast break points and 14-3 off turnovers.

"I think that was the most points we have given up in transition in our tenure here - not just this year," said Buzz Williams, who discarded of his jacket in frustration only five minutes into the defeat.

The Bearcats saw Yancy Gates - after playing four of the best minutes of his career - earn two quick fouls and spend the rest of the first half watching his Senior Night pass by. Still, in his absence the lead grew.

Two. Eight. Fourteen.

By the time JaQuon Parker buried a 3-pointer from the corner as time expired before halftime, the Bearcats led by 16 points.

Still, five times during Marquette's string of 12 wins in 13 games, they had trailed at halftime. In those five wins, they won the second half by a combined total of 81 points. Only, a Bearcats team notorious for watching second-half leads dissolve never let the best second-half team in the league sniff a comeback.

After Gates chased down a fast break pass for the final home dunk of his career, he swung around the rim back toward a Marquette bench waving the figurative white towel.

The Bearcats traded a climatic final minutes for a coronation.

Dixon, the senior who spent countless hours alone in the gym putting up shots in silence, earned every decibel of the rousing standing ovation he received exiting with a minute remaining. His 21 points and four steals capped a home career of growth from project to polished.

Gates' final home game provided a fitting insight into his maturity. He could have headed to the bench exasperated at the two quick fouls he received. He could have let a lack of points affect his night. A younger Gates absolutely would have.

Instead, he pulled down 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes, adding a block and a steal.

The roar of the 11,316 as he left the game was as deafening as it was telling.

"You couldn't ask for more," he said. "The team came out we all played great. Everybody did what they had to do to get a win. It's just something that I will remember for ever."

This was supposed to be the team that couldn't win if they didn't hit 3-pointers. This was supposed to be the team that couldn't win without Gates gobbling up minutes in the lane. This was supposed to be a team that couldn't win if Cashmere Wright was held scoreless.

The Bearcats proved everyone wrong. Consequently, they're impossible to keep out of the dance now.

"In my mind (this solidified it)," Cronin said. "We've got wins over Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame. You guys understand we lost five games at the buzzer or we're 26-4 right now."

The people that point to their lousy RPI. The people that repeatedly bring up Presbyterian and Marshall. And most importantly, the people that placed them on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.

After Wednesday night, it's clear. They were all wrong.

The Bearcats left no doubt.

Bearcats Breakfast 2.29.12

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Happy Leap Day. I hope everyone is wearing their yellow and blue and on the lookout for Leap Day William. (If you don't watch 30 Rock, disregard this public service announcement)

Actually, considering tonight's opponent, the Leap Day yellow and blue might not be the greatest fashion combination.

Funny that once every four years this day comes because playing a game in your own building that will clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament comes around just about as often. That's the case tonight.

Make no mistake, if UC beat Marquette tonight, it's over. They are in. Period. End of discussion. Let's move on to seeding.

It's a rare opportunity and the Cats won't be buried if they don't pull it off, but by winning tonight, they can store the Selection Sunday sweatband in the drawer. It won't be needed.

In talking with Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates yesterday, they clearly understood the enormity of the event. Even though tonight is Senior Night for them, the festivities are far from the front of their mind.

"You know that it's Senior Night and we feel it," Gates said, "but I think we'll feel it more when we get on the court tomorrow. Right now, our focus is so much on we need this win that we really don't have time to sit back and think, 'Oh, tomorrow's Senior Night.'"


There would be no better way to celebrate these seniors than deliver the NCAA goal that's driven every minute they've spent in the gym since last March.

Let's eat...

--- In case you missed it, I wrote this column on Dion Dixon yesterday. Stories like his are one of the biggest reasons I love sports. The guy wasn't the most highly recruited and went through trying times his first two years, but nobody worked harder than Dixon. He was motivated by the worst of times and used it make his game better and he far outperformed the expectations most of the scouts placed upon him.

Put Dion Dixon in front of your kids as proof: Work hard, be determined and you can do whatever you want.

--- Bill Koch put together this lengthy interview with Yancy Gates. The reflections from Gates were so good he decided to run it as a Q and A rather than a standard story. Great call as Gates touches on all aspects of growing up in the spotlight.

I recommend reading the entire interview. Here are a few of the highlights for me:

How have you grown as a basketball player since you've been here?

When I was a freshman, I just wanted to be on the floor playing. Now the only reason I want to be on the floor is if I can help the team. The last home game against Louisville when we came out in the second half, I had a couple of turnovers and when Coach Cronin took me out, when I was younger I would have got an attitude. I would have had some excuse where now in that situation I wanted to come out because I needed to regroup and get my focus back to help the team win.

Would you recommend to a high school player that he stay home to play college basketball?

Definitely, but only if he can handle the criticism, because if you stay home you're going to have to take it. But overall, the experience of having your family here every night ... I haven't played a home game where my mom or my dad wasn't here. My sisters come to a lot of games, uncles, aunts, my granddaddy has been to a lot of games. Very few college players get to experience that. I walk into the locker room every night and I wave to my parents goodbye.

--- People focus on the criticism Gates received, but for him, the rewards of being around family far outweighed that. The snapshots of him waving goodbye to his family before every game are those that most people -- the media included -- don't get to see. In one of the most unique, difficult situations I've ever seen a player placed in to, it's fantastic to see Gates emerging gratified by the entire experience.

--- Through many of the tough times, Gates could have left. He could have taken the easy way out and transferred because things weren't going his way. He didn't. He stayed. He battled through to lead the way to UC's tourney run last season and be a big part of this year's push.

In the current landscape of college basketball, that means more than it ever has.

"It's a credit to those guys that they stuck it out, especially Yancy, because he's been through a lot in his career," Mick Cronin said. "Usually, this day in age, what happens with high-rated guys, if they struggle early, they transfer and blame the coach. Instead of looking in the mirror. Yancy Gates is a good kid and he comes from a great family. He's got great support at home. That's what's enabled him to grow up and mature and try to learn to be accountable for who he is and take responsibility for that because that is what he's taught at home."

--- Bearcats Nation writes that Gates deserves a standing ovation tonight. Absolutely.

--- Bearcats Blog with an ode to Gates here.

--- Remember, Senior Night festivities start at 6:40 p.m., so make sure you to be in your seats early. Dion and Yancy deserve it. Here is the promotional video the UC folks put together.



--- Mick looked and sounded like a coach whose spent every hour awake trying to figure out a way to beat Marquette. Here's video of yesterday's media session. His wearing down showed specifically in reference to a question about last year's group being called the foundation of the rebuilding project and what Dion and Yancy were.

"You just got to try to get better players, you know, I don't have nicknames for everything. I'm tired. I'm watching too much film of Marquette. It's March."

Good stuff. The fact Mick lost track of what month it is tells you all you need to know about how deep his is into the grind of this tournament push.

--- Scott from Bearcats Blog -- who rumor has it will covering tonight's game, score one for bloggers everywhere -- talks to the Marquette blog Paint Touches for some analysis of tonight's matchup.

--- As Snoop would say, back the lecture at hand...

How the heck can UC find a way to beat Marquette, now ranked No. 7/8. They own just one loss since Jan. 7. They are hearing the rumbling of earning a No. 2 seed in The Dance and still have plenty to play for.

Here's Mick on what happened and why in the 95-78 loss in Game 1:

"We turned the ball over," he said. "They got ti going. We got to take care of the basketball. They are a team that penalizes you for your mistakes. You can't throw gas on the fire with them they already play at a heated pace. They make you pay probably as good as anybody in the country, if not better than anybody in the country as far as conversion on the break. They have tailored their style of play to their current personnel as well as anybody. A credit to Buzz Williams, I think he's Coach of The Year in the Big East."

--- Three key statistics to watch tonight:

1. Turnovers. Marquette has won the turnover margin in each of the last six games and 10 of the 13 games on their current streak. In the last six games they've forced 94 turnovers and committed just 62. With they way they convert on the fast break, losing the TO battle 14-7 which occurred in Game 1 would be disastrous (that tied for the worst margin of the year and the worst in Big East play by two).

2. Second half. Marquette owns a habit of falling behind early and steamrolling teams in the second half. Just ask UC and its 16-4 lead in Milwaukee.

They have outscored their opponents in every second half and by a combined 40 points during their current five-game win streak.

3. Rebounding percentage.
If there is a weakness the Eagles (and that's a stretch) it's on the glass. They can be had for numerous second-chance points. They rank 12th in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage and 13th in preventing opponents offensive boards.

If the Bearcats can grab 45 percent or better on the offensive boards, they will have a great chance to win.

-- Hope to see everyone at Fifth Third tonight. Follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for live analysis, observations, witticisms, quotes, from before, during and after the game. And, of course, check in with the blog for the postgame column and morning after.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Lindsay Lohan is hosting SNL this week. My expectation bar is about as low as her house arrest ankle bracelet, but the promos are strong.

--- The LinSanity Matrix.

--- UConn continues get RPI/SOS love,
but they haven't looked like a tournament team for months.

--- This is what it would take for me to actually consider enrolling in a Zumba class.

--- Snooki is reportedly three months pregnant. I give you that information, a bottle of spray tan, Bump-it and a techno CD. It's a make-your-own-joke kit.

--- This song only seems fitting considering what's at stake tonight. It's a bit of a sports cliche now, but I don't care. Still pumps me up.



DixonDunk.jpg

Senior Dion Dixon will play his final home game at Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday as one of the top 30 scorers in program history and the epitome of resiliency. (Photo courtesy Lacking Focus Photography)

CINCINNATI - Dion Dixon stood near midcourt of Madison Square Garden with his hands planted firmly atop his head. On the conference's biggest stage, in the mecca of basketball, Dixon dribbled the ball off his leg out of bounds.

A 20-year-old sophomore at the time, Dixon's gaffe served as the glaring memory in his then-less than memorable career.

In the following seconds West Virginia's DeSean Butler would bank a 3-pointer to squash any NCAA aspirations of the 2010 Bearcats.

Two years later, on the eve of playing in his final home game with the Cincinnati Bearcats, Dixon doesn't hesitate characterizing the dark moments of that night the days which would follow.

Dion Dixon anguish re.JPG

"That was the lowest point of my career," Dixon said.

And he couldn't be happier it happened.

The replays on SportsCenter eventually subsided, but the replays in his head never did. He remembered the moment vividly. Each time he felt the same pain over again. Then, each time, he hit the gym.

"That's what really helped me forget about it, too, was going in the gym and working at it," he said. "When I think about it, I really appreciate it, actually. It really helped me get in the gym more."

During his first two seasons, Dixon averaged 6.1 points per game and saw his playing time cut down to under 16 minutes his sophomore year. Then came the turnover.

"It helped turn my career around," he said. "That was the turning point in my career here, going through that. It was hard on me at the time, but the thing that helped me was (teammates) just being by my side and telling me forget about it. I just went to work."

It paid off.

Over the last two years he's earned the trust of Mick Cronin to start 58 of 63 games, including all 29 this season. He averaged 11.6 points per game his junior year and 13.1 this year. He just crossed into prestigious territory as the 47th member of the program's 1,000-point club. He currently ranks 28th in program history with 1,183 points.

Few would have predicted such a fate for the raw, but talented kid from Chicago.

"He's definitely a guy that wasn't highly recruited," Cronin said. "He may not want to admit that, but it was early on in our tenure and we were digging for guys we thought could outperform the level they were being recruited at. He's definitely done that. He's had a more than productive career here. He's gotten better, one thing about him, he does a great job in the offseason."

Dixon became notorious for borrowing gym keys from the janitors during his offseason following the turnover. He'd spend all hours in the gym, striving to erase that haunting memory in the eyes of Bearcats fans and even himself.

Throughout every stage of his Bearcats career, work ethic and determination defined Dixon's ascent.

Among the lore of UC's great scorers, Dixon won't be remembered for his sheer size and athleticism like Yancy Gates. He won't be remembered for pure gunslinging accuracy like LaZelle Durden. He won't be remembered for fearsome ferocity like Eric Hicks.


D_Dixon.jpg

Dixon will be remembered for the grind. He'll be remembered as the guy who earned every bucket through sweaty nights alone in the gym.

Even he can admit, developing that reputation took time - and a turnover.

"I came in as a kid - coming out playing, not really taking things seriously," said Dixon, who averaged .32 points per minute his first two seasons and .42 points per minute the last two. "As I got older, I take everything more seriously. Off the court, too, it translates to on the court, as far as work ethic and everything."

Dixon used to be frustrated talking about that moment at MSG. Today, he looks back with a smile and thankful nod. He knows he beat the rap. He refused to let it define him. He knows it shifted the direction of his career.

As he walks out on the court Senior Night to an ovation from fans, he can smile knowing his legacy far overshadows his lowest point. On Wednesday, he knows the work he put in made him a centerpiece in creating the highest point in his career.

"Just us turning the program around, that was amazing," Dixon said. "Coming in with nothing here and make the tournament our junior year and the push to make it again our senior year, I think that's the high."

Bearcats Breakfast 2.28.12

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I didn't watch the Daytona 500 last night because I'd rather drink motor oil and listen to Coldplay than spend six hours watching cars circle, but couldn't help check the highlights of the fireball Juan Pablo Montoya ignited on the jet dryer.

In what other sport can a giant fireball even be an option? I think we may need to add this to some of the slower sports to spice up the action. Leave one exploding tank just out of bounds every third fairway on the PGA Tour. Possibly a linesman touting a Bunson Burner in tennis. Every time a player makes a move in chess, he fires off a pyrotechnic behind him.

I think we're on to something here. Luckily, everyone is safe. I did love Montoya when asked about talking to the guy in the jet dryer truck after: "He was OK. He just looks pretty scared."

You think?

Let's eat...
SKCrowd.jpg
--- Student tickets are officially sold out for Wednesday night against Marquette. Student section overflow tickets are available until 5 p.m. or when they run out today for $10. Sounds like we are in for another electric atmosphere much like the one last Thursday against Louisville.

--- Chad Brendel with
a strong column on what 13,176 means and why last Thursday might have been about more than a number, rather, a program that turned the corner.

Also, he points out that was only the fifth sellout in the Mick Cronin era. That's a crazy number to think about.

--- UC holding its media availability with seniors Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon this afternoon. I'll be there, look for more on those two and the long journey from high school phenom to UC senior for Gates.

As always, follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for live updates of any interesting news/quotes to come out of this afternoon's press conference. If you have any questions you'd like answered, send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com).

--- Jason Lisk of The Big Lead with an in-depth analysis of the current bubble. UC is on it along with a group of about 20 or so teams vying for 10 or so spots.

--- You frustrated with UC 3-point shooting? Notre Dame is 7 of 47 from deep the last two games.

--- Question of the week:
How can UC flip the script from the blowout loss in Milwaukee? How realistic is the concept?

I decided to take a look at the ranked teams which played somebody twice and how many flipped the result from one side to another -- particularly when blowouts were involved.

Matchup                   Game 1        Game 2         Diff    Flip
Marquette-Nova     82-78 @MU    81-77 MU       0      No
Syr-Providence      87-73 SU       78-55 @SU     9       No
Syr-UConn            85-67 @SU   71-69 SU        16      No
GT-Providence       49-40 @GT    63-53 GT         1      No
GT-St. John's        69-49 GT       71-61 @GT      10     No
ND-WVU              55-51 ND       71-44 @ND      23    No
ND-Rutgers          65-58 @RU    71-53 @ND     25     Yes
ND-UConn            67-53 UC       50-48 ND         16    Yes
UL-Pitt                 73-62 UL        57-54 @UL       8     No
UL-DePaul            76-59 @UL    90-82 UL          9      No
UC-St. John's        57-55 SJ        76-54 UC       24     Yes
UC-Marquette       95-78 @MU     ???????

--- Interesting to note
that outside of Notre Dame, which seemingly transformed itself after the first four games of the Big East season, no ranked team has had the result flipped on them in the second match with a team.

The point differential has moved slightly at times, but the result always ended up the same. Even further, outside of Notre Dame, only once has the differential been more than 10 points.

It might be time for Mick to put in a call to Mike Brey.

--- In Marquette's only repeat game they played to the exact same four-point win against Villanova.

--- The closest correlation I can find would be Syracuse winning big at home against Connecticut then sneaking away with a two-point win in a rowdy atmosphere in the rematch. Same concept appears to be in play with one of the few true elite teams in the league playing one of the inconsistent middle squads in their gym when they desperately need a victory.

--- UC can only hope to recreate the magic from the second St. John's game where they made all the necessary adjustments to avenge the close loss with a blowout win at MSG.

--- Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News placed UConn, Seton Hall and UC all on the 10-line of his NCAA tournament bracket. The Big East tournament will have more at stake than ever before on Day 1 and 2.

--- Dave Ommen of Beyond the Arc gives UC a 9-seed in Louisville with the possibility of playing Kentucky in Round 2. I can think of some Bearcats fans would jump through the ceiling hearing that setup.
   
--- Derek Wolfe with a strong combine performance. No, he didn't rep 225 pounds 44 times and run a 4.84 40-yard dash at 346 pounds like Memphis workout warrior Dontari Poe, but he was one of the most consistent of all the defensive lineman.

This Cowboys blog does a great job outlining the targets NFL GMs are looking for in all six events.

Wolfe was one of two defensive lineman to hit all six targets.

                    40/bench/vert/broad/shuttle/cone
DT Targets:    5.15/26/30/8-9/4.55/7.55
Wolfe            5.01/33/33.5/9-0/4.44/7.26

Listen, 295-pound defensive lineman aren't supposed to vertical leap 33.5 inches. Wow. His versatility makes him able to move inside and out, but his body type fits perfectly as a 3-4 defensive end, as this Packers blog points out.

The evaluations of Wolfe are all over the map from as high as second round to as low as undrafted, but his combine performance should prove he's one of the top under-the-radar DL prospects in the draft.

My analysis of Wolfe right now: The Defensive Jason Kelce. Value, productive, instant impact.

--- Randomness...

--- National Lampoon's Vacation is getting a remake. Fine, but if they touch Christmas Vacation I will go to the director's house, duct tape him, kidnap him and bring him to my living room.

--- Remember former Georgetown star Michael Sweetney? I can only assume he spent all his NBA money on White Castles.

--- If you are going to break into a house, you might as well not be wearing any pants.

---- Definitely now place
The Undefeated documentary atop my Netflix cue.

--- This may be the first music video shot by a dog an it's cooler than anything a human has done in years. (Disclaimer: Reportedly, I have not seen a new human-shot video in years)

Johnny Neon 'Hearts' from Dave Meinert on Vimeo.



Loveland vaulter jumping from Tiger claws to C-Paws

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It is a unique skill.

You sprint like an ancient knight engaged in medieval jousting, deposit a pole into a trough, hoist yourself upward, contort your body over an inch-thick bar, then fall some 12 to 13 feet downward toward a pit of foam.

Most track athletes can't successfully execute the first few steps. Fortunately for Loveland High School, Eric Bryant can. The senior holds the school record in the pole vault and is about to begin his sixth season of soaring for a Tiger track team.

"I started in the seventh grade at Loveland," Bryant said. "I just saw the pole vault as being unique and different and I wanted to try it. I realized I was pretty good at it."

At 6-4, Bryant used his athletic build in basketball for a couple years and in football all four years at Loveland. However, propelling his lanky frame skyward in the spring proved to be Bryant's calling.

"It helps a lot," Bryant said of his height. "The taller you are, the closer the pole is to vertical. College coaches actually look for the taller vaulters."

Kent State, Morehead State and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs coaches all looked at Bryant, but he settled on the comforts of home and the University of Cincinnati. He will focus on math and business and clearing the bar for the Bearcats.

"I'm very excited," Bryant said. "UC field coach Kris Mack is from the West Coast and is a lot like my current coach, Scott Carney. They're very similar."

Not associated with the UC track team, Bryant practices with other prep athletes with the UC Track Club. The group is open to any area athlete. There is a fee to belong and per event, but the participants can use UC facilities (this time of year, the old Armory Fieldhouse).

The convenience and camaraderie sold Bryant on staying in town.

"I met the vaulters at the UC Track Club and I got along pretty well with them," Bryant said.

At Loveland, Bryant has cleared 13'3" (in last year's regionals at Dayton) and surpassed 14' in the summer. The regional mark set the school record, one that Bryant hopes to better by more than a couple feet this season. He's shooting for 15'6".

How does it feel to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, flip over a bar and freefall into a pit?

"It feels really good," Bryant said. "When I first went to 13' and tied the school record, it felt really, really good. When I broke it, it felt even better. It just goes really fast, you don't even think about it."
bryant.jpg

To perfect his craft, Bryant watches You Tube videos of others, including those of retired Ukrainian vaulter Sergey Bubka. His record of 20' 1.75" has stood since 1994, when Bryant was a baby.

He also relies on the local "pole-vault community." Because of the specialization involved, many schools share tips, video, facilities and sometimes equipment.

"Loveland doesn't supply much. I have to usually go out and get it on my own," Bryant said. "Anderson and Turpin gave me poles."

When not soaring on Loveland's track, Bryant soars toward musical notes with the Loveland Show Choir. Though he prefers B.O.B. and Lil' Wayne, Bryant and the singing Tigers are preparing for the World Choir Games upcoming in Cincinnati.

In a recent show with the choir, he was able to play the part of Dan Aykroyd's Blues Brother character, "Elwood."

The "Pole Man" Bryant will be in class at UC this fall.

The Return Of The Fan...

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Since January 4th of this year the UC mens basketball team has been averaging over 10,000 fans per contest and received their highest honor when U of L's Rick Pitino proclaimed the Bearcats had the best home court advantage they've seen all year. And he's seen a lot for a lot of reasons. He is a polarizing coach; winning coach and controversial figure to put it kindly.

But the return of the fan is one more thing Head Coach Mick Cronin and the mens program can cross off their list of things to accomplish as the rebuilding process is near completion. Not finished but certainly very close. One of the last and most difficult task is convince fans you are doing the right thing, especially when they can't see what you see. I am always reminded of the origin of the word fan comes from fanatical which dates back to the 1540's according to dictionary dot com. as to remind me that emotions are a big driver of fan action.

The current action the fans have taken shows they believe they have a reason to cheer, support, yell and proclaim their allegiance to UC basketball again; and opposing teams who have cruised through Cincinnati the last few years undaunted by the scarcity of such loyalist are probably amazed and in awe at the transformation. Many powerhouse schools like Syracuse and Louisville never lose much in fan support regardless of their record but they've never endured the exile of a beloved coach and a complete vacancy of players.

So we move on and chart the future of UC basketball and the Big East minus some of those who gave birth to its successful concept. I listened to Coach Cronin on the radio last week and he's eager to take over the top spot in the conference as the team who can win and stay on top like the outgoing Orange and Pitt Panthers, this season not withstanding, did for so many years. The way Mick sees it, why can't the Bearcats own the league, expand recruiting in new areas where others once had a stronghold and chart some new ones with the addition of new geographic conference members. It's there for the taking and if you know Mick he has probably made inroads one way or another.

What is going to make this easier for him is the fact that potential players and their families who've watched them play since the first of the year saw you Bearcat fans en masse backing the team with authority. Now that Pitino added the icing on the cake with his compliment, the cherry on top will be a strong showing in the Big East tournament and another trip to the NCAA tournament. 

Mick Cronin and the players deserved credit for what they've accomplished but the fans, and you know who you are, deserve a big assist.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 2.27.12

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Reflecting back on what occurred Sunday afternoon wouldn't be the most pleasant way to start a Monday morning. So, I'll attempt to stunt the disappointment with a small Seinfeld break.

Every time I see a major awards show, such as the Oscars last night, I can't help but watch and follow the worldwide peanut gallery on Twitter. Nick Nolte -- who appears to have been living in either the jungle or inside of a radioactive tanning booth -- took the brunt of most jokes along with Angenlina Jolie's emaciated right leg. In the end, The Artist ended up winning Best Picture. Nothing says Best Picture has zero to do with public enjoyment like selecting a silent movie as the best of the year.

All that said, apparently the entire cast was on The Today's Show this morning and some still in their tuxedos from last night.Can't help but be reminded of Kramer's Scarsdale Surprise. The Aritist folks must have watched the sunrise at Liza's.

Feeling better? No? Well, maybe the news that the newest addition to The Banks is opening today. No? Well, soon enough after a tough loss you will be able to literally leave the galaxy.

All right, let's talk about this...

--- At the end of the day,
the 46-45 loss at USF doesn't change the bottom line, in my opinion. The Bearcats still need to win one of the final two games and that should be enough to put them in The Dance.

Specifically, win against No. 10 Marquette on Wednesday and punch the ticket. Period.

The knee-jerk reactionaries of the college basketball world went all doomsday on the Bearcats in the moments after their loss, but they'll be the same ones pointing out their four Top 25 and six Top 50 wins should they beat Marquette.

The Jay Bilas Index of the Top 68 teams ranks them at No. 41. As he points out in describing Notre Dame (actually ranked 39th by his scale), six Sagarin Top 50 wins are impossible to dismiss. UC would be in the same position should they win Wednesday. They are currently 5-3 in those contests.

Other relevant stats as of Monday morning:

Lunardi's Feb. 24 bracket: UC No. 10 -- safely not among last four in
RPI: 77 (BTW, for the RPI lovers, UK is No. 4 by that metric -- sure, there's three better teams than the Wildcats)
USA Today: In, not among final four in
Sagarin: 42
KenPom: 37
Massey: 45
Bracket Matrix: Avg 11 seed (in 73 of 86 brackets)

--- As a reminder for those who are claiming winning one of the final two games of the season wouldn't be enough to get the Bearcats in, no team with 11 Big East wins has ever been left out of the tournament. Zero. 40 of 40.

If there ever were a perfect storm for it to occur, it would be a season when the conference is perceived to be a down and a tough non-conference start to the season anchors a team's position, that said, the bubble is too soft and there are too many quality wins of those possible 11 to make an unprecedented exclusion.

--- Meanwhile, beating
Marquette will be the toughest home task of the season for UC. The Eagles reeled off 12 of 13, including the 95-78 dismantling of the Bearcats in Milwaukee. Jae Crowder (17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 51% shooting) is looking like he'll be the Big East POY. And rightfully so.

Buzz Williams is so happy he's dancing to Country Roads following a 61-60 win in Morgantown. He couldn't have done it to a better group of fans/institution as they force their way out of the conference.

(Sidenote: Check out this classic Bob Huggins press conference after the game. How are his freshman doing? "They suck.")

--- Much more coming on
Marquette in the next few days leading up to Wednesday's game (7 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2)

--- Much of the talk this week will
be about seniors Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates for their final game in Fifth Third Arena. Scott Springer touched on it this weekend.

Dan Hoard wrote about Yancy's legacy yesterday. Read it, then click back here.

Gates, in my eyes, will go down as the most poked, prodded, criticized, demonized and scrutinized basketball player to come through UC that I can remember. We've watched a kid, knocked for immaturity coming out of high school, be forced to grow up in the brightest of hometown spotlights.

He's shown up, worked to make himself better and been one of the more productive players to run through UC in its storied history -- with the numbers Dan points out.

Many criticisms of Yancy have been justified, but the biggest problem I have with the narrative surrounding Gates was the concept he is somehow a selfish player. No matter what the situation, all he's ever done is whatever the coaches asked in the best interest of the team.

Never was that more evident this season. While many outside expected him to be some type of selfish jerk when asked to let the offense revolve around the guards, he reacted the same way he always has -- in whatever manner the coaches ask. He's taken on the role of leader, he's taken a back seat offensively, he's focused on rebounding and defense.

Unselfish, team-first basketball has been the staple of Gates career here -- whether outsiders can see that or not. They might not have liked the way he produced or questioned his effort at times, but nobody can deny winning has always been No. 1 for him and not a me-first quest for the NBA.

--- How much does the aesthetic appeal (more specifically, lackthereof)
affect the way a loss is viewed. According to Matt Norlander, the ugly, defensive nature of UC's loss hurt them. I disagree. Every game is different. That one was played at an sluggish, plodding pace against the best defense in the conference.

--- UC clinched at least a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament by virtue of other results on Saturday. They are still in play for the double bye. If they win their final two and USF (@UL, WVU) loses twice and Georgetown (ND, @Marquette) loses once, UC will finish fourth and earn a double bye for the first time in its history.

--- Moving on to The Combine,
plenty was said regarding Isaiah Pead and other Bearcats football products.

Let's start with Pead who ran a 40-yard dash time tied (4.47) for fifth among running backs. His three-cone drill time (6.95) was fourth best among RBs.

Joe Reedy suspects this means Pead won't run at UC's Pro Day on Friday.

Here was Marvin Lewis talking about Pead on Friday:

"I think he's a really good prospect. I haven't watched tape of him yet. It's only TV scouting. I think he showed a different dimension with the punt returning he did at Senior Bowl and I think that will do nothing but elevate his stock. He's a great prospect. I haven't met him and I don't think he's on our list here (to interview) because we'll be able to spend enough time with him back at home."

Here was Pead taking with reporters about what type of back he is:

"They ask me what type of back I am and I feel like I'm an every down guy," he said. "Blocking has to improve leverage and pad level wise. I need to gain weight."

Pead said he weighed in 5-10, 197 pounds.

He's definitely a bit undersized. Probably 5 to 10 more pounds will be necessary. He's not absurdly small, though, there were two 1,000-yard rushers under 205 pounds last year.

Reggie Bush    6-0  203
Chris Johnson 5-11  191

--- Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch says Pead's stock is rising.

--- Here's Pead talking with
reporters at the combine media session.

--- I love listening to Derek Wolfe talk. He worked out late this morning. This is him speaking on what makes him a warrior on the interior.

"My mental toughness. I always say I'm going to take someone to where I've been before but they've never been. So I know what it's like there and I can handle it, but they can't go there with me. That's what I try to do every game. It's just a chess match. Whoever wants to give up first, it's not going to be me."


More on Wolfe and John Hughes tomorrow. Will certainly be a busy week on the blog. Keep coming back.

For now, remember UC hoops fans, keep your head up. Listen to Frank.



Yancy's Legacy

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What is Yancy Gates' legacy as a UC Bearcat?

Gates jam.jpg

I suspect that topic is going to be debated quite a bit heading into Yancy's final home game on Wednesday night against Marquette.

Here are my thoughts.

I believe that Yancy has endured more scrutiny and criticism from fans and media than any other UC player in recent memory and I don't think it is because he is from Cincinnati.  It is largely because of what he is not.  He is not a First-Team All-American.  He is not Danny Fortson on offense, Kenyon Martin on defense, and doesn't have the relentless motor of Eric Hicks (few do).  He is not the NBA lottery pick that many people thought he might become at 6'9", 260.

Additionally, he bears responsibility for suspensions in his final two seasons - for a verbal altercation with an assistant coach as a junior and for punching an opponent as a senior.  Yancy did not make excuses in either case, admitted his mistakes, and publicly apologized.  I believe he was sincere and has learned from his mistakes.

So instead of fixating on what Yancy is not, let's take a look at what he is.

He is about to become the first player in school history to lead the team in rebounding for four straight years.

He will finish his career as one of the top 15 scorers in Bearcat history.

With 853 rebounds, he is on the verge of passing Martin (869), Fortson (873), and Hicks (888), and depending on how many games that Cincinnati plays in the post-season, Yancy could become one of 10 players in school history to reach 900 rebounds.

As a junior, he played a major role in getting the Bearcats back to the NCAA Tournament and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds in their tourney win over Missouri.  As a senior, he's nearly averaging a double/double at 12 points and 9 rebounds, and is probably one win away from securing a return trip to March Madness.

He has been accessible and honest with the media and has never publicly complained about the criticism he's received on talk shows and message boards. 

Most importantly, Yancy was one of the most highly-touted recruits to come out of Cincinnati in the last 20 years and elected to play for UC even though the program was in shambles after a messy divorce with Bob Huggins.  Yancy brought massive credibility to Mick Cronin's rebuilding effort and was a starter from Day 1.

Oh yeah, and he stayed for four years.

I asked Coach Cronin on Sunday to discuss Yancy's legacy.  Here's his answer in its entirety.

He rebuilt the program. I think that's got to be the focus.  I believe in the positive and you have to understand that he came to us when it was not in vogue to come to Cincinnati.  He could have gone anywhere in America.  He had offers from everybody.  When I went in there to see him, I was sitting next to Billy Donovan, John Thompson, Rick Pitino, you name it.  They were sitting at Withrow High School, and he committed to the Bearcats after we finished 2-14 in the Big East.  He made his announcement right after that.  It allowed us to go out and recruit some other guys with some confidence.  The impact of him coming to our school was immense.

Secondly, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders for four years and I admire the fact that he and his family have shown an immense amount of class and character through tough times.  With this age of the internet and talk radio, he's taken a lot of shots.  He's a young kid - they're not professionals.  You know, he's had some bad days, but his family showed immense class and character though the whole thing as well as Yancy.  We wouldn't be where we are as a program if he wouldn't have been with us.

In this presidential election year, we are going to hear candidates from both sides ask the following question between now and November, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

Nobody is asking that question about the UC basketball program and Yancy Gates is largely responsible.

Seems like a pretty good legacy to me.

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. 

 

 

 

Chisholm, Reaves shine on senior day

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CINCINNATI -- This may be only their second year on campus at the University of Cincinnati, but seniors Chanel Chisholm and Bjonee Reaves have become leaders for a Bearcats team that has its most BIG EAST wins ever under head coach Jamelle Elliott.

Chisholm and Reaves were both recognized on Saturday during pre-game festivities for senior day. They were accompanied by their families while hoisting up framed jerseys and carrying more flowers than lovers on Valentines Day.

These two seniors have been the leaders of a team that is looking to improve to seven conference victories and a better seed in the BIG EAST Tournament with a win at DePaul on Monday. With a win the Bearcats will also inch closer and closer to a possible Women's NIT berth.

Chisholm and Reaves were the two standout performers on Saturday leading the Bearcats with 34 combined points, which was over half of the team's 62 points. Reaves led the way with 22 points and four assists while Chisholm added 12 points and six rebounds. These statistics were very appropriate as the two emotional players were able to perform magnificently on their special day.

"My family was in town from California but other than that it's just a normal game," Reaves said. "Yeah, our emotions were running high today and it had something to do with senior day, but I think it had more to do with the fact that we were trying to make a statement today. We wanted teams to know that Cincinnati is here and were not a cupcake team anymore."

"Of course emotions are going to be high like Bjonee said because it is senior night," Chisholm said. "We came into the game hoping to play like it was any other game and we were hoping for the win we just didn't get it."

Elliott knew how important these two were when they transferred to UC as juniors. Now they know how important it is to be a role model to the younger players. Sophomore guard Dayeesha Hollins attribute a lot of her success this season to Chisholm and Reaves.

"It's really good to see them succeed," guard Dayeesha Hollins said. "At Michigan when I was a freshman there wasn't very much support. Here I feel like they're always there and they have advice for me all the time. They helped me out for next year."

According to Elliott, Chisholm and Reaves were the most pivotal players during the team's recent four game winning streak. She is proud to see that the two seniors have been able to learn the importance of every game, an ideal that some underclassmen may have a tough time grasping.

"I think they understand and know the importance of every game now, because every game we play is one less game that they are going to be in a Cincinnati uniform," Elliott said. "I think they know the sense of urgency that their careers are winding down and I think they're playing the type of basketball where, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, they left everything on the floor."

Elliott agreed that it is an emotional time as a coach as well during senior day proceedings, but she is happy with the fact that Chisholm and Reaves have put themselves in a position, which the BIG EAST tournament may not be the last game(s) they play this season.

"We get another regular season game at DePaul where we get to be with our seniors and hopefully more than one game in the BIG EAST Tournament," Elliott said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed and it's looking good that we are going to be in the WNIT after that. We still have a lot of time with our seniors, we're going to make the most of it having those guys around because when it does end it's going to be different not having those two guys on my team."

Special Note:
After the game I was talking with Hollins and she had some very nice words for each one of her favorite seniors. I thought I would share them with you here.

"Bjonee knows how to take over a game," Hollins said. "She knows how to put her team on her back."

"Chanel is a great leader on the floor and even though she may not be scoring she is doing something else to help the team out," Hollins said. "Whether its encouraging the team or whatever she is always there for the team."
    
There is no other place to start this morning than with the hostile atmosphere created last night at Fifth Third Arena. Whether home players and coaches, visiting players and coaches, media, it didn't matter. Everyone agreed that was one of the rowdiest environments seen this college basketball season.

The second sellout of the season decked out in black felt so much like the 90s, I kept waiting for Damon Flint to sub in.

Zac Jackson, national columnist for Fox Sports, said it was the loudest arena he's been in all season.

Rick Pitino offered this: "It was a great crowd for them. Certainly, the best home court advantage we've seen this year."

Mick Cronin: "The crowd was off the charts. They're the difference in a game like that."

Yancy Gates chimed in as well: "We love it. This is college basketball. You don't get that when you are done with college."

When a crowd makes the building shake like UC fans did last night, this team becomes exponentially more difficult to beat. Cronin talks all the time -- and did again last night -- about his team learning to play great defense being the difference between reaching a level of success or falling short. Defense, essentially, comes down to effort and energy. Crowds like that pump enough adrenaline through the Bearcats that they could play another 40 minutes when the game ends. Especially with this team, pumping that energy through them goes a long way.

Congrats. Any recruit in the building or at home watched that building and had to think, "That looks like a great place to play college basketball."

Here are the game highlights via ESPN/Big East
.

DixonDunk.jpgLet's eat...

--- One of the more interesting storylines to develop as the game went along Thursday was the treatment of Chane Behanan.

The Louisville freshman at one point committed to Mick Cronin and UC. He's a Cincinnati kid, having played his high school basketball at Aiken before transferring to Bowling Green (Ky.) after his sophomore season. He was a McDonald's All-American.

Last night, he was a despised enemy. While Behanan shot free throws, students chanted "Cincy Hates You, Cincy Hates You."

Asked after the game, if he heard what the crowd was chanting at Behanan, Rick Pitino stated that he couldn't understand them. When told by a reporter what they were saying, he snapped back with this:

"I don't think he likes them, either," he said. "Tell them it's mutual."

It didn't quite end there as Behanan offered a response of his own.

"That's the most electric I have seen since I used to come to the games when I was younger," he said to CBSSports.com RapidReporter Evan Hilbert. "I've never heard it that loud. I don't know if it's because I came back and everybody hates me. It's all part of college basketball. It was fun."

Behanan finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and, as you can see above, did end up on one Cincinnati poster before he left town. Dion Dixon -- cloaked in nasty.

--- Pitino was far from happy with the referees or some of the fans following the game. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports explains in this blog.

--- No update on injured guard JaQuon Parker from Cronin after the game. He only said he hoped Parker would be able to play Sunday at USF.

Cronin has said before that Parker is the key to being able to run the four-guard offense, they can't run it without him. Nobody else on the team can handle the ball well and power for rebounds among the bigs. He came out and warmed up at halftime and was on the bike for some of the second half staying loose, but obviously, Cronin didn't want to chance aggravating the injury.

--- There was only one way UC could win with Parker out. They needed Justin Jackson to play one of the best halves of his career. Did he ever.

After only playing two minutes and picking up two quick fouls in the first half, he played 18 minutes in the second half grabbing six rebounds with a block and a steal.

Jackson would soar toward the baseline above the rim and grab rebounds over top of everybody on the floor. I've never seen anything like it -- at least from Jackson. Neither has Cronin.

"Justin Jackson was awesome for us in the second half," he said. "He was above the rim, as explosive as I have seen him. He took our defnse and our defensive rebounding to another level."


--- RPI update: The worst metric in sports moved UC up from 82 to 74. They are now 5-3 against the RPI Top 50.

A couple more stats courtesy Lance McAlister. Only 15 teams have more Top 50 wins than UC. Only seven teams have more Top 25 wins than UC (3).

This directly from his blog:

Only 7 teams have more Top 25 RPI wins than UC (3)
6-Duke
5- Syracuse, Michigan St, Kentucky,
4-Kanasa, Ohio State, Notre Dame
3-Cincinnati, Michigan, Missouri, Georgetown, Temple, Indiana, Kansas St, New Mexico, Illinois, Tennessee
Others
Xavier 1, Louisville 2, West Virginia 1

Only 15 teams have more Top 50 RPI wins than UC (5)
9-Kansas, Michigan St, Michigan
8-Notre Dame, Syracuse
7-Duke, Baylor, Georgetown, Ohio State
6-Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, Louisville, UConn
5-Cincinnati, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas St, UNLV, Marquette
Others
Xavier 2, West Virginia 4

--- The Bearcats (20-8, 10-5) -- on the ropes not long ago -- are now tied for fourth place and the final double-bye spot in the Big East tournament. Here is a link to the standings.

They are tied with Georgetown and USF. A win at USF on Sunday would place UC in control of its own destiny for the double bye since they own the tiebreaker with the Hoyas. Plus, GT still has to play Notre Dame and at Marquette.

If UC beats USF and Nova, they almost certainly will own the four-seed.

--- Should the Cats grab the four-seed
and double bye consider where Big East four seeds have ended up in the NCAA tournament seeding the last four years.

2011: Syracuse -- 3
2010: Villanova -- 2
2009: Villanova -- 3
2008: UConn -- 4

Will that type of seed happen for UC? Almost certainly not, but the respect for this conference traditionally should place them in a good spot.

--- Leading scorer Kyle Kuric (12.9) and third-leading scorer Chris Smith (10.5) were a combined 0 for 16 from the field. They contributed six points.

For Yancy Gates, that was more than just an off night for Louisville's top shooters.

"When teams don't make shots there is a reason because the defense is making them uncomfortable, taking them out of what they are comfortable with. They didn't really get the open looks like they are normally used to getting."

--- Peyton Siva finishes at the bucket better than any PG I've seen all year.

"I got a lot of resepct for him," Cronin said. "His driving layups for 99 percent of guards are bad shots. For him they are good shots. He makes them."


--- Cashmere Wright has now hit 9 of his last 17 3-pointers.

"He wins every 3-point shooting drill we have," Cronin said. "He should shoot 40 percent or better from the 3-point line."

Actually, he is. He's at .398 for the year.

--- The good folks at Rush The Court updated their S-Curve today and seeded UC as a 9. They also had this to say about their case:

"Cincinnati is one of the more difficult teams to seed in recent memory. It really boils down to how much you believe the committee is going to weigh RPI/SOS relative to RPI top-50 wins. I tried to find a happy medium at a #9 seed. The Bearcats computer numbers are appalling (74 RPI, 114 SOS, 319 non-conference SOS) but no teams behind them in today's S-Curve boast the same abundance of quality wins: at Georgetown, Louisville, at Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall with a 6-4 true road record and a 10-5 mark in the Big East. That's an impressive portfolio for a supposed bubble team without even glimpsing at the RPI. One has to believe Cincinnati is in at 11-7."

--- Gates on if UC is a tournament team: "I think we are, but really we just focus on making this last push, finishing as strong as we can for the seed in the Big East tournament."


--- Stat of the night: Dion Dixon owns eight blocks in the last three games. He had seven through the first 25 games.

In fact, last night UC set a new Cronin Era record for blocks in a season with 131 for 4.5 a game. Last year in 34 games they blocked 129.

--- Quote of the night: Cashmere Wright on if he was comfortable with Yancy shooting two free throws to essentially put the game away after Cash missed badly on the front end of a one-and-one the previous possession:

"We had a drill in practice you had to make 10 in a row or we would sit in practice all day long. He made 10 in a row, so I was comfortable with him out there making them. Now, he shouldn't have been comfortable with me going up there."

--- One of my favorite moments from last night was in the middle of the 14-0 run, following the Dixon dunk on Chane Behanan, Pitino called time out and immediately Sandstorm showed up and the place went bonkers. I'm a sucker for perfect musical timing. So, here you go.



Who needs an offense?

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Mick Cronin decided not to run any plays or use an offense against Louisville's confusing defense and it allowed Cashmere Wright to shine.

CINCINNATI - Cashmere Wright spent the last four years listening to Mick Cronin prepare for games. Wright endured screams and silence, sarcasm and strategy.

Thursday, Wright actually heard Cronin say something he's never said before.

"Before the game, Coach just told us there is no offense," Wright said.

In one of the most important games of the season, against the 11th most efficient defense in the nation, Cronin combated confusion by taking thought out of the equation. No plays, no sets. He allowed his players to do what they do best.

"Just play," Wright said after the 60-56 win. "If you open shoot. If you can drive, drive. I felt that was a very comfortable situation for me. Not worrying about mistakes, just going out there and just playing."

Wright not only felt comfortable, he looked as confident as at any point in his career at UC. Consequently, he dropped 22 points, his most in Big East play this season and only three shy of his career high. Toss in five assists to just one turnover and he put on tape one of his most complete, influential, well-rounded performances of his career. The way in which Wright dictated the tempo and made smart decisions against a defense dedicated to forcing poor ones made the difference in the game.

Draining 6 of 13 of 3-point range didn't hurt, either. Of course, Cronin saw this coming. He spent all week watching Wright swish 3 after 3 after 3 in practice. In honor of Louisville being in the building, he found a fitting analogy to extract a gameday replication out of his point guard.

"In horse racing, guys who make shots in practice, in horse racing, morning glory, you got to run in the afternoon when the gates open," Cronin said. "I was kidding him. It was kind of mental. I knew he was going to be open tonight."

Of course, most players are open when they stand on the 5/3 logo 28 feet from the basket. None of that mattered to Wright. In the no-offense offense he felt free to look for his shot - no matter where he stood on the court.

"When teams play zone he knows he can become a shooter instead of a facilitator," Cronin said. "When he's off the ball...you got to think shot on the catch. You can't catch it and hesitate. No matter if you are a point guard or not you got to be ready to shoot it."

To say the Bearcats didn't use an offense wouldn't be completely correct. Structure existed, but attempting to figure out what the Louisville defense was doing while it transitions from zone to man mid-possession would have forced Cincinnati to think rather than use instinct.

Cronin saw his team thinking too much when put in a similar spot in the second half against Seton Hall. He wasn't about to watch a repeat Thursday night. The no-offense offense wasn't as much about a strategy, rather a mentality.

"Just make sure you are ready to shoot when you catch, don't forget about Yancy (Gates) in the low post," Cronin said. "I didn't want them worrying about what defense Louisville was in."

His team shot a few too many 3-pointers - the 19 they jacked up in the first half were more than the total in four of the last five games.

"I thought we shot too many 3s," Cronin said. "We made some shots early, I thought we fell in love with it."

Ironically, during the decisive stretch in the game the Bearcats barely utilized the shot which had such a significant impact on the night. During the 14-0 run where the Cardinals stuck at 45 for six minutes and 17 seconds, the only 3-pointer came from from Sean Kilpatrick to close out the streak.

Kilpatrick drove for a fast break bucket, Wright spun through traffic for a layup with the shot clock running down and Dion Dixon posterized the crowd's favorite heel, former UC commit Chane Behanan.

By the time Wright pulled up from logo the 56-47 margin proved too much to overcome. The no-offense offense secured one of the most critical wins of the season for UC's tournament hopes. If they started to smell The Dance after beating Seton Hall, they opened the kitchen door on Thursday.

Because of Thursday it might not be long until Wright hears Cronin utter another sentence the junior has never heard before: We're going to the tournament for the second year in a row.

Bearcats Breakfast 2.23.12

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I'm unfortunately on the road this morning and need to keep this brief. Luckily, I can only say there's not much to left say about tonight's game against Louisville. Just a monster game for the Bearcats. A win all but puts them back in The Dance. Barring an epic collapse, they'd find their name on the board Selection Sunday. A loss doesn't bury this team. In that vein, tonight comes as a win-win. With three of the final four games against RPI (ugh) Top 50 teams, the chances to leave an exclamation point are still in front of them.

As I've contended all season, these are two of the most evenly matched teams in the Big East. If the tournament started today, they would be sixth (UC) and seventh (U of L). They own the same conference record. Both experienced peaks and valleys.

The game will be at 9 pm on ESPN. Home court. High stakes. Rivalry. Sure, games get bigger, but not much. You probably shouldn't need me to inform you on the importance of this tilt.

If you are just looking to kill time as you typically due reading the endless minutiae of this blog, read this story by Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel on Mick Cronin and the job he's done since the brawl against Xavier. The plight has been well documented in this space, but after reading this piece, bares saying again - the job Cronin has done this year should be regarded among the finest in his career. And the finest among anybody whose coached at UC. No circumstances have been more unique nor challenging. As Mick likes to say, period, end of story.

See you tonight at Fifth Third. Buckle up.


Bearcats Breakfast 2.22.12

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I must start off today throwing another thanks out to Hall of Famer Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News for joining me yesterday on the podcast. If you haven't listened yet and wanted informed, real talk for 25 minutes about the Bearcats and their tournament chances, this podcast is a must listen. DeCourcy believes in the RPI, stated his case for it and, put simply, said if you don't want to own an 82 RPI don't lose to Presbyterian and Marshall at home.

Regardless of thoughts on the RPI, that's hard to deny.

Anyway, here is the link to the podcast, I highly recommend it for any UC hoops fan.

Let's eat...

--- Nowhere else to start than
with this dreaded RPI and metric conundrum the Bearcats find themselves in. While all the points DeCourcy makes in the podcast are true about understanding the system, knowing where the deficiency is coming from and needing to take care of business, there still exists a loud debate over the validity of the RPI metric nationally.

UC sits front and center in the middle of it.

Take into consideration UC's RPI number of 82. Then look at all the other new metrics made to more accurately judge the efficiency of each team: KenPom: 40, Sagarin: 42, Massey: 47, ESPN BPI: 51.

Using different forms of evaluation are fine, but when there is a 30-40 position difference between one and the other, a deeper introspection needs to be done.

If you think I'm the only one questioning the RPI because of the position it placed UC, then you can feel free to listen to these people.

--- Scott Van Pelt goes on a seven-minute rant about it on his radio show.

"I think it's the worst metric in sports," he said. "The RPI is about 30 years old. Consider this, 25 percent is your record, 50 percent is the winning percentage of the people you play and the same weight, 25 percent, is your opponents opponents winning percentage. What you do is equal weight the people you play against the people you play against get. Then think about how we throw those numbers out as if they are absolutes."

--- John Gasaway wrote the ultimate dissertation on the RPI including talking to the son of its now deceased inventor. Why does the NCAA still use the RPI?:

"My sense is the reason the NCAA continues to use the RPI in 2012 is purely institutional. It's possible that discontinuing the use of something that has become so deeply entwined with their rhythms, org chart, and identity would would cause some degree of pain and trauma in their physical workspace on the day of the discontinuance and for days afterward.
All organizations resist doing things that cause pain and trauma in their physical workspace. Usually they're compelled to do those things only by outside pressures, and the NCAA faces way fewer of those than a normal organization. Normal organizations that employ fewer people than one good-sized Wal-Mart don't have $10.8 billion in guaranteed revenues over 14 years. The NCAA gets to call the tune on this one."

--- USA Today pointed out its most recent mock selection how UC's weak RPI and non-conference schedule is hurting their resume.

Mick Cronin attempted to schedule tougher non-conference opponents, but tournaments don't just let you in because you want to go and the Big East/SEC challenge doesn't just hand you Kentucky because you want to play them at Rupp. Also, budgeting for multiple games against middle-of-the-pack leagues that bump up their asking price because they know how valuable they are to RPI manipulation isn't always the best business. That topic has been widely discussed here on this blog and I won't rehash it all again, just know scheduling the right non-conference opponents is far from a solely UC basketball decision.

Regardless, their non-conference SOS is what it is: 320.

As for if this RPI/strength of schedule formula could possibly keep the Bearcats out of the tournament, history implies it absolutely could.

One needs to look as far back as.....last year.

As Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News points out after attending the mock selection committee weekend in Indy, it was only last year that Colorado's wretched non-conference strength of schedule (272) eventually was the primary reason they were left out in favor of a Kansas State team it beat three times, including in the Big 12 tournament.

--- The RPI still owns its defenders, DeCourcy among them. Also, Seth Davis wrote his defense of the metric for Sports Illustrated here.

--- To deny the validity of the new metrics would be silly. The advance ways in which points per possession and offensive and defensive efficiency can be so accurately defined speaks volumes about the quality of play a team can ascend to -- win or loss.

The RPI doesn't know the difference between losing in overtime at West Virginia or having the doors blown off at Marquette. The same for Louisville or West Virginia teams that played Syracuse to the wire -- within a combined three points. There's no difference between those and UC losing going away to the Big East's best team.

The new metrics account for that. The easy solution would seem to be combining a number of of different ranks for a definitive number to sort by. The committee will contend that's what they do in evaluations and don't talk much about the RPI.

Still, every "vs. Top 50" and "vs. Top 100" stat they look at is based on RPI. It's impossible not to be affected by such numbers.

That's a big reason why UC sits where it does today. Granted, their RPI will improve if they win the games they should down the stretch (3 of final 4 against top 50 RPI teams). But 30-40 spots behind the current position is a devastating gap.

-- As Dion Dixon stated Wednesday, "I don't feel comfortable at all right now," he said.

Sean Kilpatrick then added: "We got to win every game from here on out."

They feel as if they need to leave no doubt. If they do leave doubt, a 30-year-old system will be there to judge them.

--- As Eammonn Brennan pointed out, arguing about the RPI can be a fruitless exercise. I sort of feel that way after sifting through all that content.

--- Cronin made an interesting point Tuesday that should play into the committee's decision. There has been a  lot of talk circulating about how the committee takes into consideration injuries to key players.

For example: Pittsburgh's string of losses without PG Travon Woodall might not count as much against them.

The coach was sure to mention JaQuon Parker's injury as a major reason UC struggled early on in losses to Presbyterian and Marshall.

He sounded like a coach speaking directly to the committee:

"If he was not hurt to start the season this would be a different team," Cronin said. "Also, our style of play would have been very different from the beginning. Anybody that was allowed into our practices could tell you that we were practicing half the time with Parker in a four-guard offense. That was a big blow for us, all you have to do is look at our team without him to see how much were were struggling even to beat some of the teams we beat early on."


If missing key players due to injury truly does matter in evaluating a team for the tournament, the absence of Parker -- the key to the four-guard offense -- should play a role for UC.

--- Bill Koch wrote about how much Cronin wants to beat Louisville. Playing against one of his mentors has always been special for the Bearcats coach -- as Koch expounds upon in the main story.

--- The importance of this game isn't lost on anyone -- especially not "The Inseperables," Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates as Dan Hoard says in this post.

--- UC's win over Seton Hall looks even better this morning after the Pirates thrashed Georgetown last night.

--- Student tickets are sold out for Thursday's game against Louisville. Overflow tickets are available for $10 at the ticket office or online.

If you need help on what to do Thursday night, the marketing department created this handy, dandy chart. For those watching on ESPN at home, Mike Patrick and Len Elmore on the call.

--- Friend of the blog Rob Dauster for Ballin' Is A Habit/NBC Beyond the Arc weighs in on the Crosstown Shootout conversation.

Some randomness...

--- There are many reasons
LeBron James is a polarizing figure. Because he's ridiculously good at basketball is at the top of the list.

--- Since I have no
future in professional basketball, I'll keep playing Madden on PS3 all day.

--- Reclusive Dave Chappelle turned up at the Warriors game the other night. All I want to hear is him confirming a comedy super tour with Chris Rock.

--- Did we forget all this Adele craze started because she raged against an ex-boyfriend, flipping the bird shouldn't be a complete surprise.

--- Is a UC alum running Google Maps now?

--- It's been a while since we broke out the 80s rock. Here you go. Happy Wednesday.


"The Inseparables" Look To Lead Bearcats Back To Tourney

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Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon have been UC Bearcats for the last 1,252 days.  Sometime in the next 41 days, their college careers will be finished.

"Time flies," said Dixon.  "I can remember my freshman year like it was yesterday." 

"We talk about how we came in together and everybody said we were 'The Inseparables' because we go to class together, practice together, everything," said Gates.  "Now we're about to be on our way out together - it's crazy."

Dixon and Gates.jpg

Their reasons for coming to Cincinnati were different.  In Dixon's case, the rebuilding Bearcats offered an opportunity to play right away in the nation's best conference.

"I felt like I could come here and play, and I felt like they needed me to play right away to help the team," said Dixon.  "I thought that I could come here and have a good career and it turned out well."

For Gates, the former Withrow High School star, it was the opportunity to help put UC basketball back on the map after the turmoil that resulted from the ouster of Bob Huggins.

"Rebuilding the program was the main thing for me," Gates told me.  "When Coach Cronin was recruiting me, that's all that we talked about.  I told him that I was willing to come in and do whatever I needed to do to help, whether it was hosting recruits when they came here, or playing my game.  That's been really big for me - especially being from here - helping to get the program in my home city back on track."  

Gates and Dixon helped the Bearcats return to the NCAA Tournament as juniors, and are determined to return to March Madness as seniors.  As much as they try to focus on the next game, it's hard to ignore the various bracketologists that have Cincinnati listed as a bubble team.

"I know for me, that it's kind of hard not to pay attention to it - especially as a senior," said Gates.  "You're constantly looking at where you stand and what you have to do to improve your status and try to make the tournament." 

"We don't know if we are in or not right now, so we feel like our backs are against the wall and we have to win out," said Dixon.

Their fate is in their own hands.  Cincinnati's next three games are against teams that are currently in the Top 50 of the RPI (Louisville-21, USF-50, Marquette-8), followed by a difficult road game at Villanova on Senior Day. 

"We're looking at these games as must-wins," said Dixon.  "We don't want to leave any doubt in anybody's minds."

"We feel we're capable of pulling these last four games out, so that's been our big focus," said Gates.

Realistically, the 'Cats probably need to win at least two of their last four games, and a win on Thursday night over 17th-ranked Louisville would be great for their tournament resume.

"Nine o'clock...ESPN...it's hard not to be excited about it," said Gates.  "And it's Louisville - college basketball at its best."

"Everything is on the line...identical records...this is what it's all about," said Dixon.  "You work all year for this."

By then, they will have worked for 1,254 days.

**********

Cincinnati's non-conference strength of schedule has been a major topic of conversation in recent weeks, and one thing that would have helped it considerably, was if Coach Cronin had gotten his wish in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  

"We were tabbed to be a road team and we were slated to play Georgia," said Cronin.  "I lobbied and requested to play Kentucky or Alabama - the two highest-rated SEC teams that were scheduled to play at home in that challenge.  But ESPN gets to pick that, and I was upset with the Big East because I didn't think that they fought hard enough.  They sent St. John's to the wolves at Kentucky, and I thought that was unfair to those kids because they have a team with no experience.  I thought our league should have been stronger and never let that happen.  Especially when you have a coach 75 miles from Lexington that's saying, 'I'll go down and play 'em win, lose, or draw.'"

One way to boost the non-conference RPI is to play tough opponents in early-season tournaments and the Bearcats are scheduled to do that next season.

"Next year at Thanksgiving, we'll be in Las Vegas playing Iowa State in our first game and then either Oregon or UNLV in the second game," said Coach Cronin.  "So we'll have a chance to get some decent wins early and establish our RPI."   

**********

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. 

For the first time in the history of the podcast, I can officially say that I welcomed a Hall of Famer this week as Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News joined the program.

DeCourcy was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the United States Basketball Writers. Many UC fans will remember him from his time covering the Bearcats from 1997-2000 for The Enquirer.

He spent the last 11 years as Sporting News' lead college basketball writer and is an analyst on the Big Ten Network.
MikeD.JPG
It's always great to see Mike at the games, as he still lives in Cincinnati. He plans on returning to Fifth Third for the Marquette game in a little over a week.

If you were wondering at all about the RPI or the current state of the Bearcats bubble position you only need to listen the 25 minutes of this podcast and you'll be overflowing with knowledge from as credible a source as exists in the game today.

Now, Mike is a Steelers fan, but don't hold it against him. Not everyone can be perfect.

Big thanks to him for joining, if you aren't following him on Twitter you are missing out (@tsnmike) and you can read him regularly at the Sporting News here. Great stuff and as you'll quickly find out, he's darn passionate about college basketball. Refreshing. 

On to the podcast:

Minutes 1-6: We waste no time, jumping right down to business -- why is the Bearcats RPI so different from the other metrics and is going to keep them out of The Dance?

6-8: Seriously, could a team with a winning record against the RPI Top 50 be left out of this thing?

8-12: How much should we be talking about the non-conference schedule and is it killing UC right now -- also, Jennifer Aniston makes an appearance in the conversation.

12-16: How aware is the committee of some of the deeper issues surrounding UC?

16-18: Bottom line, what does this team need to do over the last four games and Big East tourney to return to the tournament.

18-22: USF is 10-4, UC 9-5 and on the bubble? What in the name of Derrick Coleman is going on in this conference?

22-24: Mike let's us know when he'll be making another appearance at Fifth Third as we sign off and take breath.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Don't look now, but the Cincinnati women's basketball team has won five of six and takes the court tonight on the brink of the most conference wins since 2007.

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- There have been nights when Jamelle Elliott left Fifth Third Arena frustrated. Many of them.

No longer was she coaching a team with unwavering expectations to win a national championship every year.

She knew upon her arrival as the head coach of the women's basketball team at Cincinnati the culture would be vastly different from what she left behind as an assistant under Geno Auriemma at Connecticut. She didn't need much time to realize exactly she inherited.

"Obviously it's a huge difference going from a place that you not only expect to win every game but you do win every game to a place that's totally opposite of that where you're on a losing streak, you're lucky to win one or two games in the conference every year," said Elliot, who went 21-38 overall and 6-26 in conference her first two seasons. "Obviously, it was an adjustment, but I knew what I was getting myself into."

If there's one thing Elliott knows how to do, it's win basketball games.

She spent 12 seasons as an assistant at Connecticut where she helped lead the Huskies to six national championships including an undefeated season in 2009.

When Elliott was hired as the head coach at Cincinnati, the expectation was that she would bring a piece of that winning culture along with her.

Although they haven't gone undefeated or won a national championship, Elliott has seen her team improve and believes they are on the path to success. With a victory tonight UC (14-12, 5-8) will own its most Big East victories since the 2006-07 season, when it won six.

"I think that's what good coaches strive to do is exceed, not only other people's expectations but your own," said Elliott. "Obviously it was a struggle for us and it's still sometimes a struggle for us to win games, but I think we're moving in the right direction."

The Bearcats took a step in the right direction when they defeated Pittsburgh on February 11.

Not only did that gave the Bearcats 13 wins on the year, but that was most wins for Elliott since she's arriving at Cincinnati.

"That's your goal as a coach, you want to continue to improve game to game, year to year," said Elliott. "And I'm just glad for my players because of the effort they put in, how hard they work in practice, how hard they work in preseason that their hard work is starting to pay off."

Evidence of that hard work can be found in recent games where the Bearcats have won four out of their last five including a three-game win streak on the road.

Previous to this stretch, the Bearcats had lost six in a row and were ecstatic to finally defeat

a conference rival in Syracuse on January 28. Little did they know the momentum which would follow.

"I think because we had such a long stretch of losses that we really did celebrate the Syracuse win because it was a while before we had won a game before that," said Chanel Chisholm. "But now that we're starting to win games we can expect it and we get really upset when we lose now."

 One reason for their success against Syracuse is the fact that multiple players contributed. Earlier in the year, the Bearcats relied on one or two players to carry the load. That day four players finished in double figures.

"We got away from one player possibly two players going into double figures to three or four guys not only scoring in double figures but doing other things to fill up the stat sheet that would allow us to win games," Elliott said

Defeating a conference opponent on the road would have been a major accomplishment and maybe even a surprise before Elliott arrived. For her, that's a mentality that needs to change.

"I don't want us, every time we win a game, to act like we've won the Big East Championship," said Elliott. "We need to start to expect that. And that just goes with me trying to change the culture of this program."

Since the win at Syracuse, it appears as though the Bearcats are starting to react to winning a little differently.

Rather than be surprised, they're starting to expect it.

"Before we won at Syracuse we hadn't tasted victory since the last year," said Elliott. "So, once we won those two games then all of a sudden it's like, OK, if we do some things on the basketball court, individually and as a team there's no reason why we can stay in games, if not stay in games for 40 minutes, definitely win them."

As long as they continue to build on the success of this year, they will be in good position to make even more improvements next year.

"There are still a lot of building blocks that need to be put in place," said Elliott. "I feel confident that the foundation in there now it's time to continue to build and get better."

Bearcats Breakfast 2.21.12

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Plenty going on with the blog today. We've got a media availability with Mick Cronin and the players this afternoon, there's a story on the plight of Jamelle Elliott as she continues her record-breaking season tonight at home against Marquette, then later today I've got a very special guest for the podcast as we dive headfirst into UC's tournament resume.

As always, follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) to keep up with everything as it happens today. If you have any thoughts, concerns, questions, criticisms or cures for male pattern baldness, please send them to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com.

Let's eat...

--- Indications are the Crosstown Shootout
will return next year, according to the exclusive report from Bill Koch at The Enquirer.

Koch spoke with President Gregg Williams, who delivered this quote:

"Every indication is that we are going to play next year. We're looking at it. (Xavier University president) Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times."

Cronin spoke about it briefly on his radio show last night and said he thought Williams might have been put on the spot, but knew whatever the boss says he will go along with.

Much like the brawl which began this conversation everybody seems to own a strong opinion on the subject, so whatever is decided will probably be met with some criticism from a certain sect.

Personally, it would be a bigger indictment on both schools if they admitted they couldn't come up with a way to play a basketball game in a peaceful, respectful environment. There are so many ways to use the game to spin one final positive out of the negative, ignoring the issue and letting a great tradition die because they are unsure two teams can play a sport without fighting each other would be a bigger blemish than the brawl itself.

(kicks soapbox to the side) Moving on.

--- Buried in the Crosstown Shootout talk was a quote from Whit Babcock that should make the UC season ticket holders stand up and listen.

"We're looking to bring some more marquee opponents into Fifth Third (Arena). If Xavier was one of them, it would impact our schedule."

Of course, the non-conference schedule has been the talking point of so many season-ticket holders. There appears to be a concerted effort from Babcock to quiet those critics. As Cronin will say, that's easier said than done. Especially with West Virginia leaving next year and then losing Pitt and Syracuse the year after, beefing up the non-conference schedule will be a necessity to keep the overall schedule in the area it needs to be to impress the selection committee.

From what I've spoken about with Cronin and others about scheduling out of conference, I'd say Indiana and WVU (likely among many others) would be near the top of the list of teams that could be coming to Fifth Third Arena next season.

--- Dion Dixon was selected for the Big East Honor Roll yesterday. If you want to know why, you can read my postgame column from Saturday.

He averaged 13.5 points, six boards, three assists and 2.5 blocks last week.

--- The Bearcats and Cardinals
sit right next to each other at fifth and sixth in efficiency margins in Big East play, according to Rumble in the Garden. These two teams are as evenly matched as they come.

--- Shabazz Napier dropped a
30-foot bomb to keep UConn's Dance hopes alive. This comes days after throwing all his teammates under the bus after a loss to Marquette.

Most importantly, it elicited an "Onions!" call from Raf.

--- Jeff Borzello thinks Marquette could make a run to the Final Four. If UC could find a way to avenge the disaster in Milwaukee, it would be the final piece of their tournament puzzle.

--- Many pieces out there
about RPI, tournament bubbles and who belongs. I'm holding off on posting those since I'll have much more coming on the topic this week. Don't worry, I would never deny you people your media posturing and opining on tournament philosophy.

--- Keep checking back to the blog the rest of the day for more, now, not sure why, but feels like a Zeppelin morning.



Previewing the opponent: Marquette Golden Eagles

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CINCINNATI -- A little over two weeks ago the University of Cincinnati women's basketball program seemed to be heading down a road they were all too familiar with. Now, given a recent upswing, the Bearcats (14-12, 5-8) are looking to extend a three-game winning streak as they take on Marquette tomorrow night from Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats now have an interesting opportunity in front of them as they finish off their final three regular season games. Three tough BIG EAST match-ups stand between UC and a .500 conference record. Some may say finishing .500 in conference play is nothing but a mediocre season at best, but the Bearcats who started 2-8 in conference play are ready to reach an 8-8 conference record that may catapult them into postseason play for the first time in the Jamelle Elliott era. So far so good for the Bearcats -- here is what Marquette brings to the court that may put all postseason dreams on halt.

UC is coming off a win at Seton Hall and recorded its fourth BIG EAST road win, which is the most since they entered the league in 2005-06. The trio of Dayeesha Hollins, Bjonee Reaves, and Chanel Chisholm continue to lead the way for the Bearcats as all scored in double-figures in New Jersey. Hollins had a team-high 16 points, Chisholm had 14, and Reaves scored 12.

Marquette (13-13, 4-9) fell at home against Cincinnati on Feb. 1 and is coming off a loss at Syracuse. Looking to avenge that loss the Golden Eagles will need a big game from their leader Katherine Plouffe, who averages 13.9 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. UC scored 64 points against MU in early Feb. and that is the most points the team has scored against a BIG EAST opponent all season. Hollins led the Bearcats with 22 points.

It is obvious that Cincinnati has more weapons on the court than Marquette, but it is always difficult to beat the same opponent twice in the same season. The tip is set for 7 p.m.

Bearcats Breakfast 2.20.12

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Coming off another win, the Bearcats tournament resume has begun to come into clearer focus. They are far from in the kitchen, but they can sniff The Dance right now.

Four games are left in the regular season and by the numbers all appear to be coin flips. By my educated guess, winning two of the four would put the Cats in the tournament and beating Louisville would definitely place them on the doorstep. A win against the Cards would make UC 5-3 against the Top 50. I'm not sure how you keep out a team with that stat.

But, don't worry, I will delve deeper into the selection committee/RPI abyss later this week. Oh yeah, that discussion is coming. Strap on your statistical shield and hypothesis helmet because I'm going in.

For now, let's eat...

--- Much was made in the postgame about the technical foul on Yancy Gates. My initial reaction seeing the play evolve in front of me was that Gates angrily tossed Theodore to the ground. I thought he should have received a technical. I still do.

I don't think it was malicious, I think it was just frustration in the heat of the battle. Yet, it still needed to be called. Gates and the Bearcats reputation stemming from the Xavier brawl likely didn't help this judgment decision from the officiating crew.

Mick Cronin didn't agree with me. That's fine, I'd expect us to have different opinions. His salary compared to mine making him a more credible source and his point is certainly fair.

"If that's a T, you can call 15 Ts a game in the Big East," he said. "I think when big guys are getting whacked at the way he got whacked at that's a natural reaction."

It should also be pointed out that was the first technical foul for any UC player or coach since the XU brawl. There was no denying it affected Gates. Not only in his numbers (5 points, 8 rebounds) but his overall style of play. It's truly amazing how much that day still lingers in the brain of so many players who were involved in it (Gates and Tu Holloway, specifically).

"Yeah, no doubt (it affected Yancy)," Cronin said. "Negatively, because the other stuff that was going on, the talking and taunting and other stuff, but I don't even want to get into it because it's all an excuse. You got to keep your head and do what you got to do, but I didn't think it was egregious at all."


At the end of the day, Mick and I do agree it wasn't something so out of control that warranted much more conversation.

--- Bill Koch also went into the play and other elements of the win in his game story.

--- In case you missed my game column on Dion Dixon, here you go. I think Dion has played with a different level of energy and focus the last few games. It's become obvious he's counting down the moments he has left in college basketball.

--- Loved Mick's comment after the game when asked if he felt better about his situation after getting a big tourney resume win.

"My situation is I'm a single dad with no hair and a team that's just trying to get better every day," he said.

--- Talk about getting better every day, JaQuon Parker's breakthrough season continues to deliver wins for the UC. He came up huge Saturday hitting big shot after big shot for his 12 points -- not to mention seven big boards playing the forward position at 6-foot-3.

Chad Brendel wrote about Parker after the game.

The junior's point total was third on the team, but the timeliness loomed larger than anybody. He nailed two 3-pointers during the 18-4 run to open the game that rattled the Pirates. Then, as the Pirates attempted to charge back, both his second-half field goals came immediately after Hall buckets cut the lead to single digits.

Cronin spoke about Parker's contributions:

"That's where I got to do a better job in recruiting, I need more guys with his toughness," he said. "It's the hardest thing to probably evaluate when you are watching kids play. Because everybody is looking for that guy that's got great talent. I think the most underrated talent is toughness."

Mick said from the second he found out about Parker he knew he owned the toughness intangible. He offered this anecdote from his recruitment.

"Larry Davis called me from the Virginia state tournament and told me, 'This kid is an animal,'" Cronin said. "I said, 'How big is he?' He said 6-3. I said what position does he play? He said it doesn't matter. Moral of the story, his team won the state championship and he's Mr. Basketball, as a junior."

--- Seton Hall blog South Orange Juice
took a look back at the loss and gave credit to Cincinnati's defensive gameplan.

--- South Florida is now 10-4 in conference play and owning people at home. I think winning there will be more difficult than any other game on UC's schedule. Take into account the fact they are still playing to prove themselves, in need of quality wins and playing so well at home, finding a W won't be easy.

--- Notre Dame keeps finding ways to win. Still unsure how they came back on Villanova -- the team that always seems to find a way to lose.

--- For a minute, it appeared UC would -- yet again -- be facing a team coming off a loss. It had occurred in five of the previous seven games. Nothing focuses a team more than an L and with the likes of Syracuse and Rutgers, the losses were of the shocking variety and served as more than enough motivation to pull off wins.

Maybe fortunately for UC, the Cards held on to beat DePaul in overtime.

Remember, 9 p.m. Thursday. Wear black, the game is officially being tabbed as a Blackout.

--- Dana O'Neil places UC 7th in
this week's Big East power rankings.

--- So, I'm trying to distinguish the major
differences between UC and Louisville this year. Obviously, the national perception has been that the Cardinals are a great team. They've been in the Top 25 almost every week and currently sit 18th overall.

UC -- on the other hand -- can't buy an ounce of respect.

Yes, I understand the early season struggles of the Cats and the Blue Hose incident hurt credibility.

But, as far as marquee wins, the only non-conference difference between the two would be Louisville owns an OT win against Vanderbilt. That was the only team ranked at the time Louisville played them. Yes, they own a win against Memphis -- which looks nice today. They also didn't suffer any bad losses like the Cats.

Let all that go and you have two teams on dramatically similar season tracks but night and day rankings.

Yes, Louisville owns a tougher strength of schedule, though, every other ranked team they've played, they lost: UK (69-62), Georgetown (71-68), Marquette (74-63) and Syracuse (52-51). I have a hard time giving credit for losing games.

In comparison, UC owns a win against Georgetown (68-64) -- also, UConn and Pitt, who were ranked at the time, but obviously don't mean as much now.

Both are an identical 9-5 in the conference. Yet, all the respect and love goes to the Cards who have been considering among the national elite all year. I'll admit their resume looks better, but outside of giving credit for losing to good teams, the difference doesn't correlate to the gap which existed all year.

--- Off the soapbox and on to football,
Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will head to the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis. JK Schaffer will not. Dan Hoard wrote about how this serves as just another opportunity for JK to prove people wrong.

--- Draft Insider ranked Pead as the sixth best back, that seems to be the standard slot for him. They see him as a possible second-round selection. It's looking more and more like Friday (second and third rounds) will be the day Pead goes.

--- Randomness...

--- Referee Karl Hess ejected N.C. State alums Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the Wolfpack's game this weekend. Watching this video makes me want to see LaZelle Durden and Melvin Levett get run on Thursday night.

--- The whole ESPN Mobile Asian slur headline is unbelievable.

--- I have a feeling this is what resident Knicks fanatic Mo Egger fully anticipates.

--- Two unreal aspects of this dunk: Gabe York is in high school. He's only 6-foot-2. I'd call the game off after this dunk. Everybody go home, it won't get any better than this.

The kid underneath York should read this Plain-Dealer piece on what it's like to get dunked on.



Schaffer Looks To Prove Doubters Wrong...Again

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JK Schaffer spent the last four years proving people wrong.

Schaffer tackle (550x450).jpg

After not being heavily recruited out of LaSalle High School, Schaffer concluded his college career as a First-Team All-Big East linebacker - one of only four players in league history to have more than 100 tackles in three straight seasons. 

So as far as JK is concerned, not being invited to next week's NFL Scouting Combine is par for the course.

"I've always used that stuff for motivation," Schaffer told me.  "When I was in high school, people told me that I wouldn't play in Division I.  Now, it's not getting invited to the combine or people saying, 'He's too small, he's too whatever.'  I just take all of that stuff and think about it on that last run of conditioning drills when I'm struggling and don't want to do it anymore.  It's another reason to go out and prove people wrong.  I also look at it as giving me an extra week to train and get ready for Pro Day."

While fellow seniors Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe, and John Hughes will be in Indianapolis when the combine starts on Wednesday, Schaffer's opportunity to work out for NFL scouts will come on March 2nd when UC holds its annual Pro Day.

Schaffer, an excellent student who was recently named the Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is now busy cramming for the tests he'll get from NFL scouts.

"It's all about Pro Day," said Schaffer.  "About 3 ½ weeks ago, I moved up to Barrington, Illinois which is a little northwest of Chicago and is where my agent is based.  I'm living and training with two guys from Northern Illinois University while taking 15 hours of online classes because I want to be able to graduate by June.  We work out three to four times a day and at the field house where we have the weight room and the field where we do all of our position drills and running.  We have basketball courts where we do different things and there's a pilates room which we use twice a week.  That's basically my life right now - training six days a week for most of the day and then coming back to the house and doing a little homework."

Schaffer, who was listed at 6'1, 227 this year, is trying to get bigger and stronger while shaving a fraction of a second off of his 40-yard dash and shuttle run times.

"I'm trying to put on a little bit of weight," JK told me.  "I've never really been above 230 in my life, so I'm trying to get to 235.  Obviously, I can't improve my height, although I would really like to.  You can't get that much faster, but what you can improve is your technique.  I know that I didn't understand technique, so we're working with a lot of guys who know what they're doing."

While Schaffer was not invited to the combine, he was selected for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl - an all-star game in California where he played for former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil.

"The whole week leading up to the game was great, but unfortunately, I played four seasons at Cincinnati and didn't miss a play due to injury, and pretty early-on in that All-Star Game, I took a helmet to the hip and got a hip pointer," said Schaffer.  "I couldn't even stand up, so I got taken out of the game.  That's why you didn't see much of me.  I'm fully recovered from that, so it's not a problem.  I was sore for a couple of weeks, but it was not a serious injury."

Wes Welker, Osi Umenyiora, and Jay Ratliff are among the current NFL players who have been to multiple Pro Bowls despite not being invited to the combine, and while UC head coach Butch Jones is not necessarily predicting Pro Bowl appearances in Schaffer's future, he has been singing JK's praises to NFL teams.

"The scouting process is not an exact science and they can't measure the intangibles," said Coach Jones.  "On Pro Day, everybody is looking at your athleticism - the way you run a 40-yard dash, your short shuttle time, your change of direction - but what you can't measure at Pro Day is heart, and that's what JK has.  The big thing that every coach looks for is consistency, and the great thing about JK is that you know what you are going to get each and every day.  He has great competitive spirit and coachability - couple that with his physical skills and, I am his biggest advocate to say the least."

Coach Jones says he expects Schaffer to get an opportunity in training camp to make a roster, but the senior linebacker takes it a step further by saying he expects to play in the NFL.

"There's no doubt," JK told me.  "I don't know what kind of competitor I would be if there was any doubt."

**********

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Dion Dixon is feeling the urgency of his senior year and it showed Saturday in the stat sheet.

CINCINNATI - Saturday, for the 127th time in his life, Dion Dixon walked on the floor wearing a University of Cincinnati basketball uniform. For the 63rd time, he heard his name announced as a starting guard.

But this game felt different -- significantly different.

Dixon.jpg

"This is my last go-around," the senior said. "It definitely feels different being in the situation we are in, must-win games. It feels different, but I go out there and just try to give my all and help the team out today."

Nobody can deny Dixon did that. Sure, Dixon drained 2 of 4 shots from behind the arc and attacked the bucket to earn 10 free throws, making eight. His 20 points marked the seventh time this season he crossed the 15-point barrier.

All those numbers were above average, but close to standard for a guy who passed Tom Thacker for 28th place in UC's all-time scoring list.

The noticeable difference, though, arrived in the myriad alternate ways he affected the 62-57 outcome.

For a guy constantly prodded by Mick Cronin for his lack of rebounding, he's grabbed 12 the last two games after snagging as many as his own coach the previous two.

A guy who blocked three shots during the first 12 Big East conference games, rejected five this week alone.

A guy who only contributed more than two assists five times in conference play utilized the drive-and-kick to perfection against the Pirates defense to spring an early double-digit lead. Dixon either scored or assisted on 10 of the first 21 points. It was a deficit the Pirates, ultimately, couldn't recover from.

For those counting at home, that's 20 points, six boards, five assists, two blocks, one steal. Oh, and add one more stat to the sufficiently stuffed box score: One win.

"I wish I had Dion," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "I think the staff here has done a terrific job with him in giving him great opportunities to score. He's a senior, he's tough, he's been through it. I love everything about Dion. You just love watching him play."

Well, maybe for one day Willard didn't so much enjoy the view.

Dixon was far from perfect, of course. Cronin pointed to his struggles connecting inside the 3-point line where he was 3 of 10. On three possessions an errant dribble or poor decision led to a turnover. There's a wide gap between imperfect and uninspired play. Dixon illustrated the latter can make up for the former.

"I got to do a better job with him on making shots inside the paint," Cronin said. "He was aggressive. No doubt about that."

His defensive aggression typified a specific gameplan that shifted the shape of Saturday to the home sideline. One possession after assisting a critical Cashmere Wright 3-pointer, Dixon lifted toward Aaron Cosby behind the arc on the wing and produced one of the more athletic rejections of the season to hold a double-digit lead. His extended reach kept a hand in the face of Pirates shooters that hit just 4 of 20 from deep.

"The 3 is their life-blood, their younger guys are all very good shooters," Cronin said. "They only made four and two were Wilson and Alda. Their primary shooters only made two. We felt if we eliminated the three and transition they couldn't score enough to win the game."

While the block at the 3-point line showed off a strategy, in Dixon's mind, it wasn't even the best of the day.

"I like the one on Herb Pope better," he said.

Hard not to. Dixon's rejection of the 6-foot-8, 236-pound forward wasn't only against the physical odds, but served as the exclamation point of a Yancy Gates dunk on the other end with under four minutes remaining. A few tense moments littered a formality to the finish from that point forward.

Consequently, Dixon's senior year drew one step closer to ending at the game's biggest stage. That was a result he used every ounce of his energy to assure came to fruition.

He produced on a big stage with the fate of the final chapter of a college career on the line. Yeah, that's different. And it will continue to be.

"I think we still in a must-win situation," Dixon said. "Early in the season we have some tough losses that don't look good on our resume. We got the same urgency every game. We feel like we must win out."

Molly Alvey brings an impressive resume and competitive fire back to familiar territory.

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- The University of Cincinnati has a new volleyball coach.

Molly Alvey, who was the head coach at the University of Houston from 2010 to 2011, takes over as the next head coach of the Bearcats.

"I'm so incredibly excited to be the next head coach at the University of Cincinnati," said Alvey. "What an amazing opportunity to continue doing what I love to do and to do it close to my home."

However, the native of Louisville, Ky., didn't always plan on coaching volleyball.

After earning a degree in economics from Centre College in 2001 and her Masters in International Business Administration at Temple in 2004, Alvey expected to conquer the corporate world.

However, businesses weren't fighting for her services.

"Being a young knucklehead in school I thought I was going to get this great corporate job upon graduation," said Alvey. "Surprisingly enough no one was knocking down my door wanting me to come take that perfect job. So, I kind of took coaching by default."

Although coaching may not have been her first thought as a career, it was certainly on her list.

From 2001-03 Alvey served as a grad assistant at Temple and in 2004 she received her first job as a head coach at the University of Southern Indiana.

Suddenly, the game changed. Alvey realized what she was meant to do.

"I knew I could do it," said Alvey. "It was an obvious next step. But I wasn't convinced until I got to Southern Indiana and kind of had that opportunity to really take over the piece of it together and it was like, 'Wow, I love it.'"

What Alvey said she loves about coaching volleyball is the competitive nature and the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of the student athletes.

"I'm a competitor through and through," said Alvey. "My brain only works in competition and I think I just thrive in that type of atmosphere. I love to win. I love being around young people. I just like the atmosphere college athletics gives and more of the mentoring and education side is something that I think I've developed into being pretty good at."

Now that she is the coach of the Bearcats, Alvey will have the opportunity to mentor young players close to home.

When she first started talking to UC, Alvey had to withhold certain information from traveling down I-71 about where she was interviewing. She didn't want to be persuaded to take the job.

"It's funny, I had to give them limited information as I went through the interview process because I wanted to make sure, more than anything, that it wasn't an emotional decision, it was a right fit," said Alvey. "So they got limited information. Now they won't leave me alone."

Now, not only do the Bearcats have a new coach but it's safe to say they will have a new flock of fans as well.

In fact, Alvey's family can't wait to get their hands on some Bearcats' merchandise.

"T-shirts," said Alvey. "I don't know if I got a 'congratulations,' it was, 'Hey, can we get some t-shirts down here?"

Players you hate (or like)

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My theory on judging opposing teams and players has always been, "Who on that team would you like to  have on yours?"

If you think about it, there's probably several.  I've used this argument over the years when comparing the Steelers and Bengals.  I'm not necessarily a gung-ho fan of either in terms of face paint and jerseys, but I've always appreciated the Steelers' toughness and success--even though I typically want the Bengals to beat them.

It's not being a Steeler fan, it's just appreciating good coaching and athletes.

Likewise, though my UC allegiances have never been doubted, there have been players that I grew to like even though they were thorns in the backsides of the Bearcats.

I'll surely miss a few, but I enjoyed the following:

1) Penny Hardaway at Memphis--great player but UC owned him and it usually meant a big win.
2) Tom Kleinschmidt at DePaul (yeah, some of these date you youngsters). "The Doughboy" was one tough cookie.  It made for a great chant from Bearcat fans.
3) Quentin Richardson, DePaul.  Awesome player who's halfcourt shot was past the buzzer a few years back when DerMarr Johnson sank a shot to beat the Blue Demons in the epic "Kenyon takes over" comeback game.
4) The tandem of Scott Highmark and Erwin Claggett. The Billikens of Charlie Spoonhour could "ball" and shoot the "trifecta". Thank goodness LaZelle Durden had a shot left in the Great Midwest tournament.
5) Gerry McNamara, Syracuse.  Got to give it up to a guy that single-handedly beat a decent UC team and everyone else that year in the Big East tournament.
6) Sam Young and Dejuan Blair of Pitt.  I still preach Sam Young's shot-fake to my younger kids and Blair was a Wes Unseld-like presence that couldn't be stopped.
7) Luke Harangody, Notre Dame.  One ugly dude, but a reliable, old-school player.
8) Kemba Walker, Connecticut.  I assume you watched last year's Big East and NCAA tournaments.
9) (NOT INCLUDED:  Diego Guevera of UNC-Charlotte--blowing kisses is one thing; running to our fans and dropping F-bombs at UC fans after a CUSA tourney win in Freedom Hall crosses the line.)
10) (NOT INCLUDED:  Francisco Garcia of Louisville.  Thought he was a dirty player and a crybaby.  No respect in my book.)

That leads now to my current list.  While UC has defeated several of these guys and their respective teams, who wouldn't want them on your side?

1) Starting with my favorite--Dennis Kilicli of West Virginia.  Sure, he looks like their mascot on  'roids, but give me some flying elbows and a strong hook shot (the lost shot of basketball).
kilicli.jpg
(Thanks to www.bleacherreport.com/Getty Images)

Throw in Kevin Jones and his bag of tricks and Truck Bryant and that's a power trio.  Who doesn't need a guy named "Truck"?
2) Syracuse is loaded, but give me a long guy that can score in Kris Joseph and a seven-foot coordinated monster in the middle (Fab Melo) and I'll take my chances.
3) Moe Harkless of St. John's.  Beaten UC twice. You'll always take the best player in New York City.
4) Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut.  Huskies best scorer and last year's tourney experience=money.
5) Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (see Luke Harangody above).
6) Herb Pope, Seton Hall.  It seems like Herb's in his 15th year of college basketball now.  At one time, he had interest here.  Darn!
7) Vincent Council. Providence.  Bearcats fried the Friars the other night, but Council scored at will.  Sign me up.
8) Chane Behanan, Louisville.  A beast already and he'll only get better.  Should've been here. UC had the inside track and the kid was in the backyard.  There's a nice Enquirer story out that includes some unique coincidences in life. Funny how things work out sometimes, huh?

That's mine. Who do you have?  We've all had these thoughts.  No matter what the level, there's always someone you compete against that you seemingly hate.

Why do you hate them?

Because they're beating you.

Heck, the Yankees have built teams for years on this theory.  Next time you're in a pick-up game somewhere and you're choosing up sides, take the guys you hate!

Bearcats Breakfast 2.17.12

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UC Sports Information Director Doug Mosley properly coined Thursday a three-ring circus at Fifth Third Arena as Mick Cronin and Sean Kilpatrick spoke with the media, followed by Butch Jones and his tweaked defensive staff then the introduction of new volleyball coach Molly Alvey.

More coming on Alvey later today from Chris Gundrum, but I'll start with football.

The essential news was that there is no news -- at least outside of the hiring of OLBs coach Roy Manning.

John Jancek, previously co-defensive coordinator with Tim Banks, who moved on to Illinois, now owns the title of defensive coordinator. As far as there being any difference from last year, outside of owning the final say on the collaborative defensive calls, there's not much.

"He'll be up in the box," Jones said. "You won't see much change or any change."

Kerry Coombs added the title of pass game defensive coordinator and Steve Stripling the title of run game defensive coordinator. Considering Coombs worked with the DBs and Stripling the D-line, that's more of just a title change than responsibility change.

The biggest move is the arrival of Manning to work with the outside linebackers. Manning bounced around five different teams during a three-year NFL career, including some time with the Bengals.

He spent time with UC in 2010, but moved back to help out Brady Hoke last year at Michigan. He's now returned.

Jones said the players' eyes lit up when they learned Manning was back. The respect and credibility that comes from recently being a part of the league they all aspire to play in goes a long way.

For those seeking the succinct Cliff's Notes version of the moves: Jancek owns final say, he'll spend gamedays in the box, little else changes, welcome back Roy Manning. The end.

Let's eat...

--- When discussing UC's rebounding turnaround which occurred over the last three games, Mick Cronin made an interesting point to another symptom of taking the ball to the basket more often. By penetrating the lane and not settling for contested 3-pointers, the Bearcats have helped offset their rebounding/height disadvantage.

Sure, the opponents are partially responsible for the turnaround on the boards, but the decreased reliance on the outside shot owns more of the responsibility.

"We've taken less 3's, we've attacked the basket. we've tried to share the ball more," Cronin said. "It's hard to be a great rebounding team when you shoot jump shots. We've tried to make sure we are taking the best shot we can take.

"By now the guys that are playing at least, understand there are shots that you take where we can't rebound that shot. First/second pass jump shots, you are not going to rebound that shot."


How significant has it been? Everyone who reads this blog knows my disdain for rebounding margin which half the time only means you miss too many shots. Still, UC has gone from not winning rebound margin once in conference play to winning it four of the last five games and being +46 over that span.

To be more specific, check out these rebounding numbers, breaking it into conference games when they shot 25+ 3s and conference games when they they shot less than 20.

Opp  W/L   3-pts   OR%
Pitt   W     11-27   38%
ND    W     8-27    28%
STJ   L      7-32     39%
UConn W  11-26    36%
Syr     L     8-25    38%
-----------------------------------
Opp  W/L   3-pts   OR%
GT     W       4-13   37%
DP     W      3-15    33%
STJ   W       7-16    55%
MU    L        3-13    55%
Prov  W       4-14    53%

--- Over the last three games,
the difference has been dramatic. Say what you will about the quality of the opponent, grabbing more than half your offensive rebounds is doing serious work on the glass.

Take into consideration Pitt leads the nation this year in offensive rebound percentage at 42.8 percent.

--- As for the trend continuing against Seton Hall, that won't be so easy. The Pirates are fourth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, only allowing BE opponents to grab 35 percent on the offensive glass.

Compare that to Providence (14th in that category, allowing 38.7 percent), Marquette (11th/36.3%) and St. John's (16th/41.8).

--- The numbers prove
shot selection only provides half the equation. Effort and focus on grabbing offensive boards from players other than Yancy Gates completes the solution.

Clearly, the combination of better shot selection, opponent and increased focus on rebounding from the perimeter players provided the perfect storm on the offensive glass.

"In practice we pinpoint the fact our guards need to rebound a lot more and we need to help Yancy," said Sean Kilpatrick, who pulled down 21 boards the last three games. "He's the catalyst of the rebounding situation. We got to help him in order to win. It's been more of a focus. In the Big East it really don't matter the opponent, if you are outrebounding a Big East opponent by 18 that is a pretty good job."

--- Every game the rest of the way
looms large for the Bearcats, but when you face another bubble team on your home floor, the importance triples. I've talked here all week about the importance of winning the two games this week with essentially four coin flips in front of them.

That being said, the fan base has responded accordingly and only a few public tickets remain. Click here to get in the building.

The Setonian talks about the added importance on this game for the Pirates, as well.

--- Stat to watch Saturday: The Hall from deep. Nobody in the conference gains a higher percentage of their points from behind the 3-point arc.

And lately, they have been blazing from deep.

Take a look at the final three games of their six-game losing streak and the last three consecutive victories.

Opp       W/L  3pts
U of L      L      3-18
@MU       L      5-15
@UConn  L      5-26
TOTAL       13-59 (22%)
--------------------------
Opp       W/L  3pts
@Rut      W      6-17
@Pitt      W    10-23
STJ         W    15-24
TOTAL      31-64 (48%)

--- Cronin broke out some comic relief when discussing how this year's offense is based less on plays and more on players. His confidence in his players to make the right decisions with the ball is much higher than it was in past seasons. That brought on this:

"As much as I love Darnell Wilks, people that sit down low, some of our big donors, would have gotten hurt with the passes he threw. If we would have allowed him to play off the dribble and make passes without making sure he knew where to throw it to, Jim Amann and Larry Sheakley and those guys would have been in big trouble.

"Him and Larry Davis -- the player -- we'd say it every day, don't ever go duck-hunting with those guys."


--- In case you missed Bearcats Sports Weekly with Mick Cronin last night, here you go. Sad to report TG's beard has gone since this. It's the latest reminder that those who truly care about bearding must be dedicated. It is not a business for the fair-weather facial hair fan.

--- On a more serious note,
there's a great interview with AD Whit Babcock that begins at the 14:45 mark.

---  Outside of shaving, Tommy G was ridiculously busy yesterday, you can see the seven different videos he posted yesterday right here.

--- Mike Brey is one of the leading candidates for the National Coach of the Year...again. The guy has proven to be one of the best.

--- This is a day old, but wanted to be sure to link to John Erardi's story on Chane Behanan. The Louisville forward will come back to Cincinnati next week. It will be tough for Cronin to watch the kid who at one point verbally committed to the Bearcats. His story is quite remarkable and a great job by Erardi.

--- UC baseball opens the season today. Here's a look at their prospects from Bearcats Nation.

--- Randomness...

--- Happy to be returning to my alma mater of Moeller for the first time in ages tonight to take in the UC-LaSalle game with LaSalle grad Bill Koch. Bill wrote a book on the Lancers state championship run last which was packed with crazy storylines, especially those of coach Dan Fleming. It's a great read if you have time.

Also, huge thanks to reader Bucky Cooper, who came through in scoring a ticket for me despite the game being sold out since Monday morning.

--- Went to the Mariemont Theater
to catch The Descendants last night. Fantastic flick. The Cloon was phenomenal and deserves all the accolades he's receiving for the performance. Plus, if you haven't been, Mariemont Theater is a great spot to see a movie with a historic feel and fantastic restaurant attached to it.

Highly recommend both.

--- I think it might be time to go with the flashing light instead of challenging the speed reading ability of drivers.

--- Cincinnati: We let Dayton be first in flight, what can we be first in?

--- Texting while walking can be dangerous. Texting while walking in front of a live news shot can be viral.

--- What are these SEC coaches thinking?

--- I can't handle one
more second of Jeremy Lin coverage --- unless it's on The Daily Show.

--- Today is Michael Jordan's birthday. Even though he's run the Bobcats into the ground, I will never care. That's because I can always rerack his Top 10 dunks of all time.

Always great to see Kelly Tripuka again.


With a late night last night which produced this column on the game and an afternoon media session today speaking with Mick Cronin and his players -- plus a Butch Jones press conference and introduction of new volleyball coach Molly Alvey -- I'll keep this short and sweet with plenty yet to come on the blog.

I mainly want to talk about the play of the bench. I mentioned in yesterday's Breakfast entering the game if they didn't trip double-figures in their output the Bearcats would be in trouble. That would have been the case. If not for the 19 points (in 36 minutes) off the bench -- tied for third-most in Big East play for UC -- it probably would have been curtains.

Instead, Jeremiah Davis III sparked a 7-0 run to close the half and the 16-point halftime deficit proved too much to overcome.

"I've got great confidence in those guys," Mick Cronin said."They are the future of our program. Those guys all gave us quality minutes."

Cronin touted winning the battle of attrition with his depth at guard and it played out to the blueprint. The Friars not only received zero points from their bench, but 53 of their 66 points came from two players. After charging back to within seven at the four-minute mark, the fatigue of Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton showed up.

Meanwhile, when UC brought in reserves -- particularly in the first half -- the production never dipped.

The reserves would have played more minutes if not for the coach's decision to play a more defensive lineup down the stretch while protecting the lead and stick with veterans while withstanding the wild Providence charge.

--- The rotation appears to be carving
itself out into a regular routine. While there was some alterations and adjustments occurring during the last few months, Cronin appears to have settled into about a 8-10 man rotation with the majority of the minutes falling to eight guys.

The starters are going to be Cash, SK, Dion, Parker and Yancy.

Justin Jackson provides instant energy as the first off the bench and will play more minutes against a team utilizing a zone to stop UC. The work he does in the high-low against the zone is superior to any other offensive set Cronin can draw up. He's improved dramatically at knowing when to make the pass inside and when to take the layup. He's far from a finished product in that area, but he's come a long way.

Ge'Lawn Guyn will be play double-digit minutes most nights because Cronin needs to keep Cash's legs defensively for the final 5-10 minutes of the game. He's seen the junior's defense suffer too many times when playing extra minutes and Guyn is the guy to fix that. Cronin said Wednesday he would like to see Guyn trust his outside shot more, but likes the output he recieved. Four points, two rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes isn't a terrible night.

Davis III has become the instant offense guy. He's brought in and told to fire when ready. He gave the needed spark Wednesday night. He's now hitting 39 percent from deep -- although it had been a while since he knocked one down. He won't play huge minutes, but when the offense is struggling, he'll be injected.

Cheikh Mbodj gives Yancy the quick spell and can help out defensively with his shot-blocking ability and Jermaine Sanders occasionally will play minutes when the team needs better passing on the floor.

Barring injury or dramatic matchup concerns, that will be what to expect each of the next five games and into the postseason. The roles are now in clearer focus than ever before.

--- Here is Yancy/SK talking after the game last night. Also, here is video of Mick's postgame presser. Both are pretty short, it was late. Us media folk were up well past our bedtime.

--- UC only the
second team in the last eight games to beat Providence by double-digit points. The Friars previous four games were decided by a total of 12 points.

--- Wednesday was the
best rebounding game for the Bearcats this season. They are rebounding 35.7 percent of their misses in conference play, but last night grabbed 18 of 34 for 53 percent.

Yes, Providence is 14th in the conference in allowing other teams on the offensive glass, but this was far beyond the 38.7 percent they were allowing in Big East play.

"That was the difference in the game," Cronin said.

--- Another nice night for Yancy Gates (16-9).
He's now gone nine consecutive games with double-digit points and in seven of those he's grabbed at least nine boards. Guy has done a great job embracing his role as the rebounder/cleanup/finisher on the interior.

--- Stat of the night: UC's can be thankful Providence sharpshooter Bryce Cotton had an off night. He entered sixth in the conference in 3-point percentage at 41 percent. He missed all six from downtown and didn't score a point. One of those missed came down eight with under four minutes to go when he was wide open from the wing.

"He's still open he was so open," Friars coach Ed Cooley said. "In the Big East you have to make that shot."

--- Quote of the night: Mick Cronin on watching the scoreboard too much against Marquette and again versus Providence:

"Before (Providence) made the run I told guys you got to quit looking at the scoreboard and just play. That was our problem against Marquette. We are worried about blowing a 12-point lead, it doesn't matter. People say, 'You are up 12.' Well, so what? I averaged 30 a game in eighth grade. Nobody cares. I am the same height, same weight and no hair now. It doesn't matter. You got to show toughness and keep playing."


All that matters

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Cincinnati survived a wild second-half surge by Vincent Council in a win that tested their fortitude, but taught a valuable lesson in what will be important over the critical stretch to close the season.

CINCINNATI - Vincent Council pulled up the left wing and buried a 3-pointer. He pulled up from the right wing drained another. From seemingly every other corner of Fifth Third Arena during the first 12 minutes of the second half, Council turned pressure into points.

"He was making some unbelievable stuff," Sean Kilpatrick said.

And for a period of about 30 minutes Wednesday night, his theatrics in almost single-handedly erasing the majoirty of a 24-point second-half deficit, the Providence senior proceeded to scare the Blue Hose out of the UC fan base.

yancy.jpg

On most nights in the Big East, even against the league's cellar-dweller, wins don't come without drama. The latest 81-66 victory for the Bearcats followed suit.

In the end, the good far outweighed the bad and UC exited with its must-win in tow. At this point in time, during step one in this season defining six-game dash to The Dance, aesthetics and skipped heartbeats mean nothing.

"Any double figure win in the Big East is a great win," Mick Cronin said. "Only score that matters is the final score. That is all that matters."

Such will be the case from this point forward. The days of teaching points and valiant effort dissolved with that 12-point lead at Marquette. A fresh season of urgency began Wednesday against the Friars. While the attitude and intensity didn't appear different for Cronin, the players noticed. They feel the warm winds of March beginning to blow through campus. This time of year and situation altered the mindset.

"It's more of in the locker room and on the court just try to help each other stay focused on what we are trying to do," said Yancy Gates, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. "Finish strong down the stretch so we can get into the tournament where we want to be. It's more of everybody, a group thing, trying to make sure everybody is focused."

Few moments will test that focus like the second half did Wednesday.

Once Gerard Coleman slammed a two-handed dunk down on a fast break with 4:26 remaining to conclude a 29-12 run by the Friars, UC stared down a seven-point lead and the possibility of a collapse that would play in their memories for years to come.

Timeouts were called. Strategy was relayed. In the first of what will be many tense moments over the next month, the Bearcats persevered. It was far from perfect, but grabbing 18 of 34 offensive rebounds and holding the Friars to 25 first-half points was enough to leave no doubt on a 15-point win.

The path to 18-8, 8-5 reiterated a message Cronin relayed following the blowout at Marquette.

"Before (Providence) made the run I told guys you got to quit looking at the scoreboard and just play," Cronin said. "That was our problem against Marquette. We are worried about blowing a 12-point lead, it doesn't matter. People say, 'You are up 12.' Well, so what? I averaged 30 a game in eighth grade. Nobody cares. I am the same height, same weight and no hair now. It doesn't matter. You got to show toughness and keep playing."

These days, in Clifton, that means finding a way to make stops.

Once Council cooled, the Bearcats did halt the madness. But those moments where the lead was in question reset a reality of what confronts this team. What seems like decades ago, in November, this same general consensus existed. UC must find a way to replace the defense lost to graduation if they plan to return to the NCAA Tournament.

They had to uncover the suffocation of Rashad Bishop and recreate the tenacity of Larry Davis and Darnell Wilks.

Eighteen wins, eight losses, four suspensions and one brawl later, those preseason words resurfaced truer than ever.

"It's taken a long time for me to be right, but I told you early in the year because of loss of our seniors that played defense at this level for four years that that's where we would be hurt the most," Cronin said. "Ultimately, we are a much better offensive team. Defensively, we are still trying to batten down the hatches. That is going to decide our fate."

Thanks to a few missed shots and converted free throws, there was enough defense to put UC a step closer to its desired final position.

In the wee hours of Wednesday night and Thursday morning, as the tension of the Council crusade dissipated, none of those details mattered much anymore. Only the final score did. One down, five to go.

Bearcats Breakfast 2.15.12

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Really enjoyed having Josh Katzowitz on the podcast yesterday. He's the reason I'm writing on this site today and did so much for making this entire concept a reality. Plus, as I've said before, he owns the most tightly manicured goatee in sports journalism.

The discussion of the Big East and UC football swung in a few different directions I didn't necessarily anticipate, but couldn't have come from a more knowledgeable source, Katz literally wrote the book on the program's rise and always offers insightful thought.

I think it provided very real, truthful analysis of the state of affairs. You can judge for yourself by taking a listen here. There's about 15 good minutes of the UC football state of affairs starting at the 27-minute mark.

One final thanks to Josh for joining.

Let's eat...

--- Tonight is the 90s at 9 event with all things 90s pop culture and music the theme of the night. Looking forward to hearing some Tubthumping (File that under sentences I never want to admit I wrote).
kadeem-hardison-as-dwayne-wayne.jpg
As for top five 90s Big Heads I'm hoping to see in the house tonight?

1. Dwayne Wayne from A Different World
2. John Stamos (Even better, entire Tanner family, including Comet the dog)
3. LaZelle Durden
4. Kid-N-Play
5. Linda Tripp

I'm sure all of you will come up with some great ideas yourself, but if you don't have one, please make these five happen. There will be a series of high-5s coming your way if I see them.

Plus, I'm hoping with this being 90s night it means a one-night reprieve from Party Rock Anthem! Really, this alone makes the entire promotion worthwhile.

--- Speaking of promotions,
I look forward to meeting Justin Post tonight, who was the first winner of UC's Social Seats promotion. He'll be hanging around with us media heathens before and after the game. Looking forward to meeting you, Justin. Congrats to him and don't sit in my seat. Just kidding, but seriously, don't.

Justin will be tweeting about the experience all night. Follow him here.

--- As for the game, nothing is more overused in sports than must-win, but this game falls into that category more than any this season. At a point where UC can't afford another bad loss, Providence rolls in at 2-11 in Big East play and 13-13 overall.

They won't be pushovers. Vincent Council is as good a point guard as there is in the league and Bryce Cotton is burying 41 percent from 3-point range.

In a season when quality guard play has given UC problems, the Friars bring just that.

For Mick Cronin, the issue for Providence has been depth and finishing. Which are mutually exclusive.

"
They have played really well," he said. "They just don't have substitutes at the guard position so they wear down. They are up 17 at Villanova. They are up 17 at West Virginia. Games that they have lost in overtime or at the buzzer. You are watching the game on film and you are wondering how do they lose? You are watching them play from an offensive standpoint with the talent they have from an offensive end wondering how do they have the record they have? The answer is they play in the Big East and their bench. They don't have the subs at the guard position so they get worn down at times and it effects their defense and it affects their play in the last 10 minutes of the game."


--- In the last seven games, Providence went 1-6. Five losses came by singles digits, three by one possession and one in OT.

They own the best 3-point percentage in the league during conference play and fourth-most efficient offense.

--- To Mick's point about the bench, only nine teams in the country play their bench less minutes than Providence. Cotton has played a higher percentage of his teams minutes (96.1) than ANY OTHER PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY. I'm exhausted just thinking about that.

--- In theory, UC's advantage would come from their depth at guard and bench contribution. That should make the difference.

"I would hope so," Cronin said. "We'll see."

The cautious optimism comes from weeks of wondering how good this bench can really be.

"To me, we have to be a 9-10 deep team to really be able to never play a guy that's fatigued to where I'd like to get us defensively," Cronin said. "Obviously, we are nowhere near that after what happened Saturday."


--- What is the state of the bench entering one of the games they will be most counted on?

Here is the rundown of bench points through conference play:

Opp        W/L Bench Pts
Pitt           W   0
ND           W   19
STJ          L    22
GT           W   8
Nova        W   11
UConn     W   16
WVU        L    17
Cuse        L     3
Rutgers    L     7
DePaul     W   16
STJ         W    21
Marq        L    16

--- Of late, the bench contribution increased, much of that is due to the offensive resurgence of Justin Jackson. He's scored 27 points in the last three games.

--- Cheikh Mbodj enjoyed some of his best moments with this team off the bench the last few games. He blocked seven shots the last two games.

--- Cronin gave Ge'Lawn Guyn
a combined 28 minutes the last two games, but he's looking for more production out of the freshman. He gave only nine points, two assists and one turnover in that time.

--- If the bench points don't
trip double digits tonight, UC could be in trouble. They can't experience a falloff when the starters come out for a break -- because Cronin will be giving them extended breaks to make sure they are at full strength as Providence wears down in the final 10 minutes.

--- Dan Hoard wrote about Cronin's snap recollection of movie quotes. He uses them to help motivate his players.

Here is a list of a few lines I'd really like to hear him break some out in the middle of a dispute with a referee.

Top six choices:

1. "What are looking at, butthead?" -- Back to the Future
2. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." -- Gone with the Wind
3. "You talkin' to me?" -- Taxi Driver
4. "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." -- Cool Hand Luke
5. "You can't handle the truth!" -- A Few Good Men
6. "Go ahead, make my day." -- Sudden Impact

Without doubt, though, you have to open with Peter Finch from Network.



--- Todd McShay and Mel Kiper were in the NFL Draft Lab breaking down running backs and Todd McShay called Isaiah Pead his sleeper of the class and thinks he can be a third-round steal for somebody.
 

--- UC Pro Day will be March 2. For now they are the only program holding their pro day on the 2nd, so it should leave the schedules open for scouts who want to come take a look at the Cats prospects. My guess would be Pead, Derek Wolfe and John Hughes won't be doing much after going through the combine.

The man of the hour will be JK Schaffer. He'll be the top prospect going through the drills.

--- Bill Koch caught up with Whit Babcock yesterday on the topics of the split of WVU's $20 million departing gift to the conference, the questions surrounding the 2012 football schedule and possible Nippert/Fifth Third renovation plans.

Exciting to hear Babcock talk about moving forward in analyzing renovation options. Finding a way to grow the facilities still remains one of the most difficult hurdles the department faces.

--- Tommy G sat down with assistant coach Larry Davis for a great look at the work the most ripped assistant in the country.

I was just talking about LD with Chad Brendel from BearcatLair the other day. He was talking about how great of a recruiter Davis is because he just seems to know everybody, everywhere. No matter the region or how obscure a player seems to be, Davis knows somebody connected with him.

When I asked Chad what area Davis primarily recruits, he could only say, "everywhere."

--- Randomness...

--- Linsanity. Hard to believe what we are watching anymore.

--- Kid Rock doing what Kid Rock does. This reminds me of when I saw the slogan for the new Red Stag bourbon when it was first released. It said, "Taste what Kid Rock is singing about." I guess there could have been a more disturbing slogan, but I can't imagine one.

I assumed Red Stag was made of old cologne, acid reflux and dandruff.

--- I support making Bad Santa 2.

--- If anybody is headed to Japan, I would love a pair of these Super Mario Bros. Converse shoes. Black leather, please.

--- Here is the final 90s jam
in anticipation of tonight's 90s at 9 game. You knew I couldn't go into a run of 90s songs without Pearl Jam. Just impossible. How about the one that started it all. See you tonight, enjoy the game.



After a few weeks off, the Inside the Bearcats Podcast makes a triumphant return with a special guest. All of you that read this blog regularly should be very familiar with him because he used to hold down this space himself.

Katz.JPGI caught up with my predecessor and current national NFL blogger for CBSSports.com, Josh Katzowitz. Josh wrote Bearcats Rising -- which is still in stores and available for purchase today. His second book is coming out this July. It is on innovator of the passing game and former UC football coach, Sid Gilman.

Josh catches up as we talk about Gilman, the direction of UC football, the changing landscape of the sport and why there's a reason we don't make as much money as college athletic directors.

Katz is never afraid to share his unique, truthful perspective and it was fantastic welcoming him back to GoBearcats.com, even if only for a half hour.

You can read his NFL blog here, follow him on Twitter here and purchase Bearcats Rising here -- seriously, buy it, it's a fantastic read and still extremely relevant. Plus, it will help Josh feed two beautiful twins. If you hate smiling children, then don't buy it.

Here's the rundown of the show and a quick apology on some of the audio issues -- which even caused me to go far out of character and jump on top of Josh's thoughts a few times.

I should warn you, this podcast involves about 10 minutes of me talking to myself about UC basketball. Spending 10 minutes inside of my brain is not advisable for small children, adults with a heart condition or anyone who cherishes their sanity.

Here's the rundown:

Minutes 1-9: Myself, talking about UC basketball and the path to the NCAA tournament. This is seriously me talking to myself. My feelings will not be hurt if you jump immediately ahead to Josh's arrival.

9-18: Exchanging pleasantries, compliments, catching up with Josh's whereabouts since leaving GoBearcats and discussing the slippery slope of modern male neckwear.

18-27: Sid Gilman, who is he and why write a book about him?

27-35: How has the path of UC football been surprising from the point his book leaves off until now. We discuss why there are still major questions surrounding the future of the program -- and others like it of this size.

35-40: Why the Big East needs to see about three or four more [Insert school here] Rising books to become the power it hopes to be.

40-41:
Valentine's Day lovefest between two Bearcats bloggers as we bid a fond farewell.

Again, huge thanks to Josh for taking the time to join.  

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

How Mick Uses His Movie Memory To Make Points

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Do you have any friends that have an uncanny ability to remember famous lines from movies?

I do.  His name is Mick Cronin.

"My memory is probably my best trait," said the UC head coach.  "Whether it's a player from years ago or a play that the other team runs, I think that recall is one of my strengths.  Plus, I've watched certain movies multiple times."

Mick makes frequent use of his movie memory.  For example, when asked at a recent news conference about fighting through the Big East grind, Coach Cronin quoted the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II when Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) tries to comfort John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) before Stallone's character walks off into the distance as the credits roll.

Colonel Trautman:  How will you live John?

Rambo:  Day by day.

Rambo poster.jpg

Coach Cronin doesn't only use movie references when dealing with reporters.  Frequently when trying to emphasize a point at practice, he'll quote a movie line in an effort to make it resonate with the players.

"You pick out spots," Mick told me.  "A good example would be, when a guy is trying to do too much with the basketball, I hit 'em with General McAlister from Lethal Weapon:  'There's no more heroes left in the world son.'  In other words, just play your role and take care of the ball.  During the suspensions when we only had eight guys and had to stick together, we brought out, 'Am I my brother's keeper,' which is a New Jack City reference."

"He has a lot of movie quotes and they are usually right on," said Yancy Gates.  "It's hard to remember them all because he has so many.  I can't remember the movie, but one line that he uses is, 'You're nothing but a lot of talk and a badge.'  That's one of his favorites after a loss."

For the record, that line comes from The Untouchables and is used to make the point that talk is cheap.  It's no surprise that Yancy Gates remembered the line but not the movie since the film came out two years before he was born.

"He usually talks about movies that we've never seen," said Dion Dixon with a laugh.  "They're either too old or they're movies that we don't watch."

"Unfortunately, if it's not a slapstick comedy, today's players have not seen the movie," said Coach Cronin.

Mick, on the other hand, prefers the classics.  What's at the top of his all-time list?

"The Godfather, which I brought with me on the last road trip," said Cronin.  "I have trouble sleeping, so I can always put on The Godfather 1 or 2.  I have to put those two near the top, along with Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction.  After that, there's another category where you go from the best movies of all-time to some really good movies that I enjoy."

Mick actually used a line from The Godfather when talking to his players about not sharing too much inside information about the team on their Twitter accounts.


The Bearcats most recent road trip to St. John's and Marquette even included a trip to the movies.  To break up the drudgery of going back-and-forth between practice gyms and hotel rooms, the team went to see the new Denzel Washington movie Safe House.


"We talked to Drew (Seidenberger, Director of Basketball Operations) about it," said Cashmere Wright.  "We said, 'We're going to be on the road for so long, we have to do something.'  He said, 'I'll talk to coach about it.'"

"That was the movie that everybody was talking about," said Gates.  "We were all planning to see it together when we got home, so when Drew told us we were going to go see it on the road trip, everybody was excited.  I thought it was great - another great Denzel movie.  I think he's the only bad guy that has everybody cheering for him."

While the Bearcats went to watch Denzel last week, the Academy Award-winning actor showed up at Madison Square Garden two years ago to watch them.  He was sitting near President Clinton when West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler beat the Bearcats with a last-second three point bank shot.


"Denzel is a big college basketball fan and his son Malcolm is a pretty good player," said Coach Cronin.  "We have mutual friends so I've met him before and he's a huge basketball fan.  He's one of the best actors of our time, so I thought the guys would like it and it got us out of the hotel."

There's a scene in Safe House (it's in the trailer so I'm not spoiling anything) where a young CIA employee played by Ryan Reynolds tells Denzel's character that "you're not getting into my head."

Denzel's character coolly responds that "I'm already in your head."

I wouldn't be shocked if that line is eventually used to make a point at a Bearcat practice.

**********

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 2.14.12

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Happy Valentine's Day to everyone. I hope you all do something nice for the one you love. For those of you who read this blog everyday, well, you're probably single. So, get out there and find somebody tonight. There are plenty of frustrated, single ladies out blowing off steam with love on the mind.

Let's eat...

--- Last night I wrote about the Bearcats returning to a familiar position of their back against the wall. Both Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates acknowledged it as the path appears to have cleared. Six games left, go 4-2 and enjoy The Dance. Anything less and the sweat starts running down the forehead Selection Sunday.

The question for Mick Cronin regarding the topic is not necessarily if UC will bounce back against Providence Wednesday night, rather, if they will be able to sustain the urgency over the final three weeks of the regular season.

"Bounceback is one thing," he said. "Showing up every night and playing the way you need to play every night is the challenge. Not just for us, I think for everybody. We are like most good teams, we don't have enough talent to win when we don't play really well."


One look around college basketball this past weekend proved that. There are four or five teams in the country that can get away with not playing well and winning. Most of the others sit in the same category with UC. The parity of the national landscape this year from 6 to 60 is remarkable.

This weekend, five Top 25 teams lost to unranked teams -- all but one at home.

Miami 78, @No. 5 Duke 74
Tennessee 75, @No. 7 Florida 70
Wichita State 89, @No. 15 Creighton 68
Georgia 70, @No. 18 Mississippi State 68
@Princeton 70, No. 21 Harvard 62

"So, I think there's very few of us out there that are maybe like a Syracuse that can not play well and still win," Cronin said. "Our guys, we got enough older guys, they understand why you win and why you lose. It's all about the next game, making sure you are ready to play against Providence."

--- Speaking of, the Orange did exactly what Mick was talking about last night at Louisville. They didn't play well, necessarily, but found a way to stop the Cards' seven-game win streak.


--- Bill Koch writes about UC's
tournament chances being in doubt. True moral of the story in this blog, though, don't listen to Jerry Palm. Ever. Remember, this is the same guy who claimed at midseason UC needed at least 12 Big East wins to make the tourney last year. (For the record, they won 11 and were a solid six seed)

He's fixated with non-conference schedules and lives to crush UC for theirs. He also runs a site called CollegeRPI.com. Considering he stands for one of the most outdated, unrepresentative stats used in sports, it all makes sense.

--- Dana O'Neil breaks out the Big East conference rankings and places UC sixth.

--- Yancy Gates talked
yesterday about why he thinks UC can make a run and get into the tournament:

"I think one of the big things is we got enough guys from last year that felt it and they want to feel it again and I think they are willing to do whatever it's going to take to make it back to the tournament. I think that's the most obvious thing we got right now is us guys who felt it and know what we got to do to get there. Kind of grab the young guys and bring them along with us carry them and get us there."

--- The NY Post's Lenn Robbins wrote a piece about NY native Sean Kilpatrick for Valentine's Day. SK loves his mom and basketball. What else can you ask for?

--- Did you know Cashmere Wright loves to bowl and averages nearly 200? You do now.

--- Down the Drive does a nice job breaking down the turnover margin issue. That's the stat which was driving this team during their run earlier in the year and it's the one hurting them now.

--- Yahoo! takes a look at the five Big East bubble teams, including UC.

--- Don't forget the 90s at 9 promotion is going on Wednesday night for the Providence game. French roll your jeans and bring your favorite 90s pop culture icon big heads. And, if you can pull off what UNLV did and get Flavor Flav in the student section, that would be even better.

Also, can we please get a Darnell Burton and LaZelle Durden Big Head? With all do respect to everyone else from those teams of the 90s, Burton and Durden were electric and could change a game faster than anyone else.

--- CBSSports put together
a team comparison bubble machine. It's fantastic. Go ahead and
compare UC against other bubble teams. They are clearly on the inside looking out...for now.

--- Randomness...

--- I love the concept of a Back to the Future hover board being released...assuming it actually hovers.

--- The self-leveling pool table on this cruise ship makes me love technology even more.

--- Shark
on shark crime!

--- Lieutenant Dan put the money in some kind of fruit company. He said we don't have to worry about money no more, which is good. One less thang.

--- Valentine's Day Candy Hearts to give to your favorite athletes.

--- Reminder again, 90s at 9 tomorrow. Getting back to the 90s jams, this song always makes me feel relaxed. Nobody can claim the lead singer from PM Dawn wasn't a fan of fashion accessories.



Back against the wall

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The dominant theme coming out of Monday's media session revolved around these Bearcats feeling the pressure of the situation they've placed themselves in.

They are 17-8 overall and 7-5 in conference with six games to go. Four of those are at Fifth Third Arena. They need to go 4-2 in the final six to assure making the tournament. No Big East team to go 11-7 has EVER been left out of The Dance. It certainly won't happen this year with a soft bubble.

If they go 3-3 over the final six games (Providence, Seton Hall, Louisville, @USF, Marquette, @Villanova) they bring the Big East tournament and discretion of the NCAA committee into play.

yancy_gates_main-211x292.jpgThese are the facts of the case. They are undisputed.

By the KenPom computer, the Bearcats a heavily favored to beat Providence (82%) and Seton Hall (70%). Each of the last four are essentially coin flips.

This week, in these two games, the Bearcats backs are against the wall.

"This is it right here," senior Dion Dixon said. "Do or die right now. Our back is against the wall. We let a lot of games slip away from us that we know we could have won. We don't know what it is..we can't let it keep happening with our careers going down."

In the wake of the most lopsided loss of the season, a sense of stark reality officially infiltrated the UC locker room. All season, opportunities have been on the horizon. It was only a matter of time until their run to the tournament began. Now, with six games left, and wins a necessity, the undeniable fact of what could happen should the Bearcats not come through has sunk in.

Before the season started and UC was ranked among the 15 to 20 best teams in the country, this concept seemed unfathomable. The Bearcats might not make the NCAA Tournament.

"It could happen," Yancy Gates said. "It's not like it's impossible and it can't happen. It actually could happen. You try to use that to keep you going and keep your focus level up to have you ready to go out and do what we got to do in the last six games."

As the pressure-cooker boils over, the Bearcats calm down. Their ability to win as chaos surrounds them has been remarkable. Last year, with six games left coming off an ugly loss to St. John's they reeled off five wins in six games to close the regular season and secure their return to the tournament.

With everyone burying UC following the Crosstown Shootout brawl, UC played loose, inspired basketball and won seven in a row.

After suffering an ugly home defeat against St. John's, they earned their signature win to this point -- a 68-64 victory at Georgetown. It's the only loss the Hoyas suffered at home this year.

Now, with six games left, here they are again.

"We handle adversity well," Dixon said. "When our back is against the wall we play great. Right now, we know our backs against the wall so I figure everybody is going to be locked in and paying attention to everything to get wins."

Trying to find proper perspective among 20- and 21-year-old kids can be harder than finding a free Saturday night. Yet, Gates and Dixon -- enduring the final chapter of their college careers -- sounded like two players who found the urgent frame of mind.

They plan no speeches or motivational ploys. They feel this team understands what hangs in the balance.

"Me and (Dion) was talking in the locker room, we feel we still have a great opportunity," Gates said. "It's on us. We have to take it upon ourselves. It's nobody else but (this team)."

Bearcats Breakfast 2.13.12

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Let's start with the good. Nobody wants to open Monday morning thinking about the worst part of the weekend. Makes life feel too much like the walls are caving in.

So, I'll point in the direction of Sunday's Playdate with the Bearcats to raise money for Mitch's Mission. Having all the UC student-athletes out to play with the kids for a great cause is one of the finest event the athletic department puts on every year.

Paul McKibben at The Enquirer wrote this piece on it.

The event raised $10,000 last year to send patients at Children's Hospital to Camp Joy. They hoped to double that this year and there was a fantastic turnout.

Standing slow clap for UC athletics on this one.



Let's eat...

--- All right, on to the bad. No need rehashing the Marquette game, other than to relay the moral of the story.

The Bearcats weren't prepared for this level of intensity. Those were the words of Mick Cronin. When the Eagles turned up the heat down 16-4, a barrage of turnovers and defensive meltdowns arrived.

The 95 points allowed were the second-most in the Mick Cronin era.

If you masochists out there want to relive it, here are the highlights. Hide the knives.

Even in defeat this year (outside of the Xavier game), the Bearcats fought and were close. They did neither Saturday. All their defeats were by single digits. Four of the eight came either in overtime or by one possession.

Maybe UC is having problems dealing with being respected, as Bill Koch writes here.

Maybe the dog days of this grinding schedule that included seven of the first 12 games on the road finally caught up with this team.

Maybe Saturday was the perfect storm of missed shots and death by momentum.

Regardless, it's over now and UC has to deal with the repercussions of where they sit now: Squarely on the NCAA bubble.

--- Following Saturday's games, Joe Lunardi has UC among the last four in the tournament and the Big East sending nine teams to the Big Dance.

For all the traditionalist RPI lovers out there, understand that while the committee looks at this formula, it is FAR FROM their bottom line any more. With so many more accurate analytics, it falls into a pile with Sagarin, KenPom and many others.

Yes, UC's current RPI is 95. They are behind powerhouses as LSU (78 RPI, 13-10, 3-6), Dayton (77 RPI, 14-9, 4-5) and South Dakota State (69 RPI, 17-7, 11-3). Yeah, sounds like an accurate evaluator to me.

It's exactly what you would expect, however, from a system that doesn't take scoring margin into effect at all. So, UC's overtime loss at West Virginia and it's 95-78 drubbing at Marquette count exactly the same. That's how you end up with jacked up ratings.

ESPN invented a stat of its own this weekend it thinks perfects the selection process. It's also 98.9 percent the same as KenPom.

KenPom lands UC at No. 42. Sagarin places UC at 46. Yes, that's a difference of about 50 spots. That's not a typo.

For all those floating the doom and gloom RPI number out there, it's A) inaccurate B) will change dramatically as UC's strength of schedule increases with every game and C) doesn't place proper perspective on one of the weakest bubbles in recent memory.

As Cronin said a few weeks ago when asked to look at his team's chances, "who else is going to get in?"

Take a look at the eight teams Lunardi currently has as the last four in and first four out and their resume numbers.

Last Four In
Cincinnati (17-8, 7-5, KPom: 42, Sag: 46, vs. top 50: 3-3)
Seton Hall (17-8, 6-7, KPom: 59, Sag: 51, vs. top 50: 2-5)
North Carolina State (18-7, 7-3, KPom: 53, Sag: 51, vs. top 50: 2-5)
Miami (Fla.) (15-8, 6-4, KPom: 41, Sag: 47, vs. top 50: 1-7)

First Four Out
Xavier (16-9, 7-4, KPom: 57, Sag: 57, vs. top 50: 3-5)
Washington (17-8, 10-3, KPom: 68, Sag: 66, vs. top 50: 1-4)
Northwestern (15-9, 5-7, KPom: 60, Sag: 56, vs. top 50: 2-9)
Belmont (18-7, 11-2, KPom: 24, Sag: 36, vs. top 50: 1-3)

--- Stats to note from those numbers: UC is the only team to be at .500 or better against the Sag top 50. That means something. By the way, two of those three came on the road.

--- UC is pitted against teams like Northwestern and Miami that are 2-9 and 1-7 against the top 50, those are damning statistics.

--- The Bearcats still have two games left against Top 50 teams as well, both at home (Marquette, Louisville).

--- One loss would not dramatically alter these numbers -- depending on who it comes against. The margin for error is now razor thin. Bad defeats, particularly at home, like the two which face UC this week, would be disastrous and force them to win tougher games down the stretch and probably a game or two in the BE tourney.

--- On the flip side,
this team is only a game and a half back of a double-bye as one of the top four teams in the Big East tournament -- a feat they've never accomplished. This season will be defined by what occurs in the final six games. Much as last year's was.

--- Ah yes, last year. Take a look at where this team stood at this point in time last year. They were 19-6 overall and 6-6 in the conference. They were coming off an ugly loss against St. John's where Yancy Gates was booed in a miscommunication trying to check in late in the game. The sky was falling to Mayan prediction levels.

That's right, this team was in worse shape at this point last year. The same team that everyone looks back lovingly on, the one that Cronin insists could have gone to the Final Four had it not been for an unlucky pairing with UConn, they were worse off.

Perspective, people. Perspective.

Will this team recreate last year's magical finish? I'm not saying that, only saying it's not as if their position is unprecedented or unfamiliar.

--- OK, enough bubble chatter, I'm moving on to a few more quick points elsewhere. I'll have more on UC hoops tonight after the player/coach media availability this afternoon. (Reminder: Follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for instant updates of any news/developments coming from the presser.

Also, feel free to send me an email if you have any questions you'd like answered by myself or any coaches/players. (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com)

--- Tom Groeschen does a fantastic job taking on Oscar Robertson, his battle with cancer and unprecedented triple-double season.

--- Baseball held a kickoff dinner on Friday night at GABP and it was a huge success with a record turnout. Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison was in the house following his strong MLB debut last year.

Excitement is building for Brian Cleary and company. This from John Erardi.

--- Make it four Big East wins and two in a row for the Bearcats women's team. Jamelle Elliott now with more wins (13-12, 4-8) than any season at UC.

--- Some serious reporting from
Kyle Veazey on how Memphis got into the Big East, including the role UC's Greg Williams played in their addition.

Randomness...

--- Clear winners and losers at the Grammy's last night. Adele and Jennifer Hudson stole the show with their voices. Bruce, Paul McCartney and a host of others providing a fantastic finish.

Nick Minaj and the freakish Mousehead DJ still have me looking for my passport to get out of this country.

--- Nothing brings out the fire
in Phil Mickelson like playing with Tiger Woods. Guy did everything but break out "Tiger Who?" on the 18th green yesterday.

--- I feel like as a cameraman,
you have to have better anticipation of a monster truck running you over.

--- Louis CK won a grammy
for best comedy album. Deserved.

--- Have to put up Jennifer Hudson's ode to Whitney Houston from last night. That was a tough moment and she absolutely nailed it. One of those Grammy performances you don't forget.


Examining the Schedule

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CINCINNATI -- Don't write of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Jamelle Elliott's squad won their fourth BIG EAST game on Saturday and while it may seem that the girls are still living at the bottom of the conference standings remember that there are still four regular season games left to be played.

UC has already played Notre Dame. Connecticut isn't on the remaining schedule; the Bearcats played them on Jan. 19. Louisville made it out of Fifth Third Arena with a win back in Dec. and games against Rutgers and Georgetown are no longer a topic of discussion in the locker room.

The moral of the story is that Cincinnati who currently sits a 4-8 in the conference has a chance to build on its recent momentum and make a real run at finishing anywhere but the bottom of one of the premier conferences in women's college basketball.

Let's take a look at the final four games for the Bearcats, two of which are at Fifth Third Arena. Next up on Feb. 18, the Bearcats travel to New Jersey for a match-up against the Seton Hall Pirates who are the BIG EAST's worst team at 0-15; 7-19 overall. Definitely a game they should win especially amidst the team's two-game winning streak.

On Feb. 21 the Marquette Eagles travel into Fifth Third Arena to attempt to avenge their loss to the Bearcats, which occurred on Feb. 1 in Milwaukee. It is always tough to defeat a team twice, but if the Bearcats use the game plan they did at the beginning of the month then a win is not out of the question.

Probably the toughest game remaining on the schedule, in my opinion, is against a team that just knocked off No. 2 Notre Dame. West Virginia comes to Cincinnati on Feb. 25 as this is the first of two games against the upper-echelon of the BIG EAST. With wins against Louisville and Notre Dame in their last two games it seems that the Mountaineers are playing well at the right time. This will be a very tough game for the cats, but remember West Virginia did lose to Providence, who Cincinnati beat five days ago.

DePaul is the other team that worries me as the Bearcats try to finish at 8-8 in the conference. The Blue Demons have been ranked for most of the season and are currently No. 22 in the polls. DePaul has a loss to Providence, but they also have wins against No. 14 Georgetown and No. 20 Louisville. This will be a road game so the Bearcats are an obvious underdog; they will need to be hitting on all cylinders in order to win.

This has been an up-and-down season to say the least. Although it is starting to get exciting at the right time and the Bearcats have a serious opportunity to build on Elliott's best season. Be sure to show up to Fifth Third arena and follow the women on GoBEARCATS.com.     

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Pitt Panthers

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CINCINNATI -- First home win in the BIG EAST this season? Check. First victory over Pitt since March 16, 2000? Check. The most wins under head coach Jamelle Elliott? Check. The Cincinnati Bearcats (13-12, 4-8) extended their winning streak to two and reached several team goals yesterday with a 62-57 victory over the Pitt Panthers (8-16, 0-11) from Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats were led yesterday afternoon by three players, which scored in double-figures. Senior guard Bjonee Reaves led the squad with a game-high 19 points and sophomore guard Dayeesha Hollins scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Senior forward Chanel Chisholm was a double digit scorer for the second straight game as well. Chisholm had 14 points. This was a true BIG EAST match-up as the teams were knotted up for most of the game. UC dominated from the free-throw line during the first half and used a 6-0 run during the final three minutes of the first stanza to control at the break. Cincinnati avoided several runs from Pitt in the second half as well and was able to seal the team's fourth conference victory of the season, while sending Pitt to their 11th conference defeat. Reaves, Hollins and Chisholm receive game ball awards for their efforts and production.

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

Game Ball winners:

1. Bjonee Reaves, 9 --
In addition to scoring a game-high 19 points, Reaves was also the only Bearcat to be on the floor for all 40 minutes. Reaves shot 6-15 from the field, including draining three three-pointers, one which helped UC regain the lead in the closing portion of the first half. Reaves only had one turnover and propelled Cincinnati to the most wins during the Elliott era. Don't be surprised if Reaves leads the Bearcats in scoring when the season is all said and done.

2. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 --  Hollins can score we all know that, but who knew the sophomore guard would grab key rebounds as well. Hollins' eight rebounds complemented her 15 point output. She also helped seal the game with one of her four steals, which is a statistical category that no other Bearcat has seemed to dominate like Hollins has this season. Hollins also led the team in assists yesterday and even though she had only three dimes it still shows her ability to get her teammates involved.

3. Chanel Chisholm, 9 -- Chisholm had her second straight double-digit scoring output of the season on Saturday scoring 14 points. She did most of her work from the free-throw line where she scored seven of her 14 points. Her senior leadership has proven to work wonders and her efficient shooting is something that the team is looking to have every game down the stretch. If Chisholm can continue to score in double-figures it will give the team a three-headed scoring attack that would lead to more wins down the stretch.

Honorable Mention: Jeanise Randolph -- Randolph added eight points to go along with her team-high 10 rebounds. Randolph played 10 more minutes than starter Tiffany Turner yesterday and even though Turner struggled she remains the team's first option in the low block. 

Shhh...Keep it to yourself

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UC basketball once again is answering the question about who they are with a convincing win over St. John's on the road and in what some called a revenge game. Any road win in the Big East is critical especially when you give up one at home. But what made this one more of a statement about their growth is they did have payback on their mind but they won being who they are and cutting down on the mistakes.

I think this team is better than many believe and I hope it stays that way because these are the kind of teams that upset the popular ones. While everyone is enamored with Syracuse, Notre Dame and others UC is working to get better and improve their play and it's showing. While the Marquette game is going to be another big test, I think this team has found and embraced their identity. Many are still doubting and that's perfect; Some are waiting for another loss to say ah ha! I told you so and so be it. But some are going to be surprised when the tournament comes and they win and win again.

So until then don't say anything if you're on board; let me people think what they might and at the end of the season enjoy the growth and success of a team coming into its own and understanding they belong in the mix of teams that have a chance. Isn't that all everybody wants?

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

Bearcats Breakfast 2.10.12

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Buh-bye, West Virginia.

The Mountaineers reportedly agreed to a $20-million settlement, according to CBSsports.com. They will be out of here for this coming football season and officially a member of the Big 12. Enjoy Austin, Norman and Stillwater.

I have a feeling reality is about to hit WVU like a battery to the back of the head.

Sorry, do you prefer that their seat will be hotter than a burning couch?

Losing WVU is a loss for UC fans. They provided a quality test in football and basketball and brought up the profile of the league. The presence of Bob Huggins always made for a great storyline and trip down memory lane for basketball fans (with zero official knowledge of this, methinks a hoops non-con series between UC and WVU should be in the works).

Some of UC's biggest football wins came against the Mountaineers, namely the 2008 and 2009 victories. And some of their most heart-wrenching defeats, namely 2011.

They are gone now, though. The world will change for both schools -- as is the case for seemingly everyone in the absurd new world of college athletics. The best news is now the reading level of the Big East fan bases jumped up three levels.

Let's eat...

--- With two games against Marquette, the Bearcats would probably view splitting those as a success. By all conventional knowledge, you would think their best shot at gaining a win against the Eagles would be at home in a few weeks. After all, Marquette is undefeated at home in Big East play this year.

Marquette.jpgYet, with the way the Bearcats play on the road, you almost feel like going into the Bradley Center is the opportunity UC needs. And don't forget the value of the tough, road win when the selection committee sits down next month.

If you can wheel out wins at Georgetown, at UConn, at Marquette and at Pittsburgh, the committee will work hard to find a spot for you.

--- Not only has Marquette been winning at home in Big East play, they've been doing so convincingly.

Take a look at their home slate:

Opp          Score    Comment
Villanova     W 82-78  Led entire game, including double-digits with 4min
St. John's   W 83-64  Went on 40-16 run coming out of halftime
Pittsburgh   W 62-57 Led by at least five the final five minutes
Louisville    W 74-63  Lead never less than six final 16 minutes
USF            W 67-47  Double-digit lead entire second half
Seton Hall W  66-59  Had 16-3 run with 14min left, never closer than six after

As stated before, these are not Big East world beaters. You can argue that when they played these opponents, at the time of the game, UC will be the best team to come into the Bradley Center.

You can also point out Marquette did lose at home to Vanderbilt 74-57 (back in 2011). Those are all valid points, but the way they have cruised through the Big East at home to this point speaks the only storyline that needs to be heard on the subject.

Only Marquette and Syracuse are undefeated at home in conference this year.

The Bearcats have their hands full.

--- Flipside fact: Marquette is 12-1 at home this year. Who else is 12-1 at home this year? Georgetown.

--- Dan Hoard with a column about how UC focused on stopping St. John's best player and other musings from the road. Thankfully, no giant Filet O'Fish sandwiches in this post. I'm still queasy from the last one.

--- ESPN The Magazine's rivalry edition brought out two more stories on The Brawl. Wayne Drehs with a full recount of all that happened and the fallout since. It includes quotes from Mick Cronin saying he'll lead the crusade against playing the game if it's not turned into a positive.

Dana O'Neil offers her latest fantastic piece. This time on the inner-workings of Tu Holloway. I heard some Twitter backlash when I retweeted it yesterday, claiming it was a pro-XU, pro-Tu piece. I'd disagree. It offers a peak inside the mind of the Xavier's star and illustrates how his head has been and continues to be effected by the incident.

--- Cracked Sidewalks (a Marquette blog) points
out how large this game is for the Eagles if they want a top four double bye. He knows the team well and he's extremely nervous about the Bearcats game.

--- The health of Davante Gardner will loom large. Buzz Williams called the chances he plays "slim." Remember, Gardner (6-foot-8, 290 pounds) ranks 20th in the country in offensive rebound percentage (15.3%).

For maybe the only time the rest of the season, UC will hold a significant height advantage. The duty of slowing Yancy Gates and the Bearcats bigs will fall to Jamil Wilson (6-7, 220) and Jae Crowder (6-6, 235).

Potential exists for Gates to own the interior. This has double-double game written all over it and will probably need to be for UC to win.

--- Williams said he would arguably give his Coach of the Year vote to Mick Cronin. It should be noted the two are pretty close friends and Cronin will probably take a backseat to Jim Boeheim or Mike Brey, but he's certainly in the conversation.

--- Huge congratulations to JK Schaffer
who received the Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award yesterday. I've said it before and I'll say it again, JK is as good a representative of the university and the city as you will find. I think he'll get a chance in somebody's NFL camp next year and he'll make the most of it.

You can't say enough good things about what he's meant to Butch Jones and UC.

--- With John Goebel winning the same award last year and UC winning the team GPA award this year, that's three academic awards for Jones since his arrival. Jones constantly talks about building more than just football players and he's backing it up with results.

--- The dates are officially set
for UC at Ohio State. They will be Sept. 27, 2014, and Sept. 8, 2018. Book your hotels today.

--- Randomness...

--- Huge congrats to my buddy
and Reds scoreboard employee Rich Linville on his run to the second round of the Baseball IQ game on MLB Network last night. He ended up falling one name short on the top 20 home-run hitting catchers category and will be cursing the name Mike Piazza for years, but he is the man and showed off some ridiculous knowledge in making it that far.

Here he is talking about the experience on FOX19 this morning and breaking out a correct answer of Frankie Frisch on live TV.

--- Got to love the fact that Clarence Clemons nephew will be one of two people to replace the Big Man on Bruce Springsteen's tour this summer. Only fitting.

--- Why doesn't Minnesota just put together a normal floor so people don't have to do this? There is no cool factor or novelty to having a court that dramatically drops off.

--- I assume after completing every
renovation on his new show called The Bronson Pinchot Project, the former Perfect Strangers star does the Dance of Joy. Don't be ridiculous.

--- Don't forget the 90s at 9
theme is still pumping for UC's 9 p.m. home game against Providence next week. Big Head Initiative folks, you did so well for the Syracuse game, let's break out the 90s pop culture faces for the Providence game.

For now, more 90s jams. And this one for the late Heavy D.

You. Are. On my mind.




White Shirt Helps Red and Black Beat St. John's

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I've seen hundreds of basketball practices over the years, but as the Bearcats prepared to face St. John's, they did something that I had never seen before.

SK with white shirt (307x550).jpg


As UC studied the St. John's offense, whoever was pretending to be leading-scorer D'Angelo Harrison, ran through the Red Storm's plays either wearing or waving a white t-shirt.

"That helped us know where he was going to be at all times," said Dion Dixon.  "We were like, 'He's over here...now he's over there.'  I give all the credit to the coaches.  They did a great job of preparing us."

"In football they put the red jersey or the green jersey on the quarterback, so for the last couple of days, we had a white t-shirt on D'Angelo Harrison," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "Our guys were trained to find him.  We were not going to let him beat us."

Mission accomplished.

The St. John's freshman entered Wednesday's game averaging 16.7 points, including eight 20-point performances.  In his previous game, Harrison dropped 23 points on first-place Syracuse.

But after Cincinnati's "white shirt" practices, Harrison might as well have waved a white towel in the Bearcats' 76-54 win over St. John's.  D'Angelo nearly reached his scoring average with 15 points, but he shot 4-for-13 from the floor, and 10 of his 15 points came in the last 6:25 after the outcome had been decided.

"You could see him getting frustrated," said Dixon.  "He just put his head down and started barreling to the basket because he wasn't getting open shots.  That's a young guy - he's going to be a great player."

"He can't make the shot if he doesn't get the attempt," said Cronin.  "In their previous two games, he was something like 12-for-19 from the 3-point line, and that's with everybody trying to find him.  He's making shots from behind the NBA line, and he has an extremely quick release.  Their other guys do not shoot the ball well from beyond the 3-point line - their next-best 3-point shooter is Moe Harkless at 23%, so we said, 'Don't let Harrison shoot - make the other guys shoot.'  So it was easy to find him at practice - he was the guy running around waving a white t-shirt over his head when we were going through St. John's offense."

It was an exceptional defensive performance by the 'Cats against a team that had averaged 77 points in its previous five games against Villanova, West Virginia, Duke, DePaul, and Syracuse.  St. John's only managed 54 points against the Bearcats, and shot 28% from the floor in the first half and 33% for the game.

"We know what they're capable of," said Cronin.  "They scored 57 in the second half of their game last week at DePaul, which was devastating to watch.  The talent is there, and when you prepare for a team, you prepare for their best effort.

"You have to give the kids credit - they were locked in and focused.  We had a team meeting on Tuesday about mental state and how committed we were on defense when we only had eight scholarship players and no big guys.  If we can have that attitude, focus, and commitment, we have a chance to make a run down the stretch." 

After improving to 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big East, the Bearcats have two days to prepare for a difficult road test at 18th-ranked Marquette (20-5, 9-3).  I suspect the white t-shirt will come in handy as Cincinnati studies how to defend Darius Johnson-Odom.

**********

Did we finally see the real Cheikh Mbodj?

After averaging a modest 2.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in his first 14 games, the 6'10" JUCO transfer had his best Big East game on Wednesday, finishing with 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in 16 minutes of playing time.  All five blocks came in the second half.

"In the first half, I asked Cheikh if somebody stole his dog," said Coach Cronin.  "I said, 'Did somebody take your puppy, because I don't know where your mind is.'  He has practiced so well in the last two weeks and it just hasn't translated until the second half (last night).  He finally got comfortable on both ends of the floor.  I just think he's nervous to be honest with you.

"His shot blocking has been off-the-charts in practice.  We were playing zone, and when you have a guy in there patrolling the middle and blocking shots, it matters."

Just ask Syracuse.  The 'Cuse is undefeated when 7-footer Fab Melo has been eligible.

**********

Did you think that the officials did a good job in the St. John's game?

Chuck with Hightower (310x550).jpg

Perhaps it was because my man Machock spent half of the pre-game show chatting with his buddy Ed Hightower.

All kidding aside, I think Wednesday's crew of Hightower, Pat Driscoll, and Brian O'Connell is among the strongest in the Big East.

I had little doubt that Chuck's streak of consecutive games without being ejected would reach 287.

**********

On Wednesday, the Big East officially announced the addition of Memphis for all sports beginning in the fall of 2013.

"It's good to see something done for basketball," Coach Cronin told me.  "There's no doubt that Memphis with their fan base and the FedEx Forum - basketball has always been the lead-dog so to speak.  We're losing Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia in the coming years, so it's good to add a basketball power to the Big East.  Now that we're at 17, there is going to be speculation that there's another team coming to get to 18, but I don't know who that would be.  I think this is a positive for Cincinnati, and anything that's positive for the Big East is a positive for Cincinnati."

**********

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.

 

And speaking of Sam, enjoy this week's photo taken after a recent swimming lesson.

Sam swim lesson.jpg

Bearcats Breakfast 2.9.12

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The Bearcats provided a nice change of pace for hearts of Bearcats fans last night. Game after game this Big East season, UC keeps its fans standing in a pool of sweat with seemingly every game coming down to the final minutes. Wednesday they left no doubt.

In a game they couldn't afford to lose, they didn't give the referees a chance to blow a call or the ball a chance to bounce the wrong way. Momentum can change in an instant, but for now, the three-game losing streak seems like it's officially forgotten for this team.

It won't be a game people look back on and remember once this season concludes, but Wednesday's game could go a long way to a Bearcats surge. Only time will tell.

Let's eat...

--- Here are the
highlights in case you missed it.

--- If any team allows UC to rebound 16 of 29 misses, they will lose. The Bearcats biggest weakness, by design, is the trouble rebounding the basketball. They are near impossible to beat if the opponent doesn't make them pay for their height disadvantage.

A big reason for that was the play of Cheikh Mbodj. Over the past few weeks he's shown flashes of why Mick Cronin was so high on him. the recurring theme from Mick when talking about Cheikh has been that he doesn't have his lift due to the ankle sprain he suffered early in the year.

Everybody saw the lift last night as he blocked five shots, grabbed five rebounds and scored four points in 16 minutes.

His play allowed Yancy Gates extra minutes to rest and he proved to be much more efficient with the limited playing time. Gates went for 14 points and 9 rebounds in his 21 minutes.
SK.jpg
--- Two days after I showed the stats of Sean Kilpatrick's lack of efficiency when shooting more than 50 percent of his shots from 3, he disproved the theory for the first time this year. Six of his 10 shots came from deep and his finished with 14 points. The numbers still stand pretty strong, but Kilpatrick proved them slightly wrong on this night.

SK admitted to this being a big night for him, though. When you grow up in the shadows of New York City, there's nothing like playing in the Garden.

"Going back into the locker room coach was just telling me I was rushing it a little bit. I was a little too anxious.  In an atmosphere like this you tend to do that. You get so excited to be here and play here, especially being a New York kid. My teammates just told me to calm down. When the shots were there I was just taking them."

--- UC passed the ball as well
as they have all season. Cronin has been stomping for improved passing repeatedly over the last few weeks. The struggles doing so was one of the biggest reasons they lost the first game against St. John's.

Their 18 assists were the most in any regulation Big East game this season (they also had 18 in OT at WVU).

Compare that number with the fact in five of the previous 10 Big East games UC didn't even top 12 assists and you have a major step in the right direction offensively. You can credit hot shooting all you want, it's a lot easier to shoot 51 percent from the paint.

"Our attitude was much different (than the first game)," Cronin said. "When you lose you got to give the other team credit. I don't like coaches who only say "we stunk". Maybe it's because of what they did. We tried obviously to be a little more prepared for their match-up type zones and their switching man-to-mans. Our passing was much better and obviously our rebounding was much better. We played a lot more zone tonight than we did before. It's easier to find D'Angelo (Harrison) in the zone."

--- St. John's is down to six scholarship players?!? Boy, all the good luck they enjoyed last season is really flipping on them this year.

--- Here's the game recap from Bill Koch.

--- Bill also gave an update on Shaq Thomas. It will be exciting seeing the lift he provides next season.

--- Drew Cannon for ESPN Insider likes the Bearcats chances of getting into the Dance.

--- KenPom now has
UC up to No. 41 overall.

--- South Florida is tough at home this year. They beat resurgent Pitt by 12 last night. Outside of a wild three-point loss to UConn, they haven't lost at home in Big East play. That includes wins against Pitt, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers. Not exactly world beaters, but a huge step forward for the Bulls.

That will be a difficult game Feb. 26.

--- A brief glance ahead to Marquette, yes, they have won eight of the last nine games, but if you take a look at the competition, the jury is still out on how good they actually are.

In Big East play they have four games against teams ranked in KenPom's top 50. They are 1-3 in those with the lone win coming at home against Louisville when the Cards were a disaster area. (Lost 73-70 @Georgetown, Lost 73-66 @Syracuse, Lost 76-59 @Notre Dame)

They've done a great job of beating the teams they should and are great at home, but haven't beaten the top teams in the league. Should be an even matchup, but pollsters and the like who believe the Eagles should run away with it aren't looking close enough.

--- Also, as a child of the 90s, I am jacked up to hear about UC's latest promotion. They are breaking out the 90s at 9 promo for the Providence game (9 p.m. tip, get it?)

Anyway, all 90s music and 90s themed activities will be happening during the game. This seems like a perfect time to reset the Big Head Initiative with 90s pop culture icons. Yes, I'm looking at you, A.C. Slater.

So, everybody get to rasterbating and I'll be keeping an eye out for Ren and Stimpy.

Randomness.....

--- Will Ferrell announced the visiting team lineups last night in New Orleans. Typical strong Ferrell.

"No. 1, whose favorite movie is The Notebook, Derrick Rose!"

--- Austin Rivers vs. Tyler Zeller. Hand down, man down.

--- Gary Busey files for bankruptcy.
Just goes to show, you can't list "Crazy" as a profession and get away with it.

--- I want no piece of the world's
largest dodgeball game.

--- Typically, you can't go wrong with bacon.
The bacon milkshake tests that theory.

--- Is there really need for another golf network?

--- The Internet continues to
bring the weird out of people.

--- In honor of the 90s at 9,
I have to offer one of my favorite 90s jams and really all-time jams. What is Method Man doing these days? Can I please get another album?




Bearcats Breakfast 2.8.12

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Turns out Cincinnati is still capable of snow. I am typing with one hand and knocking on a giant slab of wood in my office with other as I say this, but the fact we are yet to have a significant snowfall and we're sitting at Feb. 8 is the biggest shocker since The Voice survived into a second season.

A piece of me wants to see a giant snowfall just for the chaos it provides in keeping life interesting, then the other piece of me pummels that piece into the ground with his empty snow shovel. This may have been the most delightful Cincinnati winter I can remember in a long time.

Hey, I just made small talk about the weather. It's like we were in the elevator together. You're going to talk trash about me when I get off on my floor, aren't you?

Let's eat...

--- The Sporting News ranked the Bearcats as the top recruiting class in the Big East.

First off, this is good. To claim otherwise would be silly. The better the talent -- perceived or otherwise -- entering the locker room, the better the chances of victory.

That said, UC fans -- of all college football fans -- should know to take that with a grain of salt, the same way they took it with a grain of salt when their classes were ranked fourth and fifth and they continually won Big East titles.

Unless you are snagging top five and ten draft classes nationally, rankings mean little. When selecting from the middle tiers of high school football players it's all about what you do with them when they arrive. UC has been proving that for years. It doesn't change now because they are finally receiving some respect.

As Butch Jones likes to say, praise and blame is all the same.

--- Welcome, Memphis. Long speculated, lobbied and discussed, the Big East is adding the Tigers.

Great for basketball, not so great for football will be the snap analysis. That's certainly a different stance considering what's driven every move to this point in conference realignment.

One point brought up as a defense of Memphis, which has lost 31 of its last 36 games, was that UC wasn't a great football school before it entered the Big East, either.

Yes, but they weren't Memphis level bad. Since you can't look at these moves through a narrow lens, let's take a look at the last seven years of UC in Conference USA (1998-04) vs. the last seven years for Memphis (2005-11).

Stat                         UC/Memphis
Winning seasons.......3/2
Seasons <4 wins.......2/4
Overall record............38-46/25-59
Bowl games..............4/3
Draft picks................12/3

--- Neither were exactly Alabama and LSU, but UC clearly was in far better shape than the Tigers. Memphis entering on the brutal run of the last three years doesn't help, though they look more attractive in a broader spectrum.

Williams.jpgAlso, neither team experience one season with more than seven wins.

--- UC and Memphis frequented the same bowl circuit in that time frame. Memphis played in the Motor City Bowl, New Orleans Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl. UC played in the Motor City Bowl (2x), New Orleans Bowl and Fort Worth Bowl.

--- The Cats clearly possessed more elite talent than Memphis has run through its program. Granted, only one of UC's draft picks were taken earlier than the third round (Hawkins, 2nd round, 1998), but sending 12 players into the draft during a seven-year period in C-USA is no small feat.

--- The Tigers did run DeAngelo Williams
through their program and turn out the only first-round draft pick, but quantity trumps quality in a big way in this case.

--- By the way, how did the 1998 Bearcats go 2-9 with four NFL draft picks? (Artrell Hawkins, Brad Jackson, Jason Fabini and Derrick Ransom)

--- At the end of the day, expecting a program like Memphis to rise from the ashes in a similar fashion as the Cats did upon entering the conference seems like a bit of an unfair parallel. Can the program improve in a new conference? Certainly. But they aren't 2004 UC.

--- The Memphis Commercial-Appeal discusses
this move being a major asset to new coach Justin Fuente, who can walk into the house of a recruit and tell them at Memphis they can compete for a national championship. He couldn't say that before -- at least, not without lying.

--- Geoff Calkins of the C-A provides 14 reasons the Big East is great for Memphis. Yes, clearly, but vice versa? Only time will tell.

--- No secret here, this is a big win for Mick Cronin, Rick Pitino and the rest of the Big East basketball coaches concerned about football diluting their product. It certainly helps make up for the loss of Cuse, Pitt and WVU.

Pitino, in particular, has been lobbying hard for Memphis. The US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) even thanked Pitino as the news broke.

"I am thrilled that my hometown team and alma mater the University of Memphis is being invited to join the Big East. Joining the Big East will not only be great for the University of Memphis, but it will be an economic catalyst for the City of Memphis.

"Thanks to Louisville Coach Rick Pitino for his strong support. And Congratulations to Dr. Shirley Raines and R.C. Johnson."

--- Gary Parrish at CBSsports.com talks about how this isn't all rainbows and lollipops for Memphis hoops coach Josh Pastner.

--- Jeff Eisenberg on the impact of Memphis to the Big East.

--- Moving on past all the Memphis hoopla, UC at St. John's tonight.

UC/STJ at Madison Square Garden on ESPNU at 7 p.m.

The prominent storyline surfacing is the Bearcats in search of revenge of the buzzer-beater loss at home last month. Fair enough. These types of fabricated motivations tend to be overrated, but it does make Cronin's job easier entering tonight's tilt.

"I don't have to worry about having my guys focused," he said.


--- Chad Brendel also talked about revenge.

--- As for the Johnnies
, they've lost six of their last eight. However, they've won two of the last four with both coming at home against DePaul and West Virginia.

Make no mistake, this is a game UC badly needs to win. At 6-4 in conference and living on the bubble, losing twice to one of the youngest teams in the conference would be a brutal blemish on the resume.

Big night for the Bearcats. Just find a way to win. At this point in the season, beauty means little. Only one stat matters.

--- Bearcats Nation with an x and o preview if you're into that type of thing.

--- UC pumping a new promotion that essentially allows you to hang out with me. Well, OK, that's not exactly how they are selling it, but that's the truth. You can win two media credentials and all the food and access that comes with it. That includes hearing the lame gags Bill Koch and I tell to each other every game.

Apparently the title "Listen to Lame Gags Promotion" was widely panned in test groups.

It's a pretty sweet deal though as your seats will be upgraded to lowers for the game and you'll have access to postgame pressers, media dining and other amenities. Here's the deal for those interested.

--- Time for people to start noticing the
Bearcats women's team. They just won three consecutive Big East road games for the first time in school history. Congrats to Jamelle Elliot.

--- Randomness...

--- Metallica is starting its own music festival this June in Atlantic City. They're promoting it as acts different their the standard metal they churn out. I think this could be a cool festival to attend if they can deliver on the variety. Plus, if you haven't been to a Metallica show -- if you like metal or not -- it's worth it for the unique experience alone.

(Attn old people like myself: bring earplugs)

--- Billy Eichner reported from the
Super Bowl for Conan O'Brien. He asks Giants players about the Madonna concert on the field after the game. Worth watching.

--- Line nobody says while taking this picture: Let's wait for Chris Hardwick.

--- If you have ever rhetorically asked, how do you even spend $67 at Taco Bell? -- you now have the answer you never wanted.

--- If only...

--- As for that Metallica concert, have to admit, when this song came on it would be fun to be a part of the crowd going bonkers.




Bearcats Breakfast 2.7.12

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I never realized how much I missed writing this blog until a week away from it. In a weird way, this blog has become like my pot of coffee every day. Without it, I just don't feel right.

I imagine, it's what Oprah talked about all those years with that life journal she always pushed (yeah, I know about Oprah's life journals, let's just move on amicably). I guess this blog is like my life journal except about sports. And 80s power ballads. And facial hair.

Point being, as I mentioned yesterday, happy to be back on the blog after being wisked away by other job obligations to cover Super Bowl week in Indy. I can only say that it was all anybody says it's cracked up to be. While eating at a restaurant I witnessed Plaxico Burress exchange a bro-hug with Jared from Subway. In many ways, that epitomized the week. Welcome to the matrix. Surreal.

Regardless, I'm back now and thanks to Chris Gundrum you stayed up to date on all things Bearcats last week. For that reason, I won't delve too much into stuff I missed while I was gone, instead keep looking forward.

On that note, let's eat...

--- I posted a blog
last night on the concept of recreating last year's late Big East run that cinched up the return to the tournament. UC needs a run of the same ilk this year.

--- If you are looking for the video of yesterday's media availability, which includes Mick Cronin getting a nice dig in on Ken Broo and Sports Rock, there is the link. (For the record, since Mick asked, the Bobcats have won six straight and are second in the MAC. Yet, I digress)

--- Bill Koch wrote a story about the increased maturity of Sean Kilpatrick. Another nice piece from Bill giving perspective behind the scenes to what makes SK tick.

Cronin talks in the piece about trying to extract that contested 3-pointer from Kilpatrick's arsenal. It reverts back to a discussion I had often on this blog about SK's need to take the ball to the bucket more than he fires away from the outside.

Finding the perfect balance of outside shooting to driving to the basket will make him the most efficient, the ultimate measure of a player's offensive worth.

There is an interesting correlation for SK between shooting 3s and possession efficiency.

Take a look at these Big East numbers. On some nights he scored a high number of points, but takes too many shots to do so and hinders a team with three other double-digit scorers.

It's broken down into points/field goal attempts/3-pointers attempted/percentage of shots that are 3s and then points per shot to measure efficiency.

Game           Pts/FGs/3FGa/%3Ps/Pts per shot 
Pitt                  19/18/11     61%   1.06     
Notre Dame     9/10/6      60%   0.90  
St. John's       21/21/15    71%    1.00
Georgetown    27/16/5     31%   1.68
Nova              14/7/3        43%    2.00
UConn           16/15/9      60%   1.06
WVU               12/11/7      64%   1.09
Syracuse        8/8/5        63%    1.00
Rutgers          11/12/8       67%   0.91
DePaul          16/12/6      50%    1.33

--- What really jumps out
at you about those numbers are notice his three best games as far as being an efficient scorer: Georgetown, Villanova and DePaul. In each of those, 50 percent or less of his shots were from 3-point range.

In all the rest of the games, the percentage of shots taken from 3-point range were 60 percent or above and his efficiency number never topped 1.1.

Those numbers are NOT a coincidence.
Shooting more 2s than 3s=higher efficiency for Kilpatrick. These are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.

--- While not addressing Kilpatrick in particular, rather talking about the guard play generally, Cronin touched on this topic. Working with guys on finding the right level of efficiency occurs every day in practice.

"Looking at our offensive efficiency at Pittsburgh, at Connecticut at Georgetown, our guards were really making plays," Cronin said. "Me getting those guys to where they can make the right plays, we work on every day the development of those guys.

"We are still taking way too many tough shots. Part of the guards playing well is throwing the ball inside when we are open on the interior. that is one area where we struggled against St.  John's zone int he first game. Whenever we struggle it is when we are taking tough shots instead of putting in more effort on the offensive end to break down a defense. My feeling is we have the talent to do it we just take the easy way out. Take the semi-open shot."


--- Bill also mentions in the story that Kilpatrick is on pace to own 814 points in his first two seasons. To advance those numbers a bit from what he came up with, he has a chance to be one of the top scorers in UC history.

If you place him at 814 (that is without any postseason numbers factored in), and have him average the 16 points per game his final two seasons at an average of 32 games (will likely be more with postseason), he would finish his UC career with 1,838 points.

That would place him fourth on UC's all-time scoring list. Not bad company

UC career points leaders

Player                    Points
Oscar Robertson     2,973
Steve Logan           1,985
Deonta Vaughn       1,885
Danny Fortson        1,881
Roger McClendon   1,789

To take it even a step further, if you factor in three postseason games for three seasons, that's nine more games for 144 more points which would put SK at 1,982, only three points shy of Logan for second in UC history --- otherwise known as the only attainable number considering how absurd the Big O's numbers were.

Again, pretty special career he built the foundation for here.

--- While we're on numbers,
Yancy Gates seems to pass one or two players on the all-time points list every time out now. As for where he's at in the climb, here you go.

16. Bobby Austin        1,385
17. Derrick Dickey      1,328
18. Yancy Gates         1,321
19. Levertis Robinson  1,320
20. Leonard Stokes     1,318
21. Damon Flint          1,316

If you keep Gates on his current pace of 13 points per game over the next eight regular season games and add in at least two postseason contests, you have 130 more points. He would eventually land at 1,451 and tied with Dwight Jones for 14th in UC history.

For the "oh, by the way" stat of the day, he will also be the only player in school history to lead his team in rebounds all four seasons.

--- The theme repeated year-in and year-out across college basketball is that guards win games in March. On that note, the conversation moved to the play of UC's guards, in particular Cashmere Wright. When asked to assess the play of Wright, who saved the day against DePaul on Saturday, Cronin offered this:

"The one thing he improved at is where he has struggled in games and kept playing and played well at the end," Cronin said. "DePaul, Oklahoma, just a few. He has definitely improved in his mental toughness, his belief in himself, not hanging his head, finding a way. As I tell guys, stat sheet is overrated. you got to make your team win. Make winning plays. Earlier in a career was a problem for him."

--- Scott Springer wrote about
the impact Justin Jackson can have on this team. His 14 and 8 sure changed the complexion of Saturday's game against DePaul. (Includes video interview)

--- Basketball Prospectus found a statistical answer to fix the RPI deficiency and predict the bubble better. It also contains bad news for this year's Bearcats.

--- ESPN's Bracketology offers some optimism, though, with the Cats in the tourney as of today.

--- UConn=dumpster fire. Of course, it's not like they were tearing it up at this point in time last year, though. Still, there don't appear to be any answers in sight.

--- Oklahoma nearly pulled off an RPI booster for the Bearcats, but a 3-pointer at the buzzer against No. 4 Mizzou bounced off the mark. It's a shame, too, because it was one of the most perfectly executed intentional miss free throws I have ever seen.

--- As we have known for awhile, Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will be at the NFL Combine. Here is the official list.

--- Randomness...

--- Congrats to former strong Moeller Crusader Greg Jones for winning a Super Bowl and getting engaged on Sunday. And here is the video. One of those rings he's guaranteed to see for the rest of his life.

--- Jimmy Kimmel asked his readers
to pull the plug on their TVs during a critical moment of the Super Bowl and film it. Hilarity ensues.



Jackson jams might ignite Bearcats

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UC basketball coach Mick Cronin has said that statistics can be deceiving.

However, logic says if Justin Jackson can score 14 points a game, the Bearcats' chances are helped immensely.

"How many shots?" Cronin asked when I questioned what 14 points from Jackson would mean each night. "If he's five-for-five (as he was against DePaul) we'll take it."

Cronin says Jackson's shot selection has been better.

One shot in particular stood out in the DePaul game Feb. 4.  It was a thunderous dunk from the lane that reminded me of moves Kenyon Martin, Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks would make. Just "take no prisoners" and ram it home.

Dunks like that are a huge momentum changer.  I spoke with Jackson about that and other "deep" topics before a recent practice.

Opening on a personal note, it's great to be back on the blog as I return from covering the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last week. Huge thanks to Chris Gundrum for holding down the fort while I was gone.

My first stop on the ride back into town was Clifton for UC's media availability discussing the current state of the Bearcats (16-7, 6-4) as they head to St. John's on Wednesday tied for fifth in the Big East conference.

My concept going in was to talk to the players and Mick Cronin about how to recreate last year's late run that landed them in the Big East tournament and if they can pull anything from how they accomplished it. The answer was, well, not exactly as I expected. Sometimes you show up expecting one story and another pops up.

Remember, it was about this time last year the Bearcats were left for dead following a home loss to St. John's. Then, over the final six games of the regular season, they located an extra gear. The Cats went on to win six of their next seven and enter the NCAA tournament one of the hottest team's in the country.

With eight games remaining in the regular season, how much of what inspired some of the best basketball played during the Cronin era could be utilized in repeating the same task this season.

69105_Cincinnati_Georgetown_Basketball.jpg"You really expect me to remember that?" Cronin said. "I can't remember what happened two weeks ago."

Coincidentally, two weeks ago the Bearcats looked about as different from the current model as last year's group. They fell from the confident group that topped UConn to move into second place in the conference to a team seeking answers after losses to West Virginia, Syracuse and Rutgers.

For Cronin, the key to recreating last year isn't revisiting the origins of what caused their late surge, rather, forgetting about all of it.

"I'm not interested in last year," he said. "I'm just worried about tangible things with each guy. I don't look at the big picture at all. I don't look at the Big East standings. When people are worried about the wrong things it's hard to be effective. Our guys come in (the interview room) they get asked about the NCAA tournament, they go everywhere and they ask about the Big East standings. I got to get Dion Dixon to worry about getting a defensive rebound because he had as many as my mother did the other night."

In the game of motivating and inspiring streaks during the most pivotal time of the year in college basketball, Cronin chooses to keep the tasks as simple as possible. Find a way for Dixon to rebound. Find a way to take better shots. Find a way to increase offensive efficiency.

All the talk about hustle and effort determining wins made for warm, cuddly talking points in November and December, but at this time of year the art of motivation only takes a team so far.

"You can't just play hard," Cronin said. "You got to play well."

Both came at the same time during last year's run. Somewhere at the intersection of effort and execution, UC took off. Sean Kilpatrick believes that was based in the wake-up call of realizing the NCAA tournament was slipping out of their grasp.

The same urgency has begun to seep into his veins as the clock ticks away on UC's season. In today's ESPN Bracketology, UC was placed as the No. 12 seed and far from secure in their standing.

"We know that we want to get there this year and get there and win more than win game," Kilpatrick said.

If so, they will need to replicate last year's surge. Can this team, with many different components, pull that off?

"I don't know," Kilpatrick said. "We are going to have to see."

In the meantime, while they wait to see, others will debate the big picture of how to make the tournament happen again. Just don't expect it to be Cronin or his players.

"That's why they have the Sports Rock, Sports of All Sorts, Sports Authority," he said. "We need to worry about making free throws and executing our offense."

With their backs against the wall, the Bearcats fought back to avoid losing their 4th straight

By Chris Gundrum

With the possibility of losing four games in a row, there's no doubt UC was under some pressure to win last night.

However, even when the shots weren't falling, the Bearcats managed to stay calm and snap a 3-game losing streak, beating DePaul 74-66.

"A lot things weren't going our way," said Mick Cronin. "We were missing layups, not shooting the ball well from the perimeter. But I was really happy with our composure, all night. As happy as I've been in a while."

As happy as Cronin was with his team, DePaul coach Oliver Purnell was just as disappointed with his.

He praised the Bearcats (16-7, 6-4 in the Big East) for making some crucial plays.

"You've got to give Cincinnati credit, they finished in a flourish," said Purnell. "They got on the board, they made a couple of big shots when they needed to make them and we didn't."

The biggest shot came from Cashmere Wright with a little over 4 minutes to go in the game.

With DePaul (11-11, 2-8) up by 2, Wright, who finished the game with 11 points, made a 3-pointer to put the Bearcats in front.

They would lead the rest of the way.

"I just want to win, that's all," said Wright. "I just went out there, played hard, and took what they gave me."

Wright was one of five players to finish the game in double figures including Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick who led the way with 16 points each.

So many players scoring may be due to Cronin's message this week.

 "He just told us we had to get back what we were doing when we had suspended players," said Wright. "We've got to get back to having fun, more fast-paced and nobody worrying about mistakes."

Justin Jackson also had a productive night for the Bearcats.

Although he scored 14 points off the bench, Cronin was more pleased with what he did without the basketball.

"He did a great job running back in and helping and blocking shots," said Cronin. "And he did a great job when he was switched on Brandon Young. It's the best job he's done not getting beat off the dribble."

Although the Bearcats have relieved some pressure of a losing streak, the players know their job is not yet finished.

 "It's good to get the monkey off our back," said Kilpatrick. "But there's still a lot of work that has to be done."

 

Not only do the DePaul Blue Demons have the ability to create turnovers, but their offense will create headaches as well.

By Chris Gundrum

The Bearcats will look to improve their record to 16-7 tonight when they face DePaul, but that's a task that could be easier said than done.

In fact, this one could come down to the last shot.

"Everyone knows that it's not going to be an easy game because they're a BIG EAST team and they play hard," said Sean Kilpatrick. "I mean you've got to actually play the whole 40 minutes."

One reason tonight's game will be a challenge for the Bearcats is DePaul's defense.

"We know they're a defensive team," said Kilpatrick. "They grab a lot of steals in the press that they have."

A team that can create a lot of turnovers is exactly the type of team the Bearcats aren't interested in facing right now.

That's a department they've struggled with a lot lately.

"The last two games we've had trouble with turnovers," said Mick Cronin. "It's been a big problem for us the last two games."

Not only will turnovers be a factor for the Bearcats, but their ability to corral DePaul's explosive offense will too.

"They can score I'll tell you that," said Cronin. "From an x's and o's standpoint, you've got to score to beat DePaul. They average 75 a game which means some games they get 80."

The driving force behind DePaul's offense is Cleveland Melvin. He averages 18 points per game.

But it's not just the fact that Melvin can score that impresses Cronin, it's the way he does it.

"And the tough thing about Cleveland Melvin is he makes tough shots," said Cronin. "When he is averaging 18 points a game and everybody has him on top of their scouting report as a guy to stop, and he still gets it every night, that tells you how hard he can be to stop. And it's because he doesn't need layups or wide open shots."

It's clear the Bearcats will need every minute of this one to get the W.

But they've been working hard in practice and believe they can win.

"We should be alright," said Kilpatrick. "We've been working on the little things they do in practice and we've been executing against it so we should be alright."

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Georgetown Hoyas

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CINCINNATI --The Bearcats made some runs to keep themselves in the game, but late it was the combination of UC's 24 turnovers and Georgetown's made free throws that really decided this BIG EAST tilt. Similar to the first half in which the Bearcats ended on a 7-0 run to cut the Georgetown lead to four -- Cincinnati ended the second half with a barrage of three-pointers, but failed to complete the upset. The loss to the Hoyas (18-5;7-3) ended Cincinnati's (11-12; 2-8) two-game winning streak. Leading scorer in the BIG EAST, Sugar Rodgers struggled in the early going, but was able to score 11 of her 19 points in the last 5:00 of the game. Her 19 points was a game high. Leading the Bearcats was Dayeesha Hollins who scored 17 points and Bjonee Reaves who also scored 17. Kayla Cook got in on the act late and was able to score 10 points by shooting 4-8 from three-point range. Cook, Hollins and Reaves receive game ball awards tonight for the efforts and production.

"Looks like the difference in the game was that we turned the ball over 24 times," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said after the game. "They pressured us for 40 minutes. (Dayeesha Hollins) had nine turnovers which is uncharacteristic for her.  I thought she tried to split those traps a little too much instead of reversing the ball. But, the kid's trying to make plays and you can't be mad at her for that. On the flip side of that, on the No. 15 team in the country, we cut it to five one time, we cut it to four. We had a two-on-one fast break with Bjonee (Reaves) to be able to cut it to three. We had our chances. Everybody talks about hanging around with the No. 15 team in the country.  I can't wait until we get to the point where not only do we hang around, but we make better decisions so that we can win these games. Georgetown probably didn't come out and play their best basketball. And, when a team that's ranked in the country doesn't come out and play their best basketball and we're still playing hard but we're not upping our level, it's still going to be hard to beat a bunch of teams. Today, we really didn't up our level enough to give ourselves the best chance to beat a very good Georgetown team."

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

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 -- Dayeesha continues to show why she is the Bearcats best player this season. Her defensive pressure against Rodgers was stellar in the first half and her production was needed to keep her team in the game. She continues to use her high-motor and athletic ability to her advantage. Her pace up and down the floor really propels this team, but it does seem that other players are watching and anticipating her to take over each game. She is certainly the straw that stirs the drink, if you will, and is key to the Bearcats success during the final six games and in the BIG EAST Tournament. A game-high nine turnovers, however, is an area for concern for Hollins who is still only a sophomore.

"In those situations I have to make the best decision and know where the open people are instead of rushing, and that's something I have to work on," Hollins said.

2. Bjonee Reaves, 9 -- Bjonee's confidence is something that everyone on the team can learn from. Reaves has shown this season that she has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and a lot of that is predicated to her immense amount of confidence. She connected on big shots from deep in this game to help her team stay competitive. Her 17 points was tied for a team-high and while she hoisted up a lot of shots, it was needed for a team that was looking for any kind of look late in the shot clock on almost every possession. It is important that Reaves improves on her assist numbers, but having a consistent three-point jumper is her number one priority for the rest of the season.

"We knew coming into the game that they were going to be a very aggressive, physical team," Reaves said. "We knew they were going to trap all over the court.  We just have to do a better job of being poised and under control.  At times we showed it but the times we didn't they capitalized on it, and that's what good teams do.  We can't make those types of mental mistakes because good teams capitalize them."

3. Kayla Cook, 8 -- Kayla is your definition of a streaky shooter. Some nights she has it and some nights she doesn't. Against Georgetown, Cook struggled to get going in the first half but her onslaught of three-pointers made near the end of the game nearly brought UC back to win. Whether its is Elliott's instruction or Cook's demeanor she seems to not worry about the last play and continue to have confidence in her shot as the game progresses. Her 10 points tonight were key down the stretch and her eight rebounds was a team-high. It's good to see her get involved more via rebounds versus just settling for jump shots, but she needs to be more aggressive and demand the ball from her teammates to help contribute game-in-and-game-out.

Previewing the opponent: Georgetown Hoyas

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CINCINNATI -- The Bearcats are back in town after a three-game road trip to face a Georgetown team that comes into Saturday ranked No.17/15 in the two national polls. Cincinnati is as hot as any time this season coming off back-to-back BIG EAST wins; one at Syracuse in dramatic fashion and one in Milwaukee, Wisc. against Marquette this past Wednesday night.

"I can't say enough about my team," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said. "I just told them in the locker room, there are a lot of teams in the country who get on a losing streak and their attitude changes and they feel sorry for themselves. I never felt that with my team. I knew that one of these games, we were going to come out on top if we stayed together and today it was a prime example of that. Everyone stepped up and gave us a chance to win."

The Bearcats (11-11), 2-7) hope to continue riding the momentum train tomorrow as they look to win three straight games for the first time since Dec. 29. A win tomorrow or another BIG EAST win down the road would also mean that the program will surpass last season's totals -- where they only had two conference victories.

"Everybody is getting involved and everybody feels confident that they are apart of our wins," Elliott said. "We've practiced hard and were just as prepared, so I'm looking forward to seeing how we come out against a good team at home."

The Hoyas (17-5, 6-3) are coming off an impressive throttling of Rutgers in D.C., where they nearly beat the No. 12 team in country by 20 points. Georgetown has the conference's leading scorer, Sugar Rodgers, who is averaging 19.8 points per game. She also has a team-high in steals this season with 56 over 22 games. Rodgers is also very efficient from the free throw line shooting a team-high 82.2 percent.

"They look to press off of any chance they get and they create a lot of points off their turnovers," Elliott said. "There's three keys to this game. Break their pressure and score while looking to be on the attack, transition defense, and not giving up second shots. If we can do those three things and hold them under their average we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."

Second on the squad with 11.9 points per game is senior forward Tia Magee. Magee earned her first career nod to the BIG EAST honor roll this week after the team's win against the Scarlet Knights. She also leads the team in rebounds grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Rubylee Wright is third on the team in scoring averaging 7.1 points per game. Last game Wright broke the program's all-time assist number when she recorded her 472nd assist. She leads the squad with 105 this season over 22 games played, which is an average of 7.1 per game.

Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves have been instrumental during the past two conference wins and will need to continue to lead this team down the stretch. A recipe featuring Hollins and Reeves scoring in double-figures along with sophomore Jeanise Randolph dominating the boards has become a success-ridden game plan for the Bearcats. Hollins leads the team with 14.7 points per game and she scored 22 points against the Golden Eagles to help the underdog Bearcats win in Wisconsin. Reaves, who hit a last-second shot against Syracuse to give her team the victory scored 18 against Marquette and is now averaging 12.7 points per game. Randolph has averaged 11 rebounds in the past two wins and seems to be fully healthy for the first time this season. Randolph will now be able to complement Tiffany Turner's 7.1 points per game with dominance on the glass, which Elliott and the coaching staff have been looking for since Randolph's return.

"Her (Randolph) coming back healthy and playing the basketball that allowed her to be on the BIG EAST all-freshman team last year is something that's good for us," Elliott said. "She's able to bang with the post players down low, get rebounds, and box out. It gives us another dimension inside not only with scoring, but like you said rebounding."


This game is set to tip-off at 2 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena. The men's basketball team plays after the women at 7 p.m. against DePaul to complete the double-header.

By Chris Gundrum

The Bearcats may have lost three in a row, but Mick Cronin isn't ready to push the panic button yet.

His focus, rather, has been on correcting the mistakes his team has made in recent games.

"You can't make the mistakes that we made in our last game and win," said Cronin. "You can't be a good team making that many mistakes because it negates your talent level."

What mistakes is he talking about?

"It could be a defensive breakdown. It could be a lack of communication--not talking on defense," said Cronin. "It's unacceptable. Leaving your feet to pass, could be a bad shot, not block out."

Sean Kilpatrick agrees they're not playing the way that they could and if they don't fix things, it could be a rough ride the rest of the way.

"We haven't been playing to our full potential," said Kilpatrick. "And if we continue to go down this road then it could be a very long season for us."

One way to change the course they're on is to return to playing fast-paced basketball.

That's something Cronin has brought to his players' attention.

"That's what coach talks about," said Kilpatrick. "Just getting back to the way we play, speeding the game up a lot faster. Lately we've been playing slowed down to the competition and with the team that we have, if you can play fast then it would be a lot more points racking up on the scoreboard."

Bearcats Get Wake-Up Call

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The text message from Mick Cronin to his players was sent on Monday night.  Instead of practicing the following afternoon at the usual time of 3 o'clock, everybody was required to be ready to go at 7:30 on Tuesday morning.

"When he sent us the text, everybody was like, 'Yo, this is not looking good,'" said Sean Kilpatrick.  "Usually when a coach wants you to come in at 7:30 in the morning it means you have to get your track shoes ready."

But Coach Cronin's objective was not punitive.

"We don't have class until 11 o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I was just trying to keep it fresh for the guys," Mick told me.  "It gives them more recovery time until the next day and changes the routine up - which I think is important this time of year.  Also, it allows the coaching staff to get on the phone and recruit and do the things that they need to do."

The twice-a-week early practices are expected to continue until the end of the academic quarter and while they are not meant to be punishment, the players have been doing plenty of running. 

"It has been 'get out the track shoes' to be honest with you," said Coach Cronin.  "I think that lately we've played too slow and as a coach, you always have to look in the mirror.  Coaching is not about telling guys what to do; it's about getting them to do it."

Wright vs Cuse (550x434).jpg

In their last two games, the Bearcats scored 53 points in their loss to Syracuse, and 54 in their loss at Rutgers.  Coach Cronin disputes the notion that they've changed their offensive approach from the attack that helped them win five of their first six Big East games. 

"You have to get easy baskets," said Coach Cronin.  "When we were 5-1, we were averaging 11 steals a game.  The telling stats for easy baskets are 'points off turnovers' and 'second-chance points.'  If you have to rely on all of your baskets in a Big East game coming in the half-court, you're not going to win.  You have to get second and third shots, and more importantly, you have to get easy baskets in transition.  We've worked really hard at practice this week on getting back to being aggressive on what we're doing on the defensive end to get us some easier baskets on the offensive end.  We're trying to get back to running on every possession and trying to attack teams before they can set the defense."

Cincinnati is hardly the only team that has had low-scoring games in Big East play.  Connecticut scored 44 points in Wednesday's loss at Georgetown, the Hoyas were held to 49 points in a victory over Providence on December 31st, and Pittsburgh managed 39 points in a home game against Rutgers on January 11th.  It didn't mean that Jim Calhoun, John Thompson III, and Jamie Dixon forgot how to coach. 

"Fans are entitled to their opinion, but I don't think they realize how hard it is to score in the Big East," said Kilpatrick.  "Every day you face something different.  Teams have scouting reports and they adjust their defenses to the way that we play and the way that everybody else plays.  Lately, the teams in the Big East have been doing a great job of that."

"Look at Syracuse," said Coach Cronin.  "They are number one in the country in steals, but in their last three games, they scored 58 at Notre Dame, 60 at Cincinnati, and 63 against West Virginia.  Their scoring totals are coming down because teams are not giving them all of those fast break points."

So in an effort to get the Bearcats back to forcing turnovers and getting some easy hoops, Coach Cronin has been "cracking the whip" at the crack of dawn.

"No mistake has gone unchallenged or unpunished this week," Mick told me.  "But the guys' attitude has been great.  Winning will take of itself if your focus is on playing smart, having intensity, and staying together as a team."

"You never know what's going to happen with Coach Cronin," said Kilpatrick.  "I think it's been a good idea though.  We looked at the last couple of games that we played and it was embarrassing.  Everyone knows that and everybody's mindset has been different.  The past few days have been great."

**********

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 Sam, enjoy this week's photo from a recent Taekwondo class.  


Sam Taekwondo.jpg



Bearcats circle the 275 loop for area recruits

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Among the University of Cincinnati's signing class for 2012 are eight who played prep football in the area.

From Colerain, there's defensive backs Dylan Coombs (son of Kerry) and Andre Jones; defensive back Zach Edwards and running back E.J. Junior come from Middletown; offensive lineman Ryan Leahy is from La Salle; offensive lineman Caleb Stacey from Oak Hills; offensive lineman Kyle Williamson from Madeira; and defensive back Drake Bruns is from Highlands in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

Here's coach Butch Jones' thoughts on the locals on signing day.

UC Has A Love Jones

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He won a share of the Big East after an abysmal season. He has players in the pros and  more on the way. He won the Liberty Bowl and has been acknowledged by some as having the best UC recruiting class ever. More important to his coaching staff is that he wasn't the only one compensated for the teams success. Coach Jones showed his staff how much he valued them as well, which means if someone comes to raid the cabinet it has to be substantial for them to leave and that's how you keep good assistants longer.

I believe Butch Jones wants to build and maintain a top notch, first rate program at UC and enjoy the fruits of his efforts by not leaving anytime soon. I think he sees so much upside that he wants to help cement UC as a football power not just in the Big East but nationally as well. You might think the win versus Vanderbilt was not much to rave about but a win against any SEC team is a big win and a stride not just a step in the right direction.

UC is still looked upon in some circles as a second tier team and Coach Jones is out to change that. The only way you do that is by winning and beating teams that have the label of top tier teams, whether they come from the SEC, Big 10,11 or 12 or, whatever the conferences will be named with all the moving and shifting over the last year.

So between now and 2017 Butch Jones is in a relationship with the University of Cincinnati and he appears to be a one team man. You can't ask for much more than that.

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

By Chris Gundrum

Good Afternoon Bearcat fans. Just a few more notes from Signing Day...

--Here are the rankings for the Bearcats recruiting class of 2012 according to the following sites:

Scout.com- 33rd

Rivals.com- 49th 

247sports.com- 55th

Each of the websites has their own formula for the way they rank the players and recruiting classes as a whole. The only website that I could find a formula for was Scout.com. If you can do simple math it's a pretty easy system to calculate. If you're interested check it out here.

--According to Scout.com Cincinnati had the 2nd best recruiting class in the BIG EAST. They had West Virginia with the number one recruiting class in the conference. And According to 247Sports.com, UC had the 4th ranked recruiting class with Rutgers as having the best class.

As I mentioned earlier this week, take each of these rankings with a grain of salt. But it is interesting to see where others have the Bearcats ranked.


Nine Newcomers Get Jump On UC Careers

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I don't know about you, but if I had bolted from high school in the middle of my senior year to enroll in college nine months early I would have been absolutely petrified.

Shoot, I was nervous enough when I showed up in September with the rest of the freshman class.

But nine members of this year's UC football recruiting class that signed their letters of intent on Wednesday have been enrolled in class since early January.

Deionte Buckley.jpg

(Deionte Buckley, Warren Central H.S.)

"It was difficult at first," said running back Deionte Buckley from Indianapolis, IN.  "You have that heartbreak of missing your family and missing your friends - you might have a girl back home - but after the third week or so you get used to it.  You know what you're here for and you have to grind and work hard."

"I miss my family and I went to school with my younger sister, so I miss going to school with her," said defensive lineman Josh Posley from Indianapolis, IN.  "I miss being part of my high school family, but I know what I'm here for and I know that this is going to help me in the future."

By enrolling early, the nine recruits can get a jump on their academics, participate in the Bearcats' off-season workout program, and take part in spring football.

Bennie Coney (434x550).jpg

(Bennie Coney, Plant City H.S.)

"That's the best way to compete and have the opportunity to play early," said quarterback Bennie Coney from Plant City, FL.  "I decided that if I got in early, I could learn the playbook and it would be fair game on the field."

"It was something that I always wanted to do because I've always wanted to play as a true freshman," said linebacker Errol Clarke from Miami, FL.  "So I figured what's the point of waiting?  I wanted to get a head start on other guys and get going.  I just have to work really hard in the weight room and on the field."

"Since my freshman year of high school, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do," said quarterback Trenton Norvell from Daytona Beach, FL.  "Regardless of what school that I chose, I just wanted to get ahead of the competition, get into the playbook and the weight room, and have a chance to start."

The adjustment to college life has been an eye-opener - especially the demands of strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson.

Marcus Foster.jpg

(Marcus Foster, Troy H.S.)

"He's been murdering us," said safety Marcus Foster from Troy, OH.  "They say that it's going to get even harder, but I've never been around anything like this.  The first few weeks have been kind of hectic.  It's a lot different.  Being on your own, you have to be responsible and be where you're supposed to be.  It's a lot different when your mom and dad aren't there to tell you when to get up and when to go to bed."

"We haven't started practice yet, but it's already a lot of work," said defensive back Kevin Brown from Indianapolis, IN.  "You have to have the mindset to come in and work hard because you know it's going to be better for you in the long run."

I spoke with seven of the nine early enrollees on Wednesday and found their reasons for choosing Cincinnati to be remarkably similar. 

"The love and the atmosphere from the coaches," said Coney.  "The players were upfront and told me how everything was.  They said that the coaches were real and really cared about the players as more than just athletes. 

"I came with my mom on my visit and it was her first time flying.  When we got to campus, all of the coaches were at the bottom of the stairs and they gave me a standing ovation.  It was a real nice welcome and I felt pretty special." 

"When I first visited, it felt like a family - I felt at home," said Buckley.  "I woke up one morning and it was on my mind.  I talked to my parents about it and they loved it.  When they first came down here, they loved it too.  It was God's will - he showed me here and this is the best place for me to be."

"I felt like this was my best fit," said Posley.  "I like the environment, I like how the players interact with each other, and I feel like I have the best chance of having a good college career here."

Trenton Norvell.jpg

(Trenton Norvell, Seabreeze H.S.)

"I prayed to God about it," said Norvell.  "I was committed to Marshall, but one day I woke up and I knew it was the right thing to do.  I prayed for about a week, and I woke up one day and I looked at all of the hats that I had and saw the C-Paw and it just kind of hit me."

"We all felt like this was family and this was a home-away-from-home," said Brown.  "Coach Jones and Coach Coombs - who recruited me - made me feel like I was a part of the family before I even got here.  That gave me the peace of mind that when I came here, I would have the family structure that I have in my own home in Indianapolis."

This year's class of 28 signees and two preferred walk-ons is the highest rated in school history.  Scout.com has Cincinnati ranked second in the Big East behind West Virginia, and 33rd in the country.

"It means a lot," said Posley.  "I love the players that were already here before us, and I'm liking this class that we have.  I really feel like we should go to a BCS bowl and compete for the National Championship sometime soon."

"I think it says a lot about Coach Jones and what he's been doing to get the program back on its feet after the 2010 season," said Brown.  "If we work hard, learn the system, and be coachable, then we can be successful and eventually get to a National Championship.  That's everybody's goal."

"It's nice to be part of something that's the best," said Coney.  "Best school, best fans, best everything.  That's how we want it."

The nine newcomers are off to a fast start.

**********

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.



By Chris Gundrum

It has been a long and arduous process for Butch Jones and his coaching staff.

Traveling, long hours at the office and sacrificing time with their families, the coaches at Cincinnati have been hard at work to secure the best available players for the recruiting class of 2012.

Today Jones announced the names of 30 players who are part of what is considered the most successful recruiting class in program history.

"Today is kind of a culmination of over a year's worth of work by our coaches working to what we feel is attract the best caliber student-athlete here to the University of Cincinnati," Jones said.

Of the 30 new players, nine of them enrolled early. Jones believes that can only help push the program in the right direction.

"To me that's critical as we continue to elevate our football program," Jones said. "You graduate a highly successful senior class, so to be able to bring nine individuals in I think that's going to make spring football extremely competitive."

And there should be plenty of competition to go around.

When you look at the list of players coming in, every position was covered. And not only have the Bearcats added depth to each position, you'll notice they've added size as well.

An issue Jones felt needed to be addressed

"The thing we have really lacked in our football program is big body types," said Jones. "You know run and hit guys."

It would appear that those "run and hit" guys have been added.

And while the recruiting process is over for the newest members of the football team, the work for Jones and his coaches is not quite done.

They'll continue to go on the road, spend time away from their families and search for players to add to the list of recruits for 2013. 


Here is the Signing Day Class for 2012:

(Early Enrollees)

DB Kevin Brown 6-1 195 Indianapolis, Ind./ Lawerence Central

RB Deionte Buckley 5-9, 195 Indianapolis, Ind./ Warren Central

DL Jonathan Burt 6-3, 248 Indianapolis, Ind./ Warren Central

LB Errol Clarke 6-2, 210 Miami, Fla./ Central

QB Bennie Coney 6-2, 210 Plant City, Fla./ Plant City

TE DeShawn Dowdy  6-4, 222 Akron, Ohio/ North

DB Marcus Foster 6-1, 190 Troy, Ohio/ Troy

QB Trenton Norvell 6-4,215 Daytona Beach, Fla./ Seabreeze

DL Josh Posley 6-2, 238 Indianapolis, Ind./ Warren Central


Rest of the Signees

WR Shakim Alonzon 6-5, 205 Pittsburgh, Pa./ Woodland Hills

OL Deyshawn Bond 6-3, 283 Indianapolis, Ind./ Warren Central

DB Drake Bruns 6-0, 190 Fort Thomas, Ky./ Highlands

LB Franklin Bruscianelli 6-0, 220 Woodridge, Ill./ Montini Catholic

WR Nate Cole 6-0, 177 Memphis, Tenn./ Mitchell

DB Dylan Coombs 6-1, 185 Cincinnati, Ohio/ Colerain

DB Alex Dale 5-10, 170 Memphis, Tenn./ University School

DB Zach Edwards 6-1, 180 Middletown, Ohio/ Middletown

WR Jeremy Graves 6-2, 185 Cleveland, Ohio/ Maple Heights

RB Tion Green 6-0, 197 Altamonte Springs, Fla./ Lake Brantley

LB Corey Griffin 6-1, 205 Miami, Fla./ Coral Reef Senior

RB Aaron Harris 6-0, 200 El Cajon, Calif./ Granite Hills/ Southwestern CC

DB Andre Jones 6-1, 195 Cincinnati, Ohio/ Colerain

LB Joey Jones 6-0, 190 Homestead, Fla./ South Dade

RB E.J. Junior 6-0, 210 Middletown, Ohio/ Middletown

OL Ryan Leahy 6-6, 256 Cincinnati, Ohio/ LaSalle

LB Ey'Shawn McClain 6-2, 220 Jacksonville, Fla./ Raines

DL Alex Pace 6-3, 284 Cleveland, Ohio/ Ginn Academy

DB Leviticus Payne 5-9, 176 Southfield, Mich./ Southfield

OL Caleb Stacey 6-4, 280 Cincinnati, Ohio/ Oak Hills

OL Kyle Williamson 6-5, 275 Cincinnati, Ohio/ Madeira

 

--In case you're wondering here's a positional breakdown of this year's recruiting class:

QB- 2     RB- 4     WR- 3     TE- 1     OL- 4     DL- 3     DB- 8     LB- 5

 

Why is stealing recruits such a bad thing? There's nothing in the rules that says it can't be done...

Throughout the recruiting process there's always the possibility to lose a potential recruit to another school.

It happens all the time.

Dennis Norfleet, a highly touted running back from Michigan, originally committed to play football for Cincinnati. However, at the last minute changed his mind and de-committed to attend Michigan instead.

While it may anger coaches and fans, there's nothing in the rules that says a player cannot change his mind.

I was listening to the radio on my way home from the big Singing Day press conference and Mo Eggar brought up a couple of good points--1) Until a player has signed on the dotted line, he's still technically available. Regardless of what a player says a verbal commitment means nothing. 2) If stealing recruits is going to amp up a rivalry or add fuel to the fire on gameday, then what's wrong with that? Sports involve rivalries and storylines anything to make the games even more interesting is a good thing.

--Here's a ling to the story about Norfleet's decision to go to Michigan over Cincinnati