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March 2012 Archives

Bearcats Breakfast 3.30.12

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For some reason, today feels like a numbers day for me. Which, isn't much different from every other day here on the blog, but I'm going deep today.

I'm talking searching for the remains of the Titanic deep. Celine Dion not included.

Here's the question -- and a significant one facing UC basketball next season: Can these freshmen take the next step to provide the 10-deep rotation Mick Cronin desires for "high-octane" basketball?

As Mick stated to Bill Koch the other day, the freshman had some games where they made major contributions and others were he had to get them out of there. That can't be the case in a deep rotation next season.

An interesting element of the season for UC's three freshmen was they all fit into about the same category. They all played minutes in spots, but ended up between 14 and 25 percent of the team's overall minutes. Those minutes will more than likely increase next year for a majority of them.

Player                 %Min  ORat   eFG%  PPG
Jeremiah Davis III   14.2   91.4    48.5     2.5
Ge'Lawn Guyn          21.5   90.6    45.7     2.3
Jermaine Sanders  15.9   93.7    46.4     1.7

Toss in redshirts Shaq Thomas and Octavius Ellis, though they don't apply in this scenario.

 You typically see this every year, the sophomore who played a limited role his freshman season breaking out to be a key component in the sophomore year.

So, what should be expected out of these freshman? Is there a precedent? In recent history the only UC player to fall into this category was JaQuon Parker in 2009. His sophomore struggles were well documented during his rise this year, but he tends to be more the exception than the rule when looking around the conference.

Here were the 2011 freshman from tournament team's in the Big East that played less than 25 percent of their team's minutes with their sophomore year numbers as a comparison.

The success rate is startling.

Year, Player, School        %Min  ORat   eFG%  PPG
2011 Markel Starks, GT    22.6    76.1   35.8     1.5 
2012 Markel Starks, GT   56.5    105.3  55.7     7.1

2011 Da. Gardner, MU      19.9    117.9  57.6     4.6
2012 Da. Gardner, MU      36.9    118.4  56.1     9.5

2011 Tyler Olander, Conn  22.5    82.6    37.3     1.5
2012 Tyler Olander, Conn  43.6  101.5    44.8     4.2

2011 Niles Giffey, Conn     24.2    92.6  47.4       2.2
2012 Niles Giffey, Conn     26.5  113.3  52.7       2.6

2011 JJ Moore, Pitt           13.4   107.8  50.0     3.7
2012 JJ Moore, Pitt           44.1   108.1  50.2     7.4

2011 Talib Zanna, Pitt        23.4   106.7  56.3     3.7
2012 Talib Zanna, Pitt        47.9   117.7  56.1     6.2

2011 Fab Melo, Cuse        23.2     89.8  60.7     2.3
2012 Fab Melo, Cuse        51.4   110.2  56.6     7.8

2011 James Bell, Nova      17.3    114.3  52.1    2.4
2012 James Bell, Nova      51.4    106.1 50.6    7.0

--- The point of all this, not only did these players numbers go up across the board because of their increased minutes, but almost all became much more efficient players. Only James Bell of Villanova saw a fall in offensive rating and exactly half saw their rating jump more than 19 points.

--- Melo's offensive numbers experienced a respectable jump, but he became one of the premier defensive players in the country and won Big East Most Improved Player.

Talib Zanna, while an unknown to most outsiders, played a major role for Pitt as he became one of the best rebounders in the conference.

Markel Starks went from a non-contributor to a player who carried Georgetown to a win at Louisville with 20 points.

--- If all three Bearcats freshman can experience a jump in line with those we saw this past season, UC's offense will be high-octane, indeed.

If they all averaged this standard evolution of six to eight points per game, you'd have somewhere in the area of 12-18 extra points per contest from the sophomores-to-be. Add in whatever contribution can be delivered from Thomas and you have made up for the loss of Dixon and Gates -- at least offensively without taking into consideration the improvement of the team's top scorers.

Maybe these expectations are lofty -- and maybe one of these players will blow them out of the water -- but recent history suggests they absolutely should be taking a major step in production and efficiency in 2012-13.

--- Moving on to football, click over across the GoBearcats.com to Dan Hoard's latest column, talking about the development of Munchie Legaux and the QB position. DH points out this is Butch Jones' first year as a head coach where the QB hasn't been set in spring practice.

While Legaux earned the role of front-runner, I found Butch calling Munchie No. 1 and Brendon Kay 1-A to be an interesting statement. Kay could be an intriguing thought. He comes with all the physical ability, but has NEVER been healthy enough to seize the starting job. This seemingly will be his best shot. I'd be shocked if we were told the starter before the midpoint of training camp.

--- Tommy G has this
conversation with George Winn, who is in the competitive mix with Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat for the starting running back job.

This will be a fun one to watch evolve as well and with so much talent back there, it would be hard to imagine all three not seeing significant carries in 2012.

--- Speaking with Butch this week, I broached one topic that has been swirling around in the news. The Plus-One playoff model appears closer to reality than ever before. Had such a model been around in 2009, UC would have played in a national semifinal and been one win away from the national championship.

(Sidenote: Think of all the dominoes that wouldn't have fallen had that occurred? BK likely would have stayed, no Butch Jones, what happens in 2010.....This series of events ends with your head exploding.)

Butch was non-committal on the specifics of what he'd prefer to see for the national championship, but very clear on the way he wants the rest of the postseason run.

"I like the current bowl setup," he said. "I think it's great for college football. We're the one sport where the regular season matters. Every game is a championship game. So, as long as we can keep the bowl format the way it is and the importance on the regular season I'm all for it, what they decide."

From one reporter's perspective, let's hope they decide on a four-team playoff -- and I'll take those semifinal games as home games for the top seeds as well.

--- I'm way late on this, but since it involves Mr. Cincinnati Bearcat JK Schaffer, I must include it. Here was video from his Pro Day he conducted earlier in the week at Nippert Stadium since he tweaked a hamstring during UC's official day in the bubble.

--- Also, JK's been on fire on Twitter lately, as he broke out a thank you to AD Whit Babcock yesterday.

"RT @Schaff37: Big thank you to @WhitBabcock for deciding to keep the future #Bearcats games at the #NIP. There's no better place to play college football"

Many UC fans and players agree with his assessment.

--- On that topic,
Whit and Butch both spoke about temporarily ditching games at PBS here.

Some randomness...

--- I think I found the one event I would have less a chance of winning than a Hair-Off.

--- Here's a piece documenting the life of a poker player. Having met some professional poker players, I have no idea who they don't all have ulcers.

--- Latest sign that I'm getting old: Two things I most look forward to on Sunday's? Golf and 60 Minutes. The latter had this great piece on Novak Djokovic this weekend.

--- Maybe the only reason I wish I lived in Los Angeles right now is to attend this live reading of The Big Lebowski with Seth Rogen as The Dude.

Nice varmint.

--- Sports Pickle with a great headline on the Parcells-to-Saints story. 

--- OU Bobcats fans everywhere
(including here) can only say thank you and good luck to John Groce. And whoever takes his place will have no excuse considering the talent returning.

--- Today is MC Hammer's
49th birthday. Wow, when MC Hammer turns 50, I might need to enter therapy. Until then, your crew is through and we're Too Legit Too Quit -- sang!



Munchie Looks To Make His Case

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When Butch Jones became the head football coach at Central Michigan, he didn't have to worry about finding a quarterback.  Dan LeFevour led the Chippewas to a MAC title the previous year as a redshirt freshman, and Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian helped him develop into the only quarterback in NCAA history with more than 12,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards.

When Jones left CMU for Cincinnati, he inherited quarterback Zach Collaros who had excelled in limited action the previous year as a back-up to the injured Tony Pike.  Under Jones and Bajakian, Collaros earned All-Big East honors in his two seasons as the Bearcats' starter.

That got me thinking.  As Jones prepares for his sixth season as a college head coach, is this the first time that he's held spring practice without knowing who his starting quarterback is going to be?

"That's a great question and you're the first person that has asked me that," said Jones.  "The answer is yes.  We've always had competition, but you kind of knew who the guy was going to be.  I think it makes for an exciting and extremely competitive spring."

When I attended practice this week, junior Munchie Legaux took most of the first team snaps at quarterback, but Jones says the position is up for grabs.

"Right now, Munchie is number one and I would say that Brendon Kay is 1-A," said Jones.  "Both of those individuals are doing well and competing while helping each other out.  We're bringing Patrick Coyne along as well, and you can see him starting to grow each and every day.   I've been encouraged by all of our quarterbacks, but it's still the little things, the small details - taking care of the football in the red zone, not making catastrophic mistakes - that's what it's all about."   

Munchie Legaux.jpg

The favorite to win the job would seem to be Legaux for the simple reason that he is the only candidate who has started a college game.  The Louisiana native replaced an injured Collaros in the second quarter of the West Virginia game and nearly led the Bearcats to a dramatic come-from-behind victory.  Then after struggling in his first start - a 20-3 loss at Rutgers - Legaux guided the Bearcats to back-to-back victories to end the regular season.

"The encouraging thing about Munchie is the game-speed reps that he received," said Jones.  "On top of that, he had to play in meaningful games last year, and the mark of a great quarterback is leading their team to victory on the road in a hostile environment.  He did that at Syracuse in a must-win situation against a very physical football team who dominated us the year before.  Then he came home in a must-win situation to earn a league championship against UConn."

"Being the number two guy last year, Coach Jones would always tell me that you never know when your number is going to be called and when it's called you have to respond," said Legaux.  "In that West Virginia game it was called.  I felt like I was prepared, but I wasn't ready.  I knew the offense and things like that, but when I went in, things didn't flow the way they were supposed to."

Legaux looked very comfortable at the practice that I attended this week, completing most of his intermediate passes and breaking off a couple of long runs.

"He adds another dimension to the offense," said safety Drew Frey.  "It's hard as a defensive back and you really have to be on your game because when they do zone-reads, is it a run by the running back or is a zone keep with the quarterback?  That element of surprise is going to add a lot to our offense because Munchie is not slow by any means. He's an athlete and he's shown that he has definitely worked on his throwing ability as well.  I'm excited to get the ball rolling."

"There are so many things that he brings to the table offensively," said Coach Jones.  "You can really be creative with him and put stress on the defense."

Since Legaux played wide receiver as a freshman, he's working hard at mastering the offense in his second season as a quarterback.

"I'm trying to learn the playbook inside and out, knowing the intentions of Coach Bajakian - why he's calling certain plays, what he's trying to get accomplished," said Legaux.  "Not turning the ball over, leading my team to victories.  Just being 'that guy.'  Being the leader on offense."

Leadership ability is a key element that Coach Jones will consider when choosing his next starting quarterback.

"We have some tapes of Trent Dilfer on what it is to be a quarterback that they listen to," said Jones.  "You have to be the alpha male.  You have to be the guy that's in control when you walk in the room.  You're their leader.  It can be overwhelming at times, but I think that all three of the quarterbacks are embracing the expectation that comes with that position."

"Coach Jones preaches to us every day that leadership is not a sometimes thing - it's an all the time thing," said Legaux.  "Every day you have to wake up with your mind set on how you're going to lead your team today.  I wake up saying that I'm going to have a great practice.  If the quarterback is down, then everybody is down.  I try to have energy every day and when people are down at practice, I try my best to pick them up.  That's a leader."

Does Legaux consider himself to be the front-runner in the battle to win the position?

"Yes, but you don't want to get too comfortable because somebody is always out there to take your spot," Munchie told me.  "I don't want to get too relaxed, because the guys behind me are good.  You never know, they might have a great day and I might have a bad day and the tables could turn.  So I want to come out here every day with the mentality that I'm going to be the leader and it's going to be my team.

"I'm ready.  I wish the first game was tomorrow."

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 3.29.12

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Ton of stuff going on today, so the breakfast will be extremely brief. But no worries, we have all offseason to covering these topics. We've got time.

Mick Cronin spoke with Bill Koch yesterday about the the high-octane offense he plans for next year. He hopes to run 10-11 guys every game and push up and down the floor. With one of the top point guards in the country and no consistent offense in the post of Yancy Gates caliber, plus a team of big men who run the floor extremely well, an uptempo pace would seem to be a perfect fit.

For that to happen, the crew of freshman must become more consistent and Shaq Thomas needs to contribute a Kilpatrickian redshirt freshman impact.

Most people I've talked to around the program believe he can add just that. If he does, look out. With so much talent on the perimeter, particularly in shooting the 3-pointer, as I documented in the Breakfast on Tuesday, evolving into a run-and-gun attack seems the inevitable move.

There's only one group of people beyond the players who must be happier about this development and that's the fans. Hold on to your seats next year.

Since I know you are probably devastated at the brevity of today's Breakfast, I will offer you some great news.

Ron Burgundy showed up and had a small -- aka huge -- announcement to make on Conan last night. Anchorman 2, I'll be first in line.

Bearcats Breakfast 3.28.12

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Want to open with a thanks to the good folks at CityBeat for recognizing the blog in their Best of issue, which you need to check out on newsstands or read online here.

The Staff Picks section mentioned this blog as one of the best morning sports reads in the city. Always great to know that people are taking notice and I hope all of my regular readers here feel the same way.

Of course, after the seasons UC football and basketball just enjoyed, it would be crazy to think I had all that much to do with it. I'll share credit with Mick and Butch.

Enough self-aggrandizing leads, let's eat...

--- We saw the arrival of one of the few actual news items of the offseason yesterday as the football schedule was released.

Date

Opponent

Site

Time (ET)

TV

2012

 

 

 

 

Thurs., Sept. 6

Pittsburgh

Nippert Stadium

8 p.m.

ESPN

Sat., Sept. 15

Delaware State

Nippert Stadium

TBA

TBA

Sat., Sept. 22

Open

 

 

 

Sat., Sept. 29

vs. Virginia Tech

Landover, Md.

TBA

TBA

Sat., Oct. 6

Miami (Ohio)

Nippert Stadium

TBA

TBA

Sat. Oct. 13

Fordham

Nippert Stadium

TBA

TBA

Sat., Oct. 20

at Toledo

Toledo, Ohio

TBA

TBA

Fri., Oct. 26

at Louisville

Louisville, Ky.

8 p.m.

ESPN/ESPN2

Sat., Nov. 3

Syracuse

Nippert Stadium

TBA

TBA

Sat., Nov. 10

at Temple

Philadelphia, Pa.

TBA

TBA

Sat., Nov. 17

Rutgers

Nippert Stadium

TBA

TBA

Fri., Nov. 23

USF

Nippert Stadium

TBA

ABC/ESPN/ESPN2

Sat., Dec. 1

at Connecticut

Storrs, Ct.

TBA

ABC/ESPN/ESPN2


--- The schedule features seven home games -- all at Nippert Stadium. Four games are already committed to national television, with two secured for primetime slots.

The biggest win for the fans and the program, though, is the season opener which will take place Thursday, Sept. 6, on ESPN at home against Pitt. That's how you open a season.

UC has never opened the season at home on national television during its modern resurgence and the last significant home opponent in the opener came in 2003 against top C-USA foe East Carolina.

The tough part will be watching the rest of the country open the season the weekend before while the Bearcats sit idle. Every other team in the conference will be in action the weekend of Sept. 1.

Pitt will be playing Youngstown State that Saturday, so it won't be the first time out for both teams. That could work against the Bearcats since so much improvement is made between Game 1 and 2, but we can spend all of the Fall postulating about that.

--- The highest priority of the schedule
was to bring seven home games to The Nipp. That was accomplished. But tossing in defections, lawsuits and uncertainty, it was far from an easy process.

Judging by the quotes from AD Whit Babcock and coach Butch Jones, the importance needed to be placed down and bringing seven games in front of the fan base stood at a clear No. 1.

"It was our priority to bring seven home games to Nippert Stadium this season," Babcock. "The dynamics of conference realignment made doing that a challenge, but I'm very pleased we were able to achieve this."

This from Jones:

"In the ever changing landscape of college football, scheduling has become a great challenge in itself. We are very excited about the opportunity of having seven home games in historic Nippert Stadium in front of our tremendous fan base."

--- The other point Jones brought up about the schedule was the run of 10 consecutive games to close the season. Since the team is idle the first weekend, the only bye week will come after the first two games (Sept. 22).

It's a rarity to run off that many games in a row without a break, but yet another product of the conference circus emerges.

--- Best part of the bye week, however? Two weeks to prepare for Virginia Tech. The Hokies will have played four games with UC only owning two, but VT could be a little beat up. They will be coming off a likely beatdown of Bowling Green at Lane Stadium.

--- Also, UC officially released future opponents. Much of these had already been reported, but here is the official word.

2013
Purdue
Northwestern State
@Illinois
@Miami (OH)

2014
Stony Brook
Toledo
Miami (OH)
@ Ohio State

2015
@ Miami (OH)
@ Miami (Fla.)

The concept of having one major non-conference opponent with with second and third-tier opponents trickled in worked nicely last year and appears to be the philosophy going forward. As we learned over the last few years, so much can change.

--- Beyond the schedule, was able to head out to practice yesterday hoping to do a story on backup quarterback Jordan Luallen. He broke out last year in the absence of Zach Collaros as a change-of-pace QB to complement Munchie Legaux.

Well, Jones can't keep Luallen off the field. So, he's moved him to wide receiver this spring and getting him reps learning the position. He plans on working him at both QB and WR and who knows where else once the season begins.

There was just no keeping one of his best athletes off the field anymore.

As I arrived to do the story, Bill Koch was writing a similar piece. Here it is with all the details of his position change.

What I wanted to write about was more than just Luallen's position on the field, but how he has been spending his time off of it.

Luallen spent a week during his recent spring break in Nicaragua working as part of a not-for-profit organization his father runs. He helped build a community center for kids in a poor neighborhood of the capital city of Managua. This was the third time Luallen traveled to the Central American country -- his first trip was in 2005. He plans on returning for a week as soon as classes conclude this summer.

We hear so much about the poor decisions college athletes make in their time off the field, it's refreshing to hear about the fantastic ones. And it continues to change the perspective for the senior-to-be.

"It changes your life every single time," he said. "Go to a third-world country like that and do that kind of thing, you kind of think you are going to change their lives, but really, it is so minute what you are doing for them. It is more what they are doing for you. Just seeing the love and happiness all those people have with so little, every time its mentally and emotionally draining. Coming back here and seeing how much we take for granted and how much we waste, it's just unbelievable.
"

Somebody Luallen came in contact in Nicaragua informed him he was putting himself through school and it cost $300 for five years (time to recommend this to Obama!).

The perspective gained from working on building a community center in Nicaragua was as obvious as the $12.5 million practice bubble Tuesday's interview was conducted inside.

"It makes me want to work harder," he said. "I come here and I am getting my school paid for and getting the chance to play football. I am gettign all this great stuff, you look at it and to come out here and not give everything that I have and not put everything that I have into it would just be a waste. The people down there would die for an opportunity like this."

Always liked Luallen, even before finding out about this. Funny guy who made the most of his opportunity on the field. Impossible not to like, respect and root for him after finding out this information.

--- Andrea Adelson talked about filling JK Schaffer's shoes this spring at MLB. \

--- Andrea also sees TE Adrien Robinson as a fourth-round selection. His numbers at Pro Day were off the charts and his timing is impeccable in the wake of New England riding Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to an AFC Championship.

--- UC officially announced the addition of Shannon Morrison as cornerbacks coach. He spent the last two years at Memphis. Tommy G caught up with the coach learning on the fly at practice Tuesday.

--- Randomness....

--- The plight of Browns fans continues to take on an incredibly entertaining element. The only thing missing is a Ryan Pontbriand jersey.

--- Lollapalooza rumors.

--- How to rise from waitressing to the New York Times. Very similar to my rise from Waffle House aficionado to GoBearcats.com.

--- The sad string of layoffs and buyouts at The Enquirer continue with Howard Wilkinson and Michael Keating. Sad.

--- So, uh, Mega Millions is up to $476 million. That's a big number.

--- Some music today from The Hold Steady as a shout out to my former boss at CNati.com C. Trent Rosecrans who is beaming today as two of his favorite things converged: Baseball and Japan.



'Cats and crawfish

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Now that March Madness is over (other than hoping Louisville finds a way to stop the Big Blue Crew of one-and-doners) I took some time to hit the Sheakley Athletic Center for a little spring football.

I was able to see Dennis Janson, one of the classiest guys around in the media who always has great stories and I was able to update fellow Springsteen fan Dan Hoard on the recent shows I saw.

Plus, I'm a little odd.  I just like hanging around football practice.

This week, I tried out the new Iphone's video feature to check in with the current No. 1 quarterback Munchie Legaux.  Some of the information you may know, some you may not.  What I do know is that he has a mature presence about him and he certainly looks ready to be in charge.

I'll let Munchie fill you in on the rest....


OK, upon further review, the audio doesn't appear great, so maybe I'll stick to my small HD cam.  However, Munchie's still worth listening to so hang with it if you can.  I'll inform my IT staff of any difficulties and file a full report in the morning ;)

Bearcats Breakfast 3.27.12

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The Big East football schedules will be released at noon today and we'll have a look at the slate for 2012. UC announced their final addition to the non-conference yesterday as they added FCS opponent Fordham. They are the second FCS opponent on what will be a seven-game home schedule.

Nobody inside the Athletics offense really wanted to play a second FCS school, but the timing of the conference shakeup forced many schools to make decisions they didn't want to. UC is beyond playing a one-game payday game at a Florida State or Missouri. As Whit Babcock told Bill Koch in yesterday's post, none of the details worked out to make a better game happen.

I talked to Whit about it about a month ago and the sense was an incredibly difficult process trying to make all the pieces fit as the dominoes started to fall on who would officially be staying/leaving in conference play.

I'll jump more into the schedule tomorrow after the full release comes out today, but leave it at that for now.

Let's eat...

--- Now that we've officially
digested the conclusion of the 2011-12 basketball season I want to take a look at how far players who will play a major role next year came along this campaign.

There are sure to be a number of early polls ranking teams for next season once the Final Four concludes this weekend. I'd expect UC to own a spot in most of them. What does that mean? Well, if you didn't learn from this year that preseason polls mean garbage (and so do in-season and postseason, for that matter) then you haven't really been paying attention.

Also take into account when worrying about UC in the polls that two voters in the AP didn't vote for Anthony Davis as First Team All-American. The end.

This team, however, will deserve to be in the conversation.

--- Remember last year when we talked about all the offense returning for the Bearcats. Their four top scorers were back. A majority of their possessions used were all returning. SK expected more minutes. However, there were six freshmen who needed to be mixed into the rotation.

I'd argue next year the quality of play and retention will be even better.

Of course, we must jump into the KenPom stats to fully understand the debate.

--- Last year, UC brought back their top four players in terms of percentage of possessions used on offense. SK didn't play more minutes than Rashad Bishop, but when he was in the game -- he was there to score. In fact, from 2011 to 2012 his percentage of possessions used offensively went down almost five percent as he became much more selective in when to look for his shot since he spent more time on the floor.

(Key: Min %= percentage of total minutes played; Offensive Rating; %Possessions used offensively while in game; eFG%=FG% taking into account extra points for 3s; Free Throw %, 3-point %, Percentage of possessions with an Assist; percentage of possessions with a turnover)

Sean Kilpatrick
Year  Min%  Off Rat   %Poss   eFG%   FT%  3pt%  ASrate  TOrate

2011 51.2%    112.4     24.2%    52.5%  72%  37.7%   16.2%   15.3%
2012 85.1%    114.9     20.5%    53.5%  75%  37.6%   13.0%   13.3%             

--- Some wondered how SK
would handle a more important role in the offense this year and not only did he handle playing a full 34 percent more minutes per game well, he improved in almost every major offensive category.

And while there are not specific statistics for defensive prowess outside of his steal percentage (which moved from 2.3 to 2.4 -- essentially identical), nobody can deny SK was a much, much better defender this year than last.

--- Most would assume SK was a much better 3-point shooter this year compared with last, but in actuality, he just fired off many more. He shot 245 3s this year compared with 122 last year.

But how different was his style of play? There is an assumption out there that his game became overly reliant on the 3-pointer, whereas that diagnosis could be a product of seeing him on the floor so much more.

Taking his minutes played into account that means last year he shot a 3-pointer once every 5.9 minutes. This year he fired one up every 5.2 minutes. Bottom line: If SK played a 30-minute game with his freshman year self, he'd have shot five 3-pointers. If he played with his sophomore year self, he'd have shot six.

Remember, his percentage from deep was nearly identical -- and 37.6 is a respectable number.

Much difference? Negligible. In fact, probably warranted.

--- Most important, his essential FG percentage (which takes 3s into account) went up a percentage point, his offensive rating went up two points and his turnover rate when down from 15.3 percent to 13.3 percent.

Outside of contributing fewer assists, he took a significant step forward in his expanded role.

--- Let's take a look at the numbers of Cashmere Wright.

Cashmere Wright
Year  Min%  Off Rat   %Poss   eFG%   FT%  3pt%  ASrate  TOrate

2011 63.3%    105.3     22.3%    48.3%  74%  35.2%   31.5%   22.9%
2012 77.1%    105.1     22.1%    49.6%  67%  37.1%   30.0%   20.2%

In his junior season, his numbers looked very similar to his sophomore campaign. The only major differences being his field goal percentages and offensive impact increased.

He hit a higher percentage of his 3-pointers which accounted for the increased eFG%.

He turned the ball over almost 3 percent less. That number may not seem like much, but for a point guard who handles the ball as much as he does, that number holds serious weight.

And those numbers he produced this year in taking care of the ball vs. distributing for teammates was among the best in college basketball.

For example, let's take a look at the assist and turnover percentages of the point guards in the Final Four.

Player, School: Assist/Turnover
Peyton Siva, Louisville: 35.9%/29.4%
Marquis Teague, UK: 25.6%/24.1%
Aaron Craft, OSU: 24.8%/24.0%
Tyshawn Taylor, KU: 29.3/22.3%
CASHMERE WRIGHT, UC: 30.0%/20.2%

(Sidenote: How important was Kendall Marshall? Arguably the country's best PG finished the year at 45.1%/27.1%. Wow.)

--- Cash owned the lowest turnover rate of any of these point guards that maneuvered their team to the biggest stage in college basketball during a month won and lost by their position.

Only Peyton Siva assisted on a higher percentage, but when you take into account how often he turned it over, the advantage flips to Cash.

Ideally, Mick Cronin would love to see Wright's assist percentage rise to somewhere around the 35 percent Siva achieves while holding onto the ball at a similar rate, but he's already performing at an elite level nationally and I'd place him in the conversation for preseason second team Big East next season.

--- I could also take a statistical look at the player everybody knows will run away with Most Improved this season: JaQuon Parker. I won't, because anybody watched even a minute of UC basketball with Park on the floor this year knows his worth and exponential improvement.

If you are thirsting, I'll give you these two nuggets: His offensive rating rose from 73.6 to 108.3. His eFG% from 21.4 to 47.1.

Remarkable.

With Cash, SK and Parker at the guard positions next year and even showing the same level of improvement from this year again next season, UC will have one of the premier guard trios in college basketball. Period.

--- Along those same lines, one last bit of statistical analysis I found interesting that will be telling regarding the team's personality next year.

UC will be returning four players who shot at least 37 percent from 3-point range with at least 30 attempts this season.

Sean Kilpatrick: 92 of 245/37.6%
Cashmere Wright: 63 of 170/37.1%
JaQuon Parker: 26 of 70/37.1%
Jeremiah Davis III: 12 of 31/38.7%

Nobody in the Big East make that same statement. In fact, only two three teams even enter the debate.

Along those guidelines of returning players hitting 37 percent from deep with at least 30 attempts here is the list of Big East teams:

3: Pittsburgh (Woodall, Patterson, Johnson), DePaul (Crockett, Clahar, Morgan)
2: Seton Hall (Edwin, Cosby)
1: Louisville, Syracuse, USF, Providence, WVU, UConn, ND
0: Nova, Marquette, St. John's, Rutgers

That's right, about a third of the league returns one or zero players who hit 37 percent or better from deep.  That will be a lot of pressure on significant shooting improvement (relatively rare) or freshman stepping in and filling it up (unlikely to have more than one or two do that).

UC should enter next season as the premier 3-point shooting team in the conference. So, everyone who complained about how many 3-pointers UC shot this season may want to buckle up because the path to success next year will be more of the same in that category.

Randomness...

--- Chris Paul tossed another
ridiculous alley-oop to Blake Griffin last night. This is not a shock. However, I drove to Indy with a buddy to see the Pacers-Clippers game last week and didn't see one lob dunk to Griffin. In fact, the Clips jogged up and down the floor for 48 minutes as the Pacers did everything they wanted to other than put Lance Stephenson in the game. Am I bitter? Absolutely.

--- A Twitter follower pointed out my question about how many teams lost to the defending champion the last two years while playing their best basketball had an obvious answer: Butler. Yep, that's pretty obvious. Although, I can only say I wasn't thinking about it in terms of advancing to the championship, rather watching teams make a run after beating you. But, point taken and well played, @Harishsvemuri.

--- Jimmy Kimmel will host the Emmy's. I can get behind that.

--- Allen High School's football team in Texas is getting an absurdly large new home.

--- If you do something as a parent that forces and egg hunt cancellation, you probably need to scale back the act.

--- Zeppelin. Because
every day needs some.



Observation Deck

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After having a few days to reflect on one of the most successful and challenging seasons in Bearcats hoop history I am left with the following observations as I look ahead to next year.

Mick Cronin can coach and motivate players. I know I have said this before but I am more stating the obvious for those who have had trouble letting go of unfounded criticism of the coach. He has rebuilt; won; gone to back to back NCAA tournaments; advance to the Sweet 16 and maintained the integrity of the University and the athletic program. I hope that no matter where this team ends up next year, you don't ignore these past two years and the groundwork he put in to reestablish this program. More high school recruits are taking notice as well as the national basketball circle.

Observation number 2: Yancy Gates had a successful career at UC. He benchmarked his 4 years with a Big East Finals appearance and a Sweet 16 stamp of approval. Did he dominate the way many of us thought he would? No; not in the way we hoped but he did in other ways. I saw him leading on the floor and on the bench communicating with his teammates. Taking a chance on a university when he had the option to go to a college with a winning program and a veteran coach. He wanted to be part of the turnaround and was. Any excitement you had during this run in the NCAA tournament started when people saw the best player stay home and buy in.

Observation number 3: A large majority of fans came back. After the first of the year, UC averaged over 10K fans per game and the visiting team and broadcasters could tell the difference. Even the players noticed, and that makes them more attractive for those nationally televised games that bring notoriety and other benefits to UC and the city of Cincinnati. What a statement you made about backing your team and they need you now more than ever.

Observation number 4: The Big East is still the Big East. With the departure of West Virginia and the pending departure of Pitt and Syracuse this conference can still lay claim to being one the premiere basketball conferences in the country. It still has brand value and add to that Madison Square Garden, the basketball Mecca, will still be the home of one of the few conference tournaments that actually have a full house during its post season. I know some of the new additions aren't sexy and located in metropolitan areas but they will benefit from the affiliation in their recruiting as well. The reality is UC has a chance ironically to sit atop the conference in football and basketball with Coach Cronin and Coach Jones maintaining their consistency of effort within their programs.

Observation number 5: The Women's basketball program is slowly but surely gaining ground as a player in the Big East and basketball in general. While many of you were caught up in the men's run and rightfully so, Jamelle Elliott is putting pieces in place every chance she gets; and their NIT appearance, first round win and marked improvement are reaffirmations she was the right hire. I hope they can now solve the dilemma that plagues so many women's programs and that's getting people to the games. I have no doubt she will not rest until this team can look the UConn's and Tennessee's of the world in the eye and play on par.

My final observation: The athletic department seems to be in great hand with Whit Babcock. My conversations with him and my conversation with others where his name surfaces have yielded the same responses: very sincere and is genuinely interested in the people who run the programs and how collectively they can make the athletic department better. His presence in the stands at games, at various events and low-key approach certainly allows him angles of understanding many could potentially miss in leadership positions. I think he will grow the program the right way and I hope Cincinnati welcomes his family accordingly.

I am looking forward to the next chapters of sports in UC athletics and all that comes with it including baseball, track and field, golf, Lacrosse, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, cross country and soccer.

It's one for all and all for the Paw! 

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

Bearcats Breakfast 3.26.12

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Can't help but wonder after watching OSU dispose of Syracuse on Saturday if UC didn't lose to the eventual national champion for the second season in a row. (Of course, then you watch UK and realize that's probably not the case)

When Deshaun Thomas plays the type of offense he has this tournament, that team is tough to beat. As Bearcats fans know all too well. Not sure when the last time a team lost to the eventual champs two years in a row would be and I hope none of you are concerned enough that you want me to look it up, but can't believe it happens very often -- particularly to a team playing as well as UC was each of the last two seasons.

Yet, I digress and so should you.

Let's eat...

--- How about the Big East? Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about the history of winning the Big East tournament and what that championship means for the Big Dance purposes? Oh, you don't? I'm saddened at your lack of dedication to my blog stats.

Anyway, thanks to Louisville's run, the Big East tournament champ has advanced to the Final Four each of the last three years (WVU, UConn, Louisville). They have advanced to at least the Elite Eight, five of the last six years.

For those who discount the importance of conference tournaments, they can chew on those numbers for a second.

--- Trying to place into perspective the concept of a rivalry game as big as UK-UL at the Final Four and can't come up with a proper perspective. Maybe UNC-Duke, but in most years if that were to happen it would be the third or, more likely, the fourth time the teams play that year.

UC-Xavier would be a fair comparison -- at least in any other year but this one where the convergence of brawl storylines might have created a paradox that forced I-275 to form a giant sinkhole and swallow the city whole.

There aren't many more the basketball history and passion like these two. They play once a year in the non-conference and toss in the Pitino-Cal factor and the dislike runs deep.

I would place this as high up the rivalry food chain as it gets for this level. Will make for intriguing television.

--- For those of you hoping to attend the final Mick Cronin Radio Show tonight at Montgomery Inn, it will be canceled since Mick is taping the State Farm Tournament Coaches' Show in Chicago. The show will air on Fox Sports and Comcast regional networks this week.

--- Chad Brendel takes a closer look back and analyzes UC's team needs going forward. I'll delve deeper into some of these topics later in the week, but this is a great overview of where the program sits heading into next year.

--- Wow, it's been a while since
I've searched the Internettings for Bearcats news and came back empty-handed. Yet another reality check in why that lose to OSU stings. Remember, though, only three weeks until Bearcat Bowl VI and Fan Fest on April 14 at Nippert Stadium.

--- Some randomness...

--- Got to love the honesty of Greg Popovich turning in his lineup card last night with the listing of "Did Not Dress: Tim Duncan -- Old."

And obviously this blogger was instructed to find the oldest looking picture of Tim Duncan on the Internet, please.

--- I always knew computers would take over the world and destroy us, but I didn't know they would provide me with delicious tacos in the process.

--- Steve Blake's defensive
"effort" here describes the first three quarters of every NBA regular season game in one symbolic motion.

--- A man scaled the 52-story
New York Times building claiming he wanted a copy of the newspaper. He was arrested and taken for psyciatric testing. It once again proves that the only people who care about the print edition of newspapers anymore must be evaluated for a mental disorder.

--- Hey, Radiohead at Riverbend is only a few months away. Here's an acoustic version of Creep along with a fun experience in Flash.

Not an obituary, but a celebration

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celebrationAIR.jpgThe Bearcats ran into a great team playing great on Thursday night. Consequently, the best run of the Mick Cronin era and as good as this program witnessed in 16 years came to an end.

Mick said he'd been warned by some of his friends that he was setting himself up for failure by his comments saying that he was trying to win the national championship.

"First of all, I believe we can or I wouldn't say it," Cronin said. "Second of all, I am so worried about these guys on TV saying you have no chance."


Very few gave this team a chance. As the bubble lingered into February and brawl hung over this team every step of the way, they were nothing but a fight and an empty non-conference schedule.

By the time the final horn blew Thursday night in Boston, UC racked up as many wins against Top 25 foes as anybody in the country, earned their first double bye, advanced to the championship game of the Big East tournament for the first time in history and out of the first weekend for the first time in 11 years.

SKGeorgia.jpgThe few non-believers still watching the bandwagon from the outside looking in jumped on with a smile on their face as Cronin improved the program for the sixth consecutive year and performed one of the greatest coaching jobs amid adversity in the recent history of the sport.

The fan base created "the toughest home court advantage" Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he'd faced all year. Once again, Fifth Third Arena didn't feel like the "good ole days."

It felt better.

Sean Kilpatrick showed a glimpse of a career that by the time it finishes could go down as one of the greatest in the history of UC basketball. A group of six freshmen moved from the reason for losing to contributors to winning.
 
Parker flex.jpgJustin Jackson's mean face become one of the most beloved expressions of anger since the days of D'Juan Baker. Cashmere Wright morphed into the point guard and leader capable of winning championships in March. JaQuon Parker taught a lesson to kids everywhere in how far hard work and toughness can take somebody.

Simultaneously, those four built expectations for a 2012-13 season where reality now suggests they should be back at this same stage in 365 days.

Dion Dixon crossed the 1,000-point scoring mark during a career some were unsure would survive 2009 at Madison Square Garden.

Yancy Gates concluded a four-year career spent in the spotlight delivering on his potential. He exposed his soul to us two days after the brawl in December and allowed us all to embrace his smile in March.

YancyMickLaugh.jpgThe highlights of this season could double as a training video for the proper way to play basketball: With heart, hustle, confidence and a refusal to lose.

And the coach responsible for leading it all wants to be this university's version of Jim Boeheim.

On Thursday night, DeShaun Thomas hit shots for a team with a reputation for occasionally missing them and Aaron Craft showed why he's the best defensive player in basketball. A great team playing great made for a bad night in Clifton, but the invigorated fan base and prominent rise of the program continued their winning streak.

There's no way to look back on this season with any feeling other than a sense of accomplishment. They earned it. And brought all of us along for the ride.

The University of Cincinnati basketball program fully regained notoriety, respect and admiration in a season featuring its lowest moment.

Yeah, the end was disappointing, but the journey celebrated all the things that make college sports great. And those memories of the 2011-12 UC Bearcats will always elicit a smile. 

Constructing the will to win

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The Bearcats undeniable will to win played out in the NCAA tournament's opening weekend, but it was built through the vision of Mick Cronin.

CINCINNATI - Dion Dixon lay in the lane, writhing in pain after suffering a blow in the back. The pain never stopped him from a second effort for the loose ball, of course.

Cashmere Wright, fighting nagging knee injuries which limited his minutes down the stretch, skids around a defender for one of five steals to extend his all-time, single-season UC mark in the category to 74.

DixonHurt.jpg

Sean Kilpatrick, moments after Florida State guard Luke Loucks answered a 3-point shot, pulled up without hesitation in traffic to bury another with a cold-blooded, fearless focus.

In a game defined by the height of the Seminoles, 6-foot-3 JaQuon Parker somehow shook 11 rebounds out of the trees.

These performances defined these Cincinnati Bearcats as much as they did the Round of 32 win later dubbed, "World War III," by Mick Cronin. Yet, the road from bubble to Boston was littered with moments of hustle, grit, resiliency and unrelenting refusal to lose. Night after night, they played on a loop.

In seven of the last nine games, one possession separated the teams in the final two minutes. Only one of those nine opponents weren't among 68 to hear their name called on Selection Sunday (Villanova) and four are still alive. Only a blowout of Marquette and four-point deficit in the in the final minutes against Louisville break the trend.

Of the seven games within one shot of flipping from ecstasy to agony the Bearcats emerged 6-1.

Talent takes teams to the brink of victory, the will to win at all costs earns it.

Coaches across the country desire this characteristic. Few find it. Most of them are still playing this weekend. None owe more to it than the Bearcats.

These traits didn't evolve by chance or by virtue of a fight. They were carefully molded through the vision of a head coach.

"I tell guys all the time, if you don't want problems don't recruit them and if you don't want guys that don't play hard, don't recruit them," Cronin said.

In a college basketball world of one-and-done McDonald's All-Americans, those who are attempting to rise to the top of the recruiting food chain place as much importance on desire and demeanor as jams and jumpers.

Of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, 11 sport a member of the prestigious high school all-star game on their roster. UC has none.

Such is not to say they start inferior talent. Only, their talent fits a specific profile defined by their head coach. Lazy superstars not welcome here. Grind or go home.

"You got to try to find guys that play hard because what you are trying to get in your style," Cronin said. "Then again, you can't always get who you want. It becomes a game of cat and mouse."

Cronin would love to find the perfect combination of mental toughness and offensive skill, but when building a program from rubble those aren't exactly low-hanging fruit. At some point in time you're picking one trait and hoping to develop the other. Picking potential talent over toughness can be done with a few, but a strong contingent of tough guys must be present for Cronin to feel comfortable with the mental makeup of his group.

Parkerbattle.jpg

With Justin Jackson and Parker, the effort and fearless nature of their basketball personality was the known quantity. One recruiting trip to the Virginia state tournament proved that about Parker.

"It was real clear when he shut down DeShawn Painter in the low post, whose 6-foot-9, plays for NC State, that he was a man," Cronin said. One second watching Jackson play tells even the most uninformed viewer of his passion for play.

It's not always so easy, though.

"You try to find that, but that's the hardest thing to find," he said. "The problem is we do so much of our recruiting off summer basketball where nobody cares who wins in most of the games because they play too many games. Kids go to Orlando now for two weeks and there are two consecutive tournaments and we complain that they are not playing hard but we are tired of watching them. Imagine how tired they are of playing in those games - four AAU games a day."

With this group, the journey to creating a team which thrives and looks forward to outworking teams to the final seconds came in development during this season and not as much on the recruiting trail. Pundits point to the fight against Xavier, but a closer look exposed the ghosts of the 2011 senior class.

"That was the metamorphosis of our team," Cronin said. "It had nothing to do with a fight, it was Yancy, Cash, SK and Dion, those four guys. Those four guys had to change their basketball personality. Their basketball personality was offensive player - and good offensive player. Because we lose five guys that had a defensive personality. Those guys had to change their basketball personality or we weren't going to win."

They did. And they have.

"Coach Cronin just keep telling us: defense wins," Wright said. "Even though at first I think we was more worried about our our offense, he told us we are not going to win games because of our offense. The better defense we play the easier its going to be to win. We just bought into it."

Consequently, they created a team that prides itself on hustle and fully believes no matter who the opponent or how poor the shot percentage, they can win out of sheer will.

Miss 20 3-point shots against Marquette? Win going away.

Shoot 2 of 21 from deep against Georgetown and face a double-digit deficit in the Big East tournament? Win in double overtime.

Face a Texas avalanche and disappearance of a 19-point second-half lead in the opening game of the NCAA tournament? Survive with six consecutive points under the game's most intense spotlight.

Then, there was the war of wills against Florida State. A win built on fight and hustle.

UC expects the same in the Sweet 16 on Thursday against Ohio State and their five McDonald's All-Americans. It's all they know.

"We know we are not going to blow everybody out," Wright said. "We know every game we are not going to shoot well but we know one thing you can control and that's what you bring every day. That is hard energy, play all out leave it all on the floor."

No Binoculars Needed

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The UC Bearcats began the season ranked 21st in the country, but after eight games, Cincinnati appeared more likely to play in the CBI than the NCAAs.

Mick upset (239x465).jpg

"We were so far from the NCAA Tournament that we couldn't see it with binoculars," said head coach Mick Cronin.

Here is Cincinnati's resume after eight games (with opponent's final RPI rating):

Wins:  Alabama St. (308), Jacksonville St. (220), Northwestern St. (217), Miami (248), and Georgia (100).

Losses:  Presbyterian (245), Marshall (43), Xavier (41).             

That's how things looked on December 11th.  Oh yeah, the Bearcats had also just been in a little brawl that you might have heard about.

"I told the staff that we have to forget about anything other than practice today," said Cronin.

While Mick knew that the season was on the verge of spiraling down the drain, he never shared that fear with his players.

"I didn't want my players thinking that we were dead in the water and you can't have them panicking," Mick told me.  "They had enough pressure on them at that point of the season."

But the players don't live in a hermetically sealed vault.  They knew how bleak things looked.

"We knew that our backs were against the wall," said Cashmere Wright.  "Either your season goes downhill, or you go after what you want."

Coach Cronin was able to turn the season around by relying on lessons learned during his first few years on the job.

"The one thing you learn when you rebuild a program is that you just have to control today," said Cronin.  "You can't worry about February in December.  On December 11th, you have to worry about December 11th.  If your leader is worried about other things, than the players are going to worry about other things.  You have to worry about the things that you can control, work hard, stay positive, and block out outside influences.  That's how you improve."

SK celebrates (550x366).jpg

Since the Xavier loss - and brawl - the Bearcats have gone 21-7 with eight wins over Top 25-ranked opponents.  Statistically, their biggest improvement has been on offense where the Bearcats have gone from averaging 62 points to 70 points, but Coach Cronin says a commitment to playing defense saved their season.

"That was the metamorphosis of our team," said Cronin.  "It had nothing to do with a fight.  It was Yancy, Cash, SK, and Dion - those four guys had to change their basketball personality.  Their basketball personality was offense player - and good offensive player.  We lost five (seniors) that had a defensive personality.  Those four guys had to change their basketball personality or we weren't going to win.  And it took time to do that.  We were soft early in the year."

Gates block (415x465).jpg

"Coach Cronin kept telling us that defense wins," said Wright.  "Early on I think we were more worried about our offense, but he told us that we're not going to win games because of our offense.  The better we play on defense, the easier the game is going to get.  We just bought into it."

As a result, the Bearcats are one of 16 teams still alive in the tournament.  That's the NCAA Tournament and not the NIT, CBI, or CIT.

"I was always confident because of the players that we have - even off the court - everyone on this team is competitive and I always had it in my mind that we weren't going to let the season slip out of our hands," said Sean Kilpatrick.  "We are a lot stronger than that."

"We just figured that sooner or later it was going to click," said Wright.  "The core group that we had from last year to this year is totally different.  We went from seniors to a lot of freshman, so we really didn't jell that well at first.  But we knew that the more and more that we played together, we were going to get better.  We kept grinding and knew the goal that we wanted to accomplish this year."

The goal now is to survive and advance against the heavily-favored Ohio State Buckeyes.  If any team is prepared for the win-or-go-home crucible of March Madness, it is Cincinnati.

"We've been in must-win games since December 14th at Wright State," said Coach Cronin.

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

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

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

Speaking of young Sam, here's a recent photo of a very happy Bearcats fan.

Sam Bearcat shirt.jpg

Bearcats Breakfast 3.21.12

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Do you remember what was going on in your life December 10? I remember wondering if the Bengals would fade down the stretch and if Dalton to Green was enough to will them to victories against quality teams and into the playoffs.

I remember dreading the worst of the winter being in front of us and buying a brand new snow shovel to make sure I wasn't re-enacting "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" in my driveway this year.

I remember thinking there was no way Zach Collaros would play another game as a Bearcat with his ankle injury.

I remember being frustrated the Reds weren't making any moves in the offseason.

I remember Rick Perry having a legitimate shot at the Republican nomination.

I remember thinking LMFAO had a likeable quality to them might not get old for a while.

Four months later, nearly all of those statements are frivolous, unwarranted and owning no connection to the current state of reality. Yet, for the Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team, every play, every win, every milestone reached has been forced to reconnect back to that day. All of the growing, evolving and learning which occurred over the last four months automatically connects back to that day in the eyes of us media types.

Was it a watershed day for this season? Absolutely. Mick Cronin admitted as much in the weeks following. Was it the reason they are in Boston today preparing to play Ohio State in the Sweet 16? Partially. Many other reasons exist as to why, which are all politely swept under the rug so the sexy, violent headline can attract the clicks.

The return and emergence of JaQuon Parker, the team's attitude toward defense, the offensive philosophy, the success of the 2-3 zone, the mentality of a basketball team that night after night willed itself to victories, the confidence of advancing to the Big East tournament championship.

We're all guilty of it. I'm guilty of it. But to keep pigeonholing the Cincinnati Bearcats team as the product of a fight needs to disappear quicker than school bands playing "Party Rock Anthem."

How often do the Bearcats hear about it these days?

"Every time we do media," Yancy Gates said.

The repetitive questioning can be frustrating. The latest symptom of that ugly day, I suppose. Frustrating nonetheless.

"Because we've moved on from it," Sean Kilpatrick said.

For months, the fight hasn't been a part of this team's charge, nor their development. That's why Cronin wasn't talking about it in Nashville. He viewed the narrative as a misguided storyline.

"It's because we don't even think about it," Gates said. "We just are out playing. After a win (the media) try to make it out as if we didn't have that fight we wouldn't be where we were now and it's the reason we are playing so good is because of that. Really, the reason we are playing good is just because we are playing good. We figured it out. That's what makes it so annoying."


Though many will -- and we can choose not to read, watch or listen -- I'd challenge all of us, published or otherwise, to stop insisting the fight was the primary reason this team turned its season around. It served as the axis, but wasn't solely responsible for the rotation.

Let's eat...

--- I just wrote the above diatribe then read Mike DeCourcy's much more eloquent assessment of the same concept. But he doesn't reference LMFAO, so I've got him on that. Read this.

--- More from Mike talking about the East Region.



--- Speaking of media creations, let's talk about the history of UC-OSU and how it will affect Thursday. I loved Mick Cronin's response when asked why the two teams don't play:

"You're asking the wrong guy," he said. "That's a fairly well-documented story that I really don't have any interest in. As you can see I'm losing my voice. Buzz (Williams) told me to be careful and he lost his. So, I'm trying to save it for stuff that matters."


And this clearly doesn't matter. As Thad Matta said yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch, the two teams playing again appears "highly unlikely."

Even a local kid like Gates doesn't feel extra zest with the Buckeyes as the opponent. Not because he doesn't enjoy the backstory or feel a rivalry with the school viewing themselves as a national brand a few miles up the road, rather, the stage overwhelms that motivation.

"Maybe if it had been a regular season game," he said of the rivalry putting extra emphasis on the win. "Because it is the tournament, it's just another game in front of us trying to get down to New Orleans."


--- Rob Oller of the Dispatch comments on the "rivalry."

--- If you haven't listened to yesterday's Roundtable Podcast with Mo Egger, Tommy G, and myself you are really missing out. Plenty of storylines, including where the win against Florida State ranked among the most important historically. I think it's the biggest since 1992 when you talk about placing a rebuilding program on an elite level.

Mo makes a valid argument for some of the games at the end of last season and even the win against Syracuse in the BET. Without those, this might not have happened. The beauty of this argument is there aren't any wrong answers. Well, unless you said you were truly inspired by the win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

--- Cronin raved about OSU's Deshaun Thomas at yesterday's presser. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer delved into the concept.

Cronin thinks he's been the key to the Buckeyes season. Over the last 10 games he's averaging 20.2 points and 7.7 rebounds.

Yes, he's a 6-foot-7, sophomore forward who can pop out, drive, post and do most anything on a basketball floor, what most impressed Mick was his aggression on the boards.
"He's a great offensive rebounder," he said. "Obviously, Jared (Sullinger) is. I knew Deshaun Thomas was a great talent, but I didn't know how hard he rebounded the offensive end."

He's averaging 3.4 offensive boards over the last 10 games.

--- Sweet 16 Haiku previews!

--- Yahoo! on the strong finish to Gates' career.

--- Wanted to share this commentary from Mick on being a college coach in an area with so many storied programs. The way it ends should make Bearcats fans everywhere feel great about the state of program:

"It's a tough area to be a college basketball coach because of who you are surrounded by for all of us," he said. "When you are in a big city and you have different universities there are a lot of allegiances. I also know that they are not going to change the name of the city. So, we are the University of Cincinnati and there are a lot of people that have a lot of pride in our program whether they went here or not. We are trying to gain our fans as much as we can possibly gain our fans. It's a different dynamic than a college town having been at a college town, having been at Louisville and at Murray State. But I wouldn't trade it. I'm where I want to be."

--- Cashmere Wright with a classic response when asked if he would be able to handle the disruptive defensive nature of Ohio State's Aaron Craft.

He gave a confident look and smile, then succinctly stated, "We'll see."

Good stuff. That will be one of the best matchups of the tournament, IMO.

--- One more day to Thursday. Man is this going to be fun. Probably the equivalent of listening to this song, only lasting for two hours.


Game on (again)

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It's been 10 long years, and I couldn't be more proud.

And, in full disclosure, I wasn't there to see it this time. (My two oldest perused Broadway in Nashville in my absence.)

Yeah, I missed UC's tournament games to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
bruce-a.jpg

Conflicted by two of my major interests in life, I chose the E Street Shuffle.  In all fairness though, when I bought the tickets to go to Atlanta and Greensboro, there were no assurances UC would be in the tournament and if I could have predicted such I would be on CBS or ESPN.

I also had to coach my sixth-grader on that Saturday, so it just wasn't in the cards for me to go to Music City.

Fortunately, Music City was in the cards for the Bearcats as Mick Cronin and company hooked the 'Horns and tomahawked the 'Noles.

I enjoyed the Friday afternoon off watching UC torment Texas. Sunday, Mr. Springsteen was kind enough to end his final encore at Philips Arena in Atlanta quick enough for me to go to an establishment next door and watch the second half (among some rowdy Seminole fans).

In the end, my red UC hat was being noticed, as were my C-Paw shirts I packed.  I was being congratulated for a game that I had nothing to do with, but it felt good for fans in the Southland to "recognize the C" again.

I even ate some barbecue in Greensboro, across from ACC headquarters, where I was tempted to find some spray paint to add a "UC" to the FSU Chief Osceola logo.  Fueled by a couple of sweet teas, I even thought about storming in and asking them how they figured Syracuse and Pitt fit in with their league, but my wife instructed me to mind my manners.

All I can say, is Dion Dixon's steal and lay-up that put the Bearcats up two in the final minutes is as memorable a play now as the "Fletch to Kenyon to Melvin" dunk against Duke, or the DerMarr Johnson bucket in the improbable win over DePaul years ago.

Instant classic.

10 years ago, I was in San Diego as UC made it's last Sweet 16.  They beat BYU and then Kent State to earn the right to play Stanford and Casey Jacobson in Anaheim.  Somewhere in between, one of our JUCO forwards (Antwan Jones) went AWOL in San Diego, and I don't think anyone's heard from him since.

That was a different time. This is a new time.

Ditto for the game against Ohio State.  In the first year under head coach Mick Cronin, the Buckeyes were gracious enough to give us a game when they had Greg Oden and a squad full of NBA players.  Not surprisingly, with the likes of  "Hurricane" Ron Allen and future Houston Texan Connor Barwin guarding Oden, UC was thumped. (On the upside, Barwin made Sports Illustrated with a picture of him guarding the oldest-looking college student since Granville Waiters.)
ucohiostate.jpg
(Thanks to Associated Press/Rivals/Yahoo)

Before that, Ohio State had successfully ducked UC since losing to them in back-to-back years for the NCAA championship.

That was a different time.  This is a new time.

There's no backing down or buying out now.

Game on (again).

Episode 11: Inside the Bearcats Podcast

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The Sweet 16 Edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast takes felt the bar being raised around the program, so we decided to step it up a notch with a full on roundtable of UC media titans. I mean titans in the form that my St. Susanna elementary school football team that didn't win a game in my two years there were the Titans.

Mo Egger of ESPN1530 and Tom Gelehrter of UC New Media and Broadcasting joined me as we looked back at the road to the Sweet 16, discussed the unhealthy habits unearthed watching the win against Florida State, what needs to happen to beat OSU and what will be Dan Hoard's magical culinary tour of his former hometown in Boston this week.

If you are following the UC basketball team and you don't listen to this podcast, you should probably turn in your Bearcats foam finger.

Here's the breakdown of the pod for your listening pleasure. A big thanks again to Tommy G and Mo for joining me. Remember to follow Tommy in Boston at UC's Tournament Central and follow Mo's blog over at ESPN1530. And, of course, keep clicking back to my blog here all week for plenty more as the Bearcats play on.

Enjoy.

Minutes 1-5: Deciphering why sitting around a stool shouldn't warrant calling this the Stool Podcast, Mo's love/hate relationship with his Gatorade bottle and other experiences from Sunday night.

5-10: Rehashing the bloodbath that was FSU-UC, what it was like to witness it in live and the some of the rare contributions.

12-17: Where does the win against Florida State rank in the big picture among the biggest in modern UC history?

17-20: The effect of the six other teams in the region winning on the importance of the game to the fan base.

20-24: How these two teams not playing sits with both fan bases and why Greg Oden will one day tell his kids he guarded Connor Barwin.

24-27: The expectations for Boston, specifically the itinerary of the Dan Hoard culinary experience and concerns of the Chuck Machock driving experience.

27-31: The defining element of what will decide the Buckeyes-Bearcats Sweet 16 matchup.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Sweet Repeat

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Congratulations to Mick Cronin and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team for making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time under Coach Cronin, and the first time since 2001.

But what we should also be celebrating as well is the path to consistency that this team is building. This is the second year in a row this team has made the NCAA and they have won at least one game in each tournament, improving with two wins this year. 

How valuable is this success?  A Juco college player is on the verge of signing with UC based on the success of their current NCAA run and as he said "...the fans were crazy at the Notre Dame game" contributed to his decision. Yes you; you showed up in force and as I have referenced in this blog before players try to visualize themselves playing in front of supportive crowds like those he mentioned because they feed off your energy.

UC basketball and football probably bring more attention to this University than all other sports combined and that has a ton of residual value as it relates to attracting students, reconnecting alumni and growing the fan base. When UC wins a bowl game or advances to the Sweet 16 it puts the University in the land of priceless exposure. TV stations, newspapers and online publications around the world are mentioning 16 teams repeatedly this week and one of them is UC, four of them are from Ohio and 7 of them are from the Tri-State.

But even better than that is UC was mentioned last year after knocking off Missouri, and they're being mentioned again this year for beating Texas and Florida State. These are three schools from major conferences that many thought were too tough for UC to compete against and yet they did. 

So while we celebrate the Bearcats ascension to the Sweet 16, lets also celebrate the fact that they are back in the tournament for the second year in a row. Six years ago many thought they would not make it to March Madness at all. 

Today is a good day to be a Bearcat fan; honestly it's been a good week, month, year and even longer to be one if you wanted to be.

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

Bearcats Breakfast 3.20.12

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Big podcast coming this afternoon. It will be a roundtable of sorts -- no confirmations on actual shape of table we'll be sitting around, but Ed Werder is reporting it may, in fact, be round -- with some local UC media dignitaries, or at least people parading as such. Should be fun, keep an eye out for it, expect it to be posted before you leave work.

Also, UC is holding its hometown media availability this afternoon, as always, follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for any information which comes from the pressers and I'll have plenty more on it as we draw closer to Thursday night.

There's your Bearcats Blog coverage update, now back to your regularly scheduled Breakfast.

Let's eat...

--- Oh, the OSU-UC feud storyline has whipped up already. Little did I know how much the youth-sized Damon Flint jersey I bought back in 1994 and wore religiously at basketball practice would play a role in Thursday's contest.

Mike Miller of College Basketball Talk delivers a brief trip down memory lane for the rivalry.

--- Obviously, Mick Cronin
is downplaying any of the extra hype about playing the Buckeyes -- or at least has to this point. We'll find out more of what he has to say this afternoon, but I don't expect much.

He usually does a good job of keeping anything that would damage his team's focus at arm's length. This likely won't be much different despite what will likely be many, many questions and prodding as the week progresses.

--- Time to take a closer look at this Ohio State team and compare some numbers.

Record vs Top 50 RPI: UC 7-5, OSU 9-6

Record in conference: UC 12-6, OSU 13-5

Last five games against ranked teams: UC 5-0, OSU: 2-3

OSU Last 5 vs. Ranked Teams
No. 8 Michigan State/Neutral/L 68-64
No. 13 Michigan/Neurtral/W 77-55
No. 5 Michigan State/Away/W 72-70
No. 15 Wisconsin/Home/L 63-60
No. 19 Michigan/Away/L 56-51

KenPom ranking: UC 25, OSU 1.

--- Yep, the KP supercomputer loves Ohio State. In fact, if you thought Florida State's defense was tough, by the numbers they are ranked 14th in defensive efficiency compared to the Buckeyes who sit at No. 1 in that category.

Aaron Craft plays incredible defense and may be one of the only defenders I can remember that has a better steal percentage than Cashmere Wright. The Columbus Dispatch had this story on his importance to OSU.

These Buckeyes clearly hang their hat on defense. When they have been beat its been a matter of not hitting shots. They badly miss a player like Jon Diebler who could fill it up from deep. They only hit 33.8 percent from 3-point range during conference play -- good for 8th in the Big 10.

The magic number is to keep them under 70. Do that and win. OSU is 0-4 when held under 70 and 8-0 when cracking 70 over the last 12 games.

How many teams scored more than 70 points against UC in regulation since conference play started? Two. Villanova and Marquette. That's it.

Teams are forced to crowd the paint because of the efficiency of Sullinger and driving ability of their perimeter players. That typically gives up the 3-point shot. It's there where this team has become frustrating offensively to its fan base.

Check out the scores and 3-point percentages from their losses compared to their wins of late.

Opp        Res/Score    3-pt
MSU         L 58-48      4-17
Minnesota W 78-68    6-19
Michigan   L 56-51      3-16
Illinois      W 83-67     7-13
Wisky       L 63-60      4-11
NWestern  W 75-73    6-19
MSU         W 72-70    4-14
Purdue      W 88-71    4-16
Michigan  W 77-55     5-14
MSU        L 68-64      4-17
Loyala      W 78-59    5-14
Gonzaga  W 73-66     9-24

3-point shooting losses: 15-61 (24.5 percent)
3-point shooting wins: 46-133 (34.5 percent)

The Bearcats 2-3 zone has proven effective in stopping teams inside and done a relatively good job closing out shooters on the perimeter as well. How effective they can be at keeping a hand in the face of shooters while not allowing Sullinger to bully them on the inside will be a huge chunk of deciding UC's success.

--- As the Columbus Dispatch points out, they have Jared Sullinger and nobody else does.

--- Jeff Goodman writes about the four teams in Boston for the East Regional and manages to barely mention the Bearcats. That's hard to do.

--- In Goodman's defense, he did write this story about the brawl to Sweet 16. You may have heard about this fight thing.

--- CBS ranks the eight Sweet 16 matchups.

--- Yahoo! talks about the hatred between the seven Midwestern schools in the Sweet 16. Can't deny that, there's some pretty intense dislike between a lot of fan bases. Well, except for OU. Everybody loves Athens.

--- More from the AP on the Ohio basketball hotbed.

--- This by the numbers look
at the Sweet 16 points out that over the last five years 16 teams from the Big East had made the Sweet 16.

--- Cronin continues to talk about his team's talent level being questioned, which it has been, despite beating teams with supposed superior talent repeatedly.

--- In case you missed Mo Egger's blog yesterday, I recommend giving it a read. The fact it was written between 2 and 5 a.m. should only increase your respect/concern for the local sports radio host.

--- Randomness....

--- Wendy's and Burger king are at war? Apparently. In that war, I envision the Frosty being the equivalent of the atomic bomb.

--- Did you know Bad Religion lead singer Greg Gaffin owns a doctorate degree in Zoology? So there's that.

--- I find the American Persimmon flower distracting and ugly, but I don't plan on suing anybody over it.

--- Bobby Knight really doesn't want to say the word Kentucky.

--- Let's watch some more highlights of Sunday's win. I can't imagine that will be met with any resistance from the readership.



Bearcats Breakfast 3.19.12

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Mick Cronin called it "World War III."

In a game where earning two points felt like breaching the beach at Normandy, yeah, that's about right.

What does it say to emerge from that war victorious having shifted into a different gear in the final minutes? What does it say to do so having beat a ranked team for the fifth straight game? What does is say to find a way to win against an FSU team that beat Duke and North Carolina twice and was 8-3 in games decided by four points or less? What does it say to not flinch as the pressure mounted and game momentum flipped from one side to the other?

It says what Cronin later said on 700 WLW: "We didn't come here to win two games."

UC looked like a team built to win many more.

On to Boston. On to Ohio State.
 
SKFSU.jpgLet's eat...

--- Here's your
East Regional ticket information. The game will be played at approx. 9:45 p.m. Thursday at the TD Bank Center.

--- The constant reminders came
all weekend about the weakness of this Bearcats team: They are the worst free-throw shooting team in the tournament. Yet, there they were, winning the game at the free throw line.

After opening the game 3 of 6 from the stripe, they hit 16 of 17 and the final nine in a row in the last two minutes for the win. In that game of Bloodsport defense, they needed every one of them. And it wasn't just one guy, it was everybody:

Gates: 4-5
SK: 4-4
Dion: 4-4
Park: 5-6

--- The turnover stat was going to be the difference in the game. It was the biggest advantage area UC owned. Mick said before the game, he placed the magic number on turnovers UC needed to force at 17. How many did FSU end up with? Seventeen.

More important that the 17 turnovers or even the turnover margin (UC committed 15 turnovers) was the points off of those turnovers. The Cats won that statistic 19-6. Ballgame.

--- As I mentioned in the open,
UC has now beat the last five ranked teams faced.

No. 12 Florida State, 62-56
No. 2 Syracuse, 71-68
No. 14 Georgetown, 72-70
No. 7 Marquette, 72-61
No. 17 Louisville, 60-56

(The Cardinals were just outside of both bolls the week of the Big East tournament)

--- For all of your interview needs:


Here's Mick Cronin with Tommy G. And then Yancy Gates calling out President Obama for picking against the Bearcats in his bracket.

--- Really hard not to reflect on the six years of the rebuild after this. My first thought after the game was how this makes it official: Mick Cronin streak of improving his team every single year continues.

It certainly seemed out of reach about a month ago, but here we are.

UC (26-10) matched its win total from last season and has gone one round further in the NCAA tournament.

2007: 11-19 (2-14) no postseason
2008: 13-19 (8-10) lost in first round CBI
2009: 18-14 (8-10)
2010: 19-16 (7-11) lost in second round NIT
2011: 26-9 (11-7) lost in second round NCAA
2012: 26-10 (12-6) Sweet 16

After the game with Dan Hoard on 700WLW, Cronin said this: "I want to be the Jim Boeheim of Cincinnati."

A great coach with no intentions of going anywhere. I have to assume by now this program's fan base understands how lucky they are to have this guy.

--- Yancy Gates continues to grasp his senior year with both hands. Sure, he only scored 10 points with 5 rebounds last night, but he buried two monster free throws plus and three-point play in the final six minutes.

His last six games: 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds per game.

--- With five more steals last night
Cashmere Wright moved his UC single-season steals mark to 74. His KenPom.com steal percentage (4.1) ranks as the 35th best in the country.

--- He was joined defensively by Dion Dixon, who Cronin said played his one of this best games with UC considering the toughness and defense he showed. He had 15 points, 3 steals and a big block in the final seconds.

--- Announcers for the OSU-UC
game will be Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. Onions!

--- Ohio is the first state ever to send four teams to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Somewhere, Cleveland State is wondering what could have been.

Proud Bobcats alum sheds single tear and can only imagine what it was like to be Clark Kellogg and try to call a game while that was going on -- great reaction from him.

D.J. Cooper. Wow. By the way, what the Baylor and Tennessee coaches did after his big game beating Georgetown his freshman year was illegal and tampering. Plus, it was just plain sleazy.

--- Consider that seven of the Sweet 16 teams are located within 200 miles of Cincinnati (UC, XU, OSU, OU, IU, UK, UL) Just great college basketball around here and a few rivalries that need to be kicked up in the regular season.

Speaking of..........

--- Let the games begin as we spend the next four days talking about OSU's reluctance to play UC in basketball. As Cronin has said many times, he'd love to play the Buckeyes regularly but it goes unrequited.

Partially, I understand where the Buckeyes are coming from. They want to be a national brand. They want to use their major non-conference games playing the giants of the basketball world from other regions. It's better for recruiting and the image of the program.

That said, basketball is all about rivalries, especially geographic ones, and considering the level these two programs are currently at this would be great for the game of college basketball. Who knows, maybe this will spark future matchups. Just get ready to hear all about this topic.

--- The last time they played in the NCAA tournament was 50 years ago to cap off UC's back-to-back national championships.

--- Tweet of the Weekend, from UC football's own JK Schaffer:

RT @Schaff37: I wonder if OSU will try to pay $1,000,000 to get out of this game too?!

If you don't understand that, read this.

--- In December they brawled, in March they balled. Stewart Mandel of SI on ongoing evolution of the UC-XU story.

--- The folks at Adidas are losing their minds right now. Not only did the three teams using their new uniforms make it into the finals of their conference tournaments (Baylor and Louisville winning, with UC finishing second), all three are in the Sweet 16.

Maybe there is something to that lighter fit or maybe the infared really is sending opponents into temporary seizures.

--- Doc on the war that was UC-FSU.

--- As has been the case a lot lately, Scott at Bearcats Blog breaks out the Kenyon Martin gif.

--- Chad Brendel called it as physical of a game as he had ever witnessed and had all the on site analysis.

--- Brett McMurphy of CBS on the Bearcats big dreams.

--- Rush the Court with reaction from the UC win, pointing out UC's 54-50 lead with one minute remaining was the largest lead of the second half to that point. RTC also points out how loud and intense the fan bases were. Way to bring it, folks.

--- Mike Miller of Beyond the Arc with an East Region primer.

--- Dion Dixon talking about his big steal and other notes, quotes in Bill Koch's postgame blog.

--- Remember that down year for the Big East talk? Last week I brought up their recent performances in the tournament and my gut feeling being they have a great first weekend.

Well, four of their nine teams in The Dance advanced to the second weekend. Impressive.

--- Hardly even feels right to break out the randomness with so much great stuff to read and talk about, instead, I'll just leave you with this.




Scouting FSU: With the Orlando Sentinel's Coley Harvey

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The beauty of the NCAA tournament is the unusual matchups and games against teams outside the league that play unfamiliar styles. Well, it's beautiful for coaches to break down tape, but you fans don't know what they heck is going on.

Fear not, I have all the lowdown on what you need to know about Sunday's game against Florida State since I chatted with Florida State beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel Coley Harvey. Coley and I go back to the days when I had hair as pups covering Peach State football press conferences in South Georgia. He's been on the FSU beat in Tallahassee for a year now and provides sparkling analysis and writing surrounding the program.

You can check out his game preview here, feature story on FSU star Michael Snaer here and follow him on Twitter here.

We broke down what we think will be a few key statistics, matchups and turning points. Here's the lowdown to enhance your viewing pleasure.

1. A game of turnovers?


There is no denying the facts of the case. FSU will give up the ball. And they'll do it often. They rank 322nd in the country in turnover percentage. Yes, there are only 346 teams. On the flip side, anybody who has watched UC a bit this year knows their strength lies in flipping the turnover margin statistic into extra shots. The Bearcats are 12th in the country in steal percentage.

"Usually they turn the ball over a lot and they go through streaks when they're doing it," he said. "They've been pretty decent the last eight games, but they were pretty bad early in the season."

Whether they stick with the recent trend of fall back into the turnover habit at the hands of UC's single-season steals leader Cashmere Wright will likely be one of the few deciding factors.

That means keep an extra close eye on PG Luke Loucks vs Wright. Loucks has 14 turnovers in the last three games and will be responsible for keeping UC out of transition.

"The last half of the Loucks has been so much more fundamental," Harvey said. "The whole team has been better. They've been operating in a more fluid pattern."

2. Down to the wire


One thing Coley and I undoubtedly agreed upon was that this game will be close. That's because that's pretty much how all the games are for these two teams. No lead is safe (Cough*Texas*Cough) and none insurmountable (Cough*Bonnies*Cough).

And both teams know how to win close games. Harvey pointed out that FSU is 8-3 in games decided by four points or less. UC is 9-5 in those contests and 9-3 since the brawl.

3. Snaer going to show up?


Ever since hitting the game-winning shot against Duke about a month ago, FSU senior Michael Snaer turned into a absolute player. Since that game he has hit 37 of 70 from 3-point range. At least, until the opening round win against St. Bonaventure where he was 0 for 5 and didn't score a point. 

Not only was the goose egg a surprise, he hadn't scored less than eight points since Duke and only since digits twice in that 15-game span.

"I asked him and he said it was just one of those days," Harvey said. "He couldn't get anything to fall. He had early foul trouble. He only played five minutes in the first half. When he finally came in he just couldn't find his rhythm and that kind of threw him off."

Harvey came to the analysis it would be highly unlikely to see a similar performance Sunday night. I'd have to agree with him.

4. Shoot the 3


Both teams will do plenty of it. That's no secret to UC fans, but I thought Coley made an interesting point about how that translates to this particular matchup. He mentioned that running the inside-out game to hit 3s has absolutely killed FSU this year.

"That's been the formula the two games they lost," he said.

Indeed, against BC the Eagles hit 10 3-pointers and Duke hit 13 from deep. Toss in a loss to Miami where the Canes hit 9 of 20 from deep and the numbers back up the assessment.

Likely, UC will be able to get open 3-pointers. Then it falls back to the question has followed this team all year -- will they make them?

We'll find out Sunday night.

Thanks again to Coley for chatting and remember to follow me on Twitter during the game as we'll be chatting it up with stats and analysis.

Why UC Needs Cash To Be On The Money

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Yancy Gates is Cincinnati's biggest and most well-known player.  Sean Kilpatrick is the Bearcats' leading scorer.  But if you had to identify one player who needs to play well in order for the Bearcats to advance in the NCAA Tournament, it's point guard Cashmere Wright.

Wright and Mick (550x437).jpg

"When he plays well, we are at our best - I don't think there's any question about that," head coach Mick Cronin told me.  "My biggest challenge is to get him to realize that he has tremendous talent and that he truly can be a great player.  He has to come in with that mentality every game.  I don't think he realizes how good he is at times."

"We tell him that all the time," said Yancy Gates.  "We try to motivate him and pump him up and let him know how good that he is."

Wright was outstanding in Cincinnati's 65-59 victory over Texas, with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 turnover.  Foul trouble limited the junior guard to 26 minutes of playing time, and the Bearcats outscored the Longhorns by 13 points while he was in the game.  Cashmere will need to avoid foul trouble in Sunday's game against Florida State.

"In the Big East, you can grab people while they're running and when they try to get away, you can hold them," said Wright.  "There's not too much of that right now.  You actually have to stay away from them because every foul is a foul."

"Dion Dixon can play the point for us, but that's what Cashmere Wright is - he is a point guard," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "When he plays well, we are going to play well.  It's no knock against Dion, but Cash understands that position the best."

Coach Davis has known Wright for nearly 10 years and played a key role in getting the Georgia native to sign with Cincinnati in 2008.

"I actually saw him when he was a freshman in high school," Davis told me.  "I was the head coach at Furman University and I was down there looking at another kid and the principal of the school said, 'We have a freshman here who is really good.'  Cash was a skinny, long-armed, wide-eyed little guy.   You can ask him - the first recruiting letter he ever got was from me at Furman." 

Wright was part of the same recruiting class as Gates and Dion Dixon but had to sit out his freshman year after tearing his ACL in a preseason workout.  Even though Cashmere has another year of eligibility to look forward to, he shares a bond with the seniors who are trying to extend their college careers.  

"I posted a thing on Twitter today about the original '08 class," said Wright.  "When we came here, our goal together was to go as far as we can go.  We feel like this isn't as far as we can go.  We came here with a goal of at least getting to the Final Four and that's what we are trying to achieve right now.  It ain't about next year.  It's about the original '08 class and what we are trying to do for this team."

Cincinnati's destiny could depend on Wright's intensity.

"He always plays hard - it's not that - it's more about being mentally intense," said Coach Davis.  "When he does that, he is a very good player.  A very good player."

"The thing about Cash is, when he is intense, he stays focused and makes the right plays," said Gates.  "Sometimes he kind of fades away and makes plays where you think, 'What's he doing?'  When Cash is intense, he is just as good as anybody."

**********

I talked to Wright on Saturday about the third-round matchup against Florida State.  Here's a link to the video

**********.

If you haven't seen Florida State play this year, the Seminoles are HUGE.

FSU big guys (550x435).jpg

Their five starters are 6'5", 6'5", 6'5", 6'10", and 6'11", and two of their top four subs are 6'8" and 7'0".

That's a gigantic reason (no pun intended) why Florida State ranked 5th in the country in field goal percentage defense this year after leading the nation in each of the previous two seasons.

"It's really hard to get a basket in the paint," said Coach Cronin.  "That's what Florida State is great at - they don't give you anything easy.  Fundamentally, they are as good as you are going to see.  They can suffocate you.  We have to understand that when we are struggling to score, it is time to get fouled...it's time to get a lay-up...it's time to get Yancy the ball down low or beat our man off the dribble - it's not time to settle for another jump shot.

"Hopefully our quickness can be an advantage for us.  We have to spread them out and try to make them play individual defense and not team defense.  They are a great team defensive team and we have to try to get some guys in some space where we can beat Florida State off the dribble.  But then we have to make the right pass, because when we did that against Louisville, we took bad shots because we didn't make the right pass.  Our offense is going to be put to the test."

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 3.16.12

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Gameday.

I assume all of you will be taking half days as UC tips off at 12:15. If your boss doesn't allow that, I assume you will be quitting. So, good luck with the job hunt and enjoy your weekend.

Let's eat...

--- Three key stats to watch for today:

1. Turnovers. UC thrives on creating them and Texas be can exposed by them. Pressuring freshman guard Myck Kobongo into mistakes and getting rattled on the big stage would game, set, match for UC. I think the Cats need to win this stat by a margin of at least four.

2. Brown's second-half points. J'Covan Brown has made a habit of exploding in the second half. (Think Malik Wayns of Villanova at Fifth Third) He's put up 20+ points after the break on multiple occasions, including as many as 29 against Kansas. Over the course of the season some explosive guards have had monster games and given UC trouble defensively -- although at the Big East tournament they did a nice job containing Brandon Triche, Jason Clark and Peyton Siva (combined 12 of 31 shooting). They don't need to stop Brown, just keep him under his average -- especially after halftime.

3. Offensive glass. If UC can put 6-10 Clint Chapman in foul trouble early it could be a long day for the Longhorns in the paint. Without Alex Wangmene (wrist) they lack any true depth on the interior. Yancy Gates should be able to go double-double in his sleep today -- and that's before he collects a pass in the post. Slowing Texas on the offensive boards -- where they are ranked 15th in the country -- will be a key as well. Winning the off. rebound percentage battle, coupled with the above two stats and it will be on to Round 2.

To recap: Win turnovers by four, Brown under second-half average, win off. rebound percentage. Move on to Sunday.

--- Plenty of reading out there as you prepare for today's game. Here's a list:

--- Remember to check to GoBearcats.com for all your pregame and postgame needs for videos. Follow this link for interviews with Yancy Gates, Whit Babcock, all the players at the podium, Mick Cronin and Dan Hoard with Tommy G discussing the game from practice.

For all your audio/visual needs, we got you covered.

--- Also, for all your live updates, quotes, notes and information from the site, you can check out RapidReports at CBSSports.com and filter it to UC. They'll be sending out all the in-game observations and postgame reactions immediately. They've already got posts up from yesterday's media availability.

--- The AP talks about UC and Texas both growing up on the way to The Dance.

--- USA Today on Yancy Gates. You might be familiar with his story.

--- Bill Koch on UC living up to its championship past.

--- Bill opens his notebook with UC not being worried about their uneven history with early start times.

--- Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com
previews the game with some nice analysis.

--- Kobongo essentially calls UC a poor man's Missouri with their four-guard approach. He's incredibly nice about it, but if the Tigers played defense like UC, they'd be undefeated.

--- WLWT live in Nashville reporting on UC's approach to the game.

--- I can think of no better way to recover from a vasectomy than being stuck in front of the television these last two days.

--- That should be more than enough to keep you busy, enjoy the game.

Steven Tyler may think
his band mates are riding his coattails (thank you 60 Minutes), but Dream On is one of the Top 5 rock songs of all time. Place it over the top of UC history highlights and we have the perfect gameday video.



Bearcats Breakfast 3.15.12

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It's the most wonderful time of the year. Enjoy not working today.

Let's eat...

--- Nice start for the Big East last night. If what USF did to Cal in the first half (36-13) was any indication to how the conference will perform in this tournament it could be the bounceback the league has been waiting for in the tournament.

Indeed, the last two years haven't been kind to the Big East -- even with UConn winning the entire thing. The irony would be the year that the conference was "down" would be the year they perform best in the postseason.

After more than half of the teams making it out of the first weekend in 2008 and 2009 (8 of 15) only 21 percent have advanced to the Sweet 16 the last two years.

Big East teams to make it out of the first weekend:

2012: ? of 9
2011: 2 of 11
2010: 2 of 8
2009: 5 of 7
2008: 3 of 8

--- Along those same lines it should be noted the Big East is the only conference that has placed at least one team in every NCAA Elite Eight since 2002.

--- The Big East criticism overflowed from the first weekend of last year's tournament into this year as the middle of the conference was down while the bottom rose up (see: USF).

In fact, ND coach Mike Brey claims other conferences are unhappy the Big East got nine teams in the field this year.

We'll see how it plays out, but my gut tells me the Big East does better than most expect.

--- Dan Hoard wrote about UC trying to hang a banner next to the 1961 and 1962 national championships hanging on the wall at Fifth Third Arena. Mick is thinking big. You have to like that. For all Mick is, he's not one to say things just for the sake of saying or saying things he doesn't believe.

He wouldn't talk about national championship if he didn't believe this team could do it.

Here was the quote from Mick that Dan closed with:

"I wrapped it up by saying that we can win a championship, but there's a price tag that goes with it. There's a price tag on everything when you go to the store and we want the most expensive thing in the store. But I want my guys to know that in my belief, if we lose it's our own fault. If we bring toughness, togetherness, and do a better job of executing on offense, we can beat anybody - and we will beat anybody."


--- UC will open itself to the media today in Nashville with press conferences and open locker rooms this afternoon. Should be more of the same and a ton of storyline you've all known about for months but the national folks are just discovering.

SK said this day and the day between the two tournaments last year were some of his favorite moments of the entire NCAA experience with the loose practice open to the public where they guys goofed around and played knockout and the open locker room where they were doing impressions of the assistant coaches for gathered members of the media.

--- Fans gathered for a send off
at UC yesterday to show some support and Mick spoke the groups gathered. Here are some of the highlights from Cincinnati.com.



--- Of course, our guy Tommy G is
giving you all the live, on-site coverage from Nashville. Yesterday he had this with Dan Hoard as the team arrived. Look for much, much more on GoBearcats.com all week.

--- UC fans know to
look out for Texas star J'Covan Brown by now, more precisely though, look out for him in the second half. Two years ago he scored 20 points after halftime and last year he scored 21 of his 23 after the break in the 70-69 loss to Arizona.

--- Scott at BearcatsBlog breaks into the ghost of NCAA tournaments past. This one was when Tony Bobbitt went down in program history with his greatest moment.

--- Bill Koch with a piece on glue guy JaQuon Parker, who has been the key to UC's turnaround and one of the biggest reasons to continue to be excited for next year.

--- Dana O'Neil gives analysis on every team in The Dance and points out that UC is the worst free throw shooting team in the entire tournament.

--- Jason Horowitz and Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com look into the UC-Texas matchup.

--- Some professor from St. Joseph's breaks down UC in the tournament.

--- Here's your viewing guide for all of today's games. Long Beach State and South Dakota State are my upset picks for the day.

Indeed, there will be so much drama in the LBC if those come true today.

--- And a list of questions about
your viewing experience answered by Richard Dietsch for SI.

--- Randomness...

--- The leading scorer leaving Brian Gregory at Georgia Tech is a complete surprise you look at his history at Dayton. Oh wait....

--- Review of the new iPad. I'm on the brink of jumping in.

--- Sean Salisbury's life has become a "walking train wreck." 

--- Next year Comedy Central
will start showing Community reruns! Life keeps on getting better and better!

--- Enjoy the games everybody. Let's get this party started right. Let's get this party started quickly, right.


A Banner Year

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Before the Bearcats team bus headed to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, head coach Mick Cronin had something that he wanted his players to stop and look at.

Shoemaker_banners (550x315).jpg

"I huddled the guys on the court at the end of practice and made them look up at the banners on the wall because I don't think they've ever paid attention to that stuff," Mick told me.  "We're in that gym every day, but nobody ever really looks up.  They said, 'Man, there are a lot of banners,' and I laughed and said, 'I'm talking about the two big ones that say National Championship.'"

As a 6th-seed, Cincinnati is obviously a long shot (75-1 in Vegas) to bring home NCAA Championship banner number three, but two higher seeds -- #8 Butler and #11 VCU --  made it to the Final Four last year and Coach Cronin wants his players to realize that winning six straight games is possible.

"If you turn on ESPN, you'll see a bunch of guys that will tell you that the favorites are going to win and that you have no chance, but you can't let people define who you are or what you're capable of," said Cronin.  "The team that stays focused right now, and plays team basketball, and is accountable to each other, and refuses to give in even though the sun is out and spring time is coming, those are the teams that are going to advance.  It's not going to be easy."

The road to the Final Four in New Orleans begins on Friday afternoon in Nashville against the 20-13 Texas Longhorns.  It's the 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Longhorns, but the first time during the streak that Texas has been a double-digit seed.

"My biggest concern is our opening round game against Texas because they are an 11-seed, and they haven't gotten a lot of publicity this year," said Cronin.  "They're a very talented, well-coached team, so that's my biggest concern.  I think if we get to Sunday and play Florida State, the guys already know how good Florida State is." 

For the second straight year, the Bearcats enter the tournament on a roll.  Last year, the 'Cats won six of their last eight before a 15-point win over Missouri in UC's NCAA Tournament opener.  This year, Cincinnati has won seven of its last nine, including victories over #17 Louisville, #13 Georgetown, #8 Marquette, and #2 Syracuse. 

"You have to get your team ready but keep 'em fresh," said Cronin.  "It's a fine line that you have to walk with that.  This week, our hardest practice was Wednesday.  On Thursday, it will be game prep and fine-tuning in order to be ready to play on Friday.  You can't have long, grueling practices at this time of the year - guys just don't have enough left in the tank."

As the players looked up at the championship banners on Wednesday, they were reminded that they will have to "empty the tank" in every remaining game in order to advance.

"I wrapped it up by saying that we can win a championship, but there's a price tag that goes with it," Mick told me.  "There's a price tag on everything when you go to the store and we want the most expensive thing in the store.  But I want my guys to know that in my belief, if we lose it's our own fault.  If we bring toughness, togetherness, and do a better job of executing on offense, we can beat anybody - and we will beat anybody."

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 3.14.12

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Just two days away from tipoff in Nashville and if you can't get your blood pumping for the tournament after last night's play-in games in Dayton then you might as well drop TruTV from your cable package. (Actually, you should probably do that anyway. Not that Lizard Lick Towing isn't the next generation of reality TV, but there are convicted felons with more integrity than this network)

I was lucky enough to be covering the games for one of my other freelance gigs and witnessed two historic comebacks to match two very powerful fans.

For all the body-cavity violating hassle of President Obama showing up at the First Four yesterday, hard to deny how unique it was having him courtside. Toss in Mississippi Valley guard Kevin Burwell giving him a point after a few big shots and you've got an electric environment.

Then there's MVSU blowing a 16-point lead in the final five minutes -- largest blown lead in that span in NCAA tournament history. That was followed by Iona choking away a 25-point lead to BYU -- the largest comeback in NCAA tournament history.

Welcome to March. Here we go.

Let's eat...

--- All UC's allotment of NCAA tournament tickets are sold out. If you want to go, you still can, you just need to order through the Bridgestone Arena ticket office. Sounds like it will be another nice postseason turnout from the UC fan base.

Of course, when the destination is a weekend in Nash-Vegas, it's hard to say know. Happy Honky-Tonkin.

--- Mick Cronin went on
The Jungle with Jim Rome yesterday. I'm a Rome fan -- Rack me -- and his interviews are always entertaining. The 14-minute convo with Mick was no different. Definitely worth a listen if you have time. (starts at 26-minute mark of second hour)

--- Here's my notebook from
yesterday's media availability with the players. Kind of surprised the Mick would back off the brawl topic, though, I understand the logic.

This team has been about more than suspensions and punches for some time now. They've endured about four different waves of adversity since and emerged with one of the best seasons in the Mick Cronin era in their pocket.

That's more the story than an incident from more than three months ago. It all makes sense, just a little surprised because Mick rarely filters the message -- either from himself or his players.

Regardless of whether he wants to talk about it or not, those questions will still be fired often from all the national folks gathered in Nashville, no doubt about that.

--- If you want to hear it all yourself, here is the full media availability from Cash and Yancy, then here with Mick.

--- Who wants a history of 6 seeds in the tournament the last five years? Last year was far from kind -- unless you were a Bearcat.

2011         Where lost

Xavier       First Round
UC           Second Round
GTown     First Round
St. John's  First Round

2010
Tennessee   Elite Eight
Xavier          Sweet 16
Marquette    First Round
Notre Dame First Round

2009
WVU          First Round
Marquette   Second Round
UCLA         Second Round
AZ St.        Second Round

2008
Oklahoma  Second Round
USC          First Round
Marquette  Second Round
Purdue      Second Round

2007
ND           First Round
Duke        First Round
Vandy      Sweet 16
Louisville  Second Round
       
--- This game has been almost a statistical coin flip the last five years with the high seed holding an 11-9 record.

--- Only three of the last 20 No. 6 seeds made it out of the first weekend with Tennessee's Elite Eight run in 2010 coming within one point of the Final Four.

--- It's been trouble for the Big East with five of the last seven Big East schools playing in this game getting upset in the first round. Of course, one that was the exception was the 2011 Bearcats.

--- Cashmere Wright is the No. 1 seed in the coolest name in the tournament contest. Vote for him to take down Osas Ebomwanyi in the first round here. I'd call this a tough draw, nobody wants to take an opponent with nine letters in their last name in Round 1.

--- Bill Koch wrote this story on how UC improved after the shootout. Much of this has been talked about at length here, there and everywhere, but Bill does a nice job compacting it all together.

Plus, assistant coach Larry Davis offers some intriguing insight. This quote which closes the piece I felt was right on about what Mick's post-brawl press conference accomplished.

"It certainly was one of his finest moments," Davis said. "It showed who he was. I think it dawned a new era for Cincinnati basketball. After that, the people who were hanging onto (Bob Huggins) probably let go...At that point, I think a lot of people let go and said, 'This guy is going to take us where we want to go.' "

--- Something I mentioned in the notebook yesterday was Texas' ability to crash the offensive boards. Cronin talked about how much better the Longhorns have been of late finding second-chance points.

Consider, they are already ranked 16th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (38.4), but here are their totals from the Big 12 tournament -- both against top teams in the conference with their tournament resume under heavy criticism.

Opp    FGmiss   OR     OR%   
Iowa St.   43      16      37%
Mizzou    37      20      54%
TOTAL    80      36      45%
   
--- There's a thought the loss of Fab Melo could send the other side of the East bracket into pandemonium.

Maybe, but this doesn't affect UC as much as you might think. A) With or without Fab, they feel great about their chances against Syracuse. B) If they see the Cuse, it would be in the Elite Eight and that means SU came together to win three in a row without him.

Remember, they still have a team full of McD's All-Americans over there.

--- CBSSports picks their
most likely first-round upsets and a couple Big East teams are on the chopping block. Because so many people are picking Georgetown to lose, I think they take down Belmont running away.

Though, the Hoyas mascot tearing his ACL will be tough to overcome.

Randomness...

--- I refuse to believe this from such and upstanding citizen.

--- SMU is in great shape for that move into Big East basketball. Boy, Matt Doherty, that guy is just a winner everywhere he goes, isn't he? (*Searches for sarcasm font*)

--- Matthew Broderick grew a mustache. It is not strong. Proceed with caution.

--- Because the Chili Peppers
are coming here and I didn't play a music video in their honor when mentioning it earlier this week, here you go. The classic. Try not singing this when driving alone in your car. Can't be done.



Elliott on inside looking out this postseason

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Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcats will play their first postseason game in her tenure Friday night in the first round of the WNIT. 

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- Every year college basketball teams compete for a chance to play in the postseason.

While some teams play well enough to make it to the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT, the rest are left sitting on the outside looking in.

Over the past six years, the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team has been one of those teams watching rather than participating.

Not this year.

For the first time since 2006 the Bearcats will be in postseason action when they host Duquesne in the first round of the WNIT on Friday at Fifth Third Arena.

Head Coach Jamelle Elliott is thrilled for the opportunity that awaits her team.

"We're excited about going to postseason play for the first time in six years," Elliott said. "Obviously the first time since I've been the head coach here at Cincinnati so I'm really excited about that."

The Bearcats finished the season with a record of 15-15, the most wins under Elliott since she's been at Cincinnati.

Although Elliott said her team knows they've come a long way since the beginning of the season, the opportunity to play in the WNIT shows people outside the program her team is making progress.

"Having that postseason bid it shows the media, the public and the people who haven't had the chance to be a part of our program closely, it shows them that we're making progress," said Elliott. "But we're a long way away from where we were when I first took the job here."

The WNIT may not be as flashy as the NCAA Tournament, but Elliott understands that the competition they'll be facing shouldn't be taken lightly.

"This is a very competitive tournament," said Elliott. "It has been historically and I think there's going to be some good basketball played in the two or three weeks that it's going to be running."

The Bearcats face a Duquesne team that finished 20-11 this season.

Elliott said they need to do a good job of preparing themselves because the Dukes are going to want to win just as badly as them.

"It's going to be a matter of watching tape trying to figure out the best strategy because they're going to be just as prepared as us and they're probably going to want it just as much," said Elliott. "So it's going to be a battle. They're a good team, historically they've been a good team but I think we're in a good place right now too playing at home."

It may be exciting to make it to the postseason, but just getting there simply isn't enough for Elliott.

"It's going to be exciting for me," said Elliott. "I'm looking forward to coaching in this game--my first postseason game as a head coach. My players are going to be excited and I just hope we win this game and move on. Survive and advance that's what you want to do in March."

The Bearcats started the season with the goal of making it to the post-season.

And while many other teams had the same goal, some of them, just like the Bearcats had for the past six years, will be left sitting on the outside looking in.

Follow the cars, follow the "Cash"

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Somewhere between now and Friday, March 16, a caravan of red and black will make its way on 71 South and then over to 65 South toward Music City as UC squares off with the Texas Longhorns at 12:15 (11:15 if you adjusted your clocks in Nashville).

It's "Brunch with the Bearcats" and it should be fun to watch a rested and ready crew hook up with the 'Horns.  Ironically, it's St. Patrick's Day weekend as it was last time the Bearcats were in the NCAA tournament in Nashville (2001). 

Here's hoping some of you are a little more wiser in your "Wearing of the Green" Day behavior than you were the last time (you know who you are).

Nashville's got a variety of things to do downtown.  Beyond the Country Music Hall of Fame, there's plenty of other music in various surroundings.  If you're like as they say "both kinds of music" (country and western) I'd recommend Tootsie's Wild Orchid Lounge or Robert's Western Wear (where the legendary BR-549 once made a live album).

Should you get hungry, Jack's BBQ on Broadway is pretty decent stuff.  Beyond that, I'm sure you'll have fun if you just follow the UC cheers that should perpetuate Nashville just as they did on Beale and Bourbon Streets in events past.

As for the game, I like the way Cashmere Wright has stepped it up this year, so let's hear from him.  Sadly, my regular job duties have me occupied Friday, so I'll have to watch from afar for one of the rare times in the last 20 years.

Oh well, life's full of curveballs.  Here's the Wright stuff....

Notebook: Brawl a non-topic

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Years from now, the 2011-12 Bearcats season will be remember as the year of the Crosstown Brawl. Barring a run to a national championship -- and possibly even more if that does occur -- this year will be defined by the season's watershed moment.

There have been no moments like it in UC basketball history and few like in the history of the sport. The axis on which it shifted two seasons held created a constant talking point for every conversation of the trending of Xavier and Cincinnati.

As UC returns to the spotlight of national reporters searching for the popular angle and revisiting Dec. 10, Mick Cronin plans on doing something he rarely does with the media: Sending them home disappointed.

"I can tell you right now we're not going to talk about it," he said. "We're going to talk about our team and talk about Texas and our season."

While those minutes of madness will never be forgotten, their cumulative effect on the Bearcats team should, according to Cronin.

"It's not an issue," he said. "It's the most overrated concept in maybe the history of UC athletics. Seriously, it really is. But everybody loves sensationalism."

Don't we ever. We, being us heathen media types. And when it comes to the large room with rows upon rows of chairs full of unfamiliar press, the questions will definitely be coming about Dec. 10. It's the Cincinnati topic.

"They're going to be disappointed because they're not going to get their storyline," Cronin said. "Because it's not the storyline."

BOARD TO DEATH: While Texas comes in struggling on the defensive glass this year, ranked 249th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, they have fared well crashing the offensive boards.

In their tourney-clinching win against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament the Longhorns grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.

"I'll tell you what concerns me a lot is there offensive rebounding, I will tell you that," Cronin said. "They're a great offensive rebounding team. They've got a couple kids, especially (Jaylen) Bond, that are really big and strong they go hard, Champman, they go to the offensive glass. Lately their offensive rebound numbers in their last five games have been tremendous."

A fight for rebounds won't be a new concept for UC who came off a tournament run where they won games by virtue of challenging for every rebound.

"That's every night in our league," Gates said. "We talked about that. That's the good thing about playing in our league, you're going to face all different types of teams because there's so many of us in one conference. The Big East pretty much gets you prepared for tournaments like this. We're going to face real big teams like South Florida or UConn or face teams like Notre Dame that run offense to you. The Big East pretty much gets you ready to be able to face anything."

WHAT BROWN DOES FOR TEXAS: Cronin offered lofty praise for Texas leading scorer J'Covan Brown (20.1 ppg).

"He reminds me of Carmelo Anthony at the guard position because he's just got great one-on-one ability," Cronin said. "I know J'Covan, he's 6-1. He posts up, they run
post up plays for him. And he shoots the lean-in fade away. Those are NBA shots."

Cronin walked into practice this week and heard the players talking about Brown. That's good news, it means they are well aware of the damage the junior can do. Enough nights like the 33-point effort he piled in against Missouri make him difficult to ignore.

"Our players respect him," Cronin said. "They've seen him on big Monday. Texas gets a lot of ESPN games so our kids know who J'Covan Brown is. And they understand if you're the leading scorer in the Big 12 you're a big-time player."

ORANGE ISSUE: The top seed in the Bearcats East Region suffered a brutal blow Tuesday when center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the NCAA tournament.

Of course, the irony is UC lost to Syracuse when they didn't have their 7-foot shot-blocker and beat them with Melo on the court. Regardless, should it come down to an Elite Eight Big East rematch, the Orange would come in shorthanded.

Bearcats Breakfast 3.13.12

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Bit of unusual circumstances today, so the blog will take a bit of a detour in the standard timing. UC will be holding its media availability this morning and I'll bring you information on what Mick and the players say about Friday's game with Texas.

Unfortunately, due to some prior commitments with the First Four games the next two days and the presence of one Barack Obama in Dayton, my day has been throw into a whirlwind of Secret Service and mid-major press conferences.

The blog should hopefully be up and running with some more Breakfasty info this afternoon. So, maybe more of a late lunch or dinner tonight. We'll go Bearcats Linner. Look for that.

Yes, I know it is tournament week and I have you people conditioned like Pavlov's Dogs to receive your Cats info here and waste time at your lunch hour, but I'm going to have to ask for some patience today.

Just listen to George.

Job Well Done...

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It's hard to imagine 6 years ago when Mick Cronin was named the mens basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati, devoid of players and recruits, that this day would come in the eyes of many doubters. While attending the NCAA pairing party at Montgomery Inn last night Mick reminded me that I, while still consulting with Cincinnati Bell, delivered the first batch of cell phones to him and his staff. My how times have changed! I've moved onward and Coach Cronin has moved forward, and his plan to restore this program has come front and center.

UC has their coach and Mick has his school. He is truly a home town guy; he is a Montgomery Inn, Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Bengals, West Side, UC, High School, family and friend kind of Cincinnatian that you find in ample supply around here. And that's why he never doubted what he was doing because his roots reminded him that what he learned from Hep Cronin his dad; from Woodward High School, Bob Huggins and from Rick Pitino would all come together to create a model of success. 

If you've never lived in Cincinnati you might not understand a lot of the thinking that goes into leaving but always knowing you want to come home. That being the coach at home is more prestigious than any of the darling jobs; that looking behind you at the games and seeing your family, friends and a couple of guys you played against nodding their heads in approval mean more than you can explain. 

When the band of haters mounted up their arsenal it was met with resistance not by Mick but by them. When people didn't want to acknowledge his progress it was the hometown team that spoke on his behalf using the truth to uncover the hate. The real question was as this team was progressing why didn't anyone want to accept it? He showed resolve cutting players who were supposed to transform this program. He sat players on the bench who thought they were entitled; and he even reminded them during tough times it's a privilege to wear the same uniform that the great Oscar Robertson wore.

Mick had a plan; and it included his Dad going with him to every game discussing the fundamentals of the game and of coaching. Because no matter how high they jump, how fast they run or how great a shooter they are it's still basketball. And that means the game will always outlast the players. So knowledge is king and Hep has plenty of it; so did Huggins and Pitino but honestly Mick has some of his own too. 

He proved it at Murray State and he has now proven it here. Two years in a row UC is going to the big dance; and this year it's a tank of gas away in Nashville where they'll start their run for the Final Four. If you are a fan or want to see this team in the prime time of college basketball the opportunity is there.

But the bigger opportunity is for you to give Mick his due; admitting that you didn't see the possibility of him reestablishing this program or getting it back to the level you were accustomed to when Huggins was here. But he has; and don't say well he did it two years in a row but not three because last year you said lets see him do it twice. 

Lets see you get on board, like the 10k plus people who got on board at the beginning of the year. That's what recruits see when deciding where they want to play; where they watch on TV and feel the energy that burst through the screen when they played Syracuse and Marquette at home. Where they made a statement in the Big Apple at the Big East tournament and said we belong and you, potential recruit, could be the missing player to take us even further.

This program is moving ahead with all the right pieces in place and needing just a few more. Are you a missing piece? Are you coming back? They've earned your support UC fan, alum and Cincinnatian. You don't even have to apologize or say you were wrong; just say you're on board.

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

Another Chance After A Missed Opportunity

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For Mick Cronin, losing the Big East Tournament championship to Louisville was painful because you never know when you'll have that opportunity again.

Celebration after Syracuse (550x311).jpg

 

Notre Dame has been in the league since 1995 and has never advanced to the Big East Tournament final.  Villanova went to the NCAA Tournament for the past seven years and made it to the Final Four in 2009, but the Wildcats have not made it to the final game of the Big East Tournament since 1997.

But as difficult as Saturday's 50-44 loss to the Cardinals was for Mick to stomach, making it to Saturday night at Madison Square Garden seemed like a pipe dream in March of 2006.

"Six years ago when I got the job, my first team meeting looked like a golf team," said Coach Cronin with a laugh.  "It was a foursome - Ron Allen, Branden Miller, Ced McGowan, and Connor Barwin.  I had a walk-on, a football player, a hurricane victim, and Cedric.  Six years later we're playing for the Big East Championship, so yeah, we're proud.  That's what I was brought here to do, but the kids need to get the credit." 

The sting of Saturday's loss would be far worse if Cincinnati was not headed to the NCAA Tournament.  The 6th-seeded Bearcats are headed to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville where they will face 11th-seeded Texas on Friday afternoon at 12:15. 

"We're probably most happy that we don't play until Friday, and also that it's in Nashville where our fans can get to the game," said Cronin.  "Texas is a big-name team and that will get the attention of my players.  My biggest concern was if we were a 5 or a 6 seed and played a team that wasn't a big name."

The Bearcats enter the NCAA Tourney with seven wins in their last nine games, highlighted by Friday's 71-68 upset over #2 Syracuse.

"It was a great run in New York by our guys," said Cronin.  "We got a little emotionally drained by having to do what we had to do on Thursday and Friday, but we learned two lessons:  When we're at our best we can beat anybody - (the Syracuse win) was not an aberration and we beat Georgetown when we were not at our best.  But we understand what happened against Louisville.  We understand why we win and why we lose.  So we have a chance to get rested up and get ready for Friday."

It's been a wild year.  The highlights include a school-record seven wins over ranked teams and a trip to the Big East final; the lowlights include a loss to Presbyterian and the brawl with Xavier.

"The kids had great resiliency to hang in there this year," said Cronin.  "We needed to develop as a team that lost five seniors and it was going to take us some time.  It was a little more eventful than we had hoped, with injuries and suspensions and what we had to go through and some tough early losses, but I think our togetherness was the key for us.  I'm just really proud of the kids."

**********

I hope you'll join us on Monday night at 8:00 at the original Montgomery Inn for the Mick Cronin radio show.  We had our biggest crowd of the year last week and hope to top it tonight.  If you can't make it, you can tune in on 700 WLW.

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

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

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

 

Bearcats Breakfast 3.12.12

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After all season and one of the most roller-coaster journeys in UC history, the Bearcats end up right where they were at this time last year: 6 seed, Big 12 team with a hot, major conference tournament champ looming in Round 2. (And a certain school from up North sitting on the horizon for a possible Sweet 16 grudge match, not to get ahead of ourselves)

Yet, one year later, UC arrives at the tournament more ready to win. I detailed some of those reasons in my Selection Sunday story here. The other reasons are because of the events of the past weekend.

Mick Cronin talked about what the journey past Georgetown and Syracuse into the tournament championship game did for this team entering The Big Dance. Loved this quote and thought it spoke volumes.

"What happened in New York taught two great lessons," he said. "We can beat anybody, but we can also be beat."

All of that depends on focus, intensity and following their formula for victory. They lost all three in the first half Saturday night and that's why there won't be a banner hanging from Fifth Third Arena.

"I really wanted to have a banner," Cronin said. "I wanted that bad."


For Yancy Gates, who made the All-Tournament team along with Cashmere Wright, winning in NYC didn't alter the mindset about this team's chances much.

"I think we felt we could make a deep run anyway," he said.

Nothing like beating the second-ranked team in the country to solidify those thoughts.

UCJOy.jpgLet's eat...

--- UC will play Texas in Nashville at 12:15 EDT on Friday. For details on tickets, parking and other info call 513-558-2284. Other options here.

--- Time for a closer look at Texas.

Two things you'll need to know about the Longhorns: J'Covan Brown and the babies.

They are talented but scary young. They have seven players that average more than 20 minutes per game. They play two seniors (one of which is out due to injury), a junior and four freshmen.

Brown, the junior, can straight fill it up. Nearly every possession runs through him some way, shape or form. He's averaging 25 points a game over the last four and scored 33 in a loss at Kansas.

Youth leads to a predictable turnover problem. Freshman point guard Myck Kobongo averages three turnovers a game and the team as a whole averages 13 a game. A Bearcats team that leads the Big East in taking care of the ball and a point guard like Cashmere Wright who just set the single-season record for steals could be a nightmare for Kobongo.

--- Another matchup in UC's favor will be the offensive glass. The 6-10 senior Clint Chapman is the only player taller than 6-7 on the Texas roster and he only plays 21.5 minutes a game. The player that more than likely would have guarded Gates, though, is senior Alex Wangmene (6-7, 241), only, he injured his wrist March 3 against Kansas and won't play. This will be a game Gates will hover over top of outman the Texas big guys.

A stat Texas doesn't want to talk about: They are 249th in the country in allowing offensive rebounds.

--- Apparently, Rick Barnes predicted his team would play the Bearcats Saturday night.

--- Here's a nice column
summing up the realistic expectations of Texas from Rick Bohls of the Austin-American Statesmen.

--- Against the Sagarin Top 25:
Texas 1-9; UC 5-3. Against Top 50: Texas 4-11; UC 8-4.

--- Quote from Mick I liked about how he feels about his team and the one thing that's important to winning in March for any team:

"Leadership. If you were going to ask me one thing that is important. You have to have a couple of kids who say, the sun's out, they say I don't see light at the end of the tunnel, I'm standing at the end of the tunnel. The sun is shining, I want to still play basketball. I am there to win. Mentality of your players. We are going to stay focused and we are going to play to win. We are not going to go out and see what happens. You have to have some determined kids that want to make a run. We had it in New York and that's why we made it to the championship."

If his leadership theory is spot on, Texas and its team of freshman would be susceptible. They would be counting on Brown to be standing at the end of the tunnel.

--- Last week I detailed
the tournament runs of the last five Big East Tournament champs. Four of the last five went on to at least the Elite Eight, two to the Final Four and one the national champ.

While I'd consider UC's run to be a championship run when looking at who they beat, they did finish second, so here's a quick peak at how the second-place finishers fared in the NCAAs.

Year/BET seed         NCAA seed/Result

2011  3 Louisville       4/Lost First Round/13 Morehead State
2010  8 Georgetown  3/Lost First Round/14 Ohio U.
2009  6 Syracuse     3/Lost Sweet16/2 Oklahoma
2008  1 Georgetown  2/Lost Second Round/10 Davidson
2007  3 Pittsburgh    3/Lost Sweet 16/2 UCLA

--- Needless to say, I didn't expect to find such ominous results. Here's to hoping history doesn't repeat itself, particularly the last two years. Two of the worst Big East tourney losses in recent history came to the BET runner-up.

--- Chad Brendel with his take on UC's draw.

--- One of many coming
of age stories on Yancy Gates. This one by Paul Daugherty. It was a pretty funny scene as Yancy, SK and Cash spoke with us at Montgomery Inn last night. Yancy was just crushing some ice cream while we talked to him. I was pretty jealous, to be honest.

--- UC ended up No. 22 in the committee's S-curve.

--- Rush the Court didn't think Texas belonged in the tournament due to their lack of big wins.

--- Pat Forde writes 5k+ words on the tournament. UC isn't mentioned once, but it's still a good read.

--- Of the 50 in the Bracket Matrix, only one guy predicted all 68 teams correctly in.

--- Historically, the six seed wins 67 percent of the time in the first round. In the last 23 years, 12 teams seeded lower than 4 made it to the Final Four. Of course, four of those came in the last two years. Butler (2x), Michigan State and VCU.

--- This NC State reaction to getting in was phenomenal.

Randomness...

--- A second kid left behind at Chuck E. Cheese?
What is going on here? Are the ball pits too deep?

--- If you are 86 and can marry someone more than half your age, then, well, good for you. Show business is the gift that keeps on giving for Dick Van Dyke.

--- Guns N' Roses will reunite at the Rock and Roll HOF. Yeah, I'm sure this will go well.

--- Pretty stoked HOFers Red Hot Chili Peppers are coming to Cincy this year. Seen them twice before, incredible show.

--- Because it is officially that time of year and I love this song. One Shining Moment. Thursday can't get here quick enough.



Selection Sunday: Big name, big game, all business

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The Bearcats second tournament takes on a more subdued reaction and approach to their draw: Big-money Texas.

CINCINNATI - At the sight of their name on the Montgomery Inn big screen one year ago, the Bearcats exploded off their chairs like they'd never been there before. That's because they hadn't.

"When the thing came up on the TV last year, you seen most of us dancing and everything," Sean Kilpatrick said.

This year, Cashmere Wright popped off his chair to ham it up for the CBS cameras. For the most part, however, the response remained measured and calculated. Making The Dance no longer is the reason to celebrate in Clifton.

Been there, done that. This Sunday was all about plotting the blueprint.

"This year is more like a calming year compared to last year," Kilpatrick said. "This year is like, all right, we made it, but this is business time."

UC earned the six seed and will play a team that finished in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. Sound familiar? It should. The same scenario occurred last season with the Missouri showing up on the bracket. That concluded with a 78-63 win.

This year, Texas showed up on the bracket line.

Sure, within a close drive for the fans was nice. An extra day to recharge the batteries even better. Not seeing another Big East opponent in the same pod felt like another nice break for his Bearcats. A win would earn a date with the winner of ACC tournament champion Florida State and A-10 tournament champion St. Bonaventure.

Cronin was most thrilled to see a recognizable school next to Cincinnati on the bracket line.

"I'm glad we play a big-name team," Cronin said. "That gets my players' attention. I would have been concerned if we would have got a great team that doesn't have a sexy name. My guys, the bigger name we play, the better off we are."

In the world of college athletics, the name doesn't get much bigger than Texas. Cronin recruited their star J'Covan Brown. The 6-foot-1 junior guard averaged 20.1 points and 3.8 assists this season. But pulling a product out of Port Arthur, Texas away from the bright lights of his home state's centerpiece school just isn't done.

The Longhorns total athletics budget, according to the Indy Star database, is $82.4 million. UC on the other hand, $25.2 million. Much of that builds around the Longhorns football program, but the piles of money and facilities filter down to the basketball program. In just basketball-related expenses alone is $1.4 million more than UC's basketball allocation - which doesn't include the miscellaneous Texas revenue that eventually finds its way into the basketball bucket.

As notoriety, respect and credibility are concerned, the Big East conference tournament provided a grand stage. Beating one of the richest institutions in college sports would notarize the program's place in the upper-echelon

For Cronin, though, it's not as much about money and more about motivation.

"Texas didn't recruit any of our players," Cronin said. "They are coming off the Kevin Durants and T.J. Fords of the world and Rick Barnes has had it rolling. I'm sure I got a lot of guys on my team that are happy to be where they are at now, but probably wish Texas might have recruited them."

Most players wouldn't buy into that type of psychological mumbo-jumbo prior to the game.

"That's probably true," Yancy Gates said with a laugh.

The real truth, however, is Texas arrives as no slouch. KenPom ranks them at 27th in the country (he has UC 31st). They own the 23rd best offensive efficiency and are Top 50 on defense.

Brown leads the way and his supporting cast is talented -- just young. Myck Kobongo (6-1, 169 pounds), Sheldon McClellan (6-4, 188) and Julien Lewis (6-3, 190) soak up the majority of the minutes, but are all freshman.

Not surprisingly, they've progressed exponentially as the season went by. McClellan reeled off six consecutive double-figure scoring games in February and then his season-high 24 points in a win against Oklahoma.

Texas could be hard to predict with a team of 19-year-olds. At this point, however, little will surprise this UC bunch -- from as important as mentality on the court to as tangential as treatment in the streets.

"The cops take you to the gym," Gates said of the police escort. "I just thought you had to leave early."

Moral of the story for the second time around for the reset of UC postseason basketball is the bar has been raised and they feel prepared to do so.

"We are a lot wiser than we were last year," Kilpatrick said. "With the whole tournament last year, it was all of our first times there so for it to be our second time now, we know what to expect."

Not sweating conference departures

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That UC and Louisville played in the Big East championship game should not go 
unnoticed.

Big-East-logo.jpg
Back when Virginia Tech, Boston College and the Miami Hurricanes left the Big 
East, the conference was all but declared dead for the football losses and
inviting the "non-easterners" was frowned upon by those not wanting to invite
the best of Conference USA into the executive washroom.

The reality is that it strengthened an already strong basketball conference .

The continued rivalry of UC and Louisville is as good as ever as indicated by
their presence in the grand finale at Madison Square Garden. Furthermore,
Marquette was viewed as top 25 threat all season long as they've continued their
tradition, South Florida sports the league coach of the year and DePaul won't be
any more down than any of the current Big East "also rans".

If you watched this year's tournament, the Big East games are as exciting as
ever. Other than the obvious allure of easy money, it's still a mystery to me
why Syracuse would leave the Garden and their New York fans for the Greensboro
Coliseum and the ACC. Ditto for non-factor Pitt this year.

As for West Virginia, I doubt the "Let's go Mountaineers!" cheer will be as loud
in Stillwater, Oklahoma or Lawrence, Kansas.

To all departing schools I say, "Be careful what you wish for."

In football, UC and Louisville have more than held their own with both making
BCS bowl games and representing the league as proudly as the departed. South
Florida has also made it as high as No. 2 in the top 25 and the Bulls have
beaten national powers (ask Brian Kelly).

Now, the guys that get paid to spout off think the league is down or isn't
deserving of multiple NCAA bids or shouldn't get a BCS game.

My guess is that some self-appointed expert made those same under-researched
comments years ago. Again, the loudest person isn't always the right one. Those
that have used their two ears and two eyes more than their one mouth are usually
on target.

The new entries to the Big East will eventually prove themselves. Memphis was
good under John Calipari and has a good coach in Josh Pastner. They have great
talent and Pastner was schooled under Lute Olson. I think you'll find the
"Silver Fox" won on occasion.

Temple has been good and will be again. You don't come out of the
basketball-rich Philly area without attracting talent. Houston has been an NCAA
player before.

The underlying key to success for all of these schools is a bigger league and
the fact that they represent bigger markets. Memphis, Houston, Philadelphia,
Dallas, and the Florida area are full of talent for the home and OTHER teams in
the league. Everyone benefits.

The same logic exists in football. Houston got national attention with their
offense and SMU has June Jones who also plays an offense popular with young
players. Last time I checked, there was considerable interest in Texas for
football. With the Big East involved, UC and others can now cultivate talent
from those same fields.

In Orlando, UCF lives in the same player-rich area as USF. The Bulls in Tampa
have grown because they've kept players that didn't go to Gainesville,
Tallahassee or Miami at home. If you look at most Division I rosters, (including
UC's) you'll see a boatload of players from the Sunshine State.

Memphis has been down, but they have a new coach and if they can keep players
from escaping to neighboring states, they can compete. It wasn't all that long
ago, that UC labored to beat Memphis.

It's easy to sit on a throne somewhere and declare a league dead because of
longstanding biases. It's much harder to do be open-minded and do the homework.


Mick's Perfect Day

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At 7 o'clock tonight, Mick Cronin will sit down next to his father Hep in the front row of the team bus to head from the InterContinental Barclay Hotel to Madison Square Garden to play in the Big East Championship game against Louisville.

Mick and Hep on bus (550x310).jpg

The trip is roughly 20 blocks, but it represents the light years that the program has traveled since Mick signed on in March of 2006 to rebuild the Bearcats.

Mick on bus (550x312).jpg

"I'm happy for the kids," Mick told me.  "We've been through a lot and our togetherness has been tremendous.  I know they're excited and I'm like a proud parent.  We know we're in the NCAA Tournament and the real running begins next week, but there's nothing like a Big East Championship.  My kids have worked really hard to get into this position.  I'm hoping for them that they play well individually because it would be great for their careers.  It's stuff they would never forget and boost their stock as individuals because they've done so much to elevate our program."

After Friday's stunning 71-68 win over Syracuse, I couldn't help but think of my first in-depth interview with Mick after he took the job six years ago.  Here was my final question:

Describe the perfect day?

 

"I wake up in a hotel in New York City and prepare to play in the Big East Tournament championship game. Win the game and have dinner afterwards at some great restaurant in New York with friends and family. That would be...that's going to be a great day."

 

That day is here.

"The Big East is the granddaddy of all conference tournaments," Mick told me last night.  "The electricity at Madison Square Garden is second to none.  You turn on some of the other tournaments and nobody is even at the games.  It's going to be the experience of a lifetime."

**********

Now time for another Big East Tournament Top 10 List:

1...Yancy Gates. 

Yancy takes court (550x310).jpg

The big guy has been phenomenal in New York, scoring 23 points in the double-overtime win over Georgetown and 18 (15 in the second half) in Friday's victory over Syracuse.

In his first Big East Tournament in 2009, Yancy went 3-11 from the floor in a stunning loss to a DePaul team that did not win a regular season league game.  Now he's one win away from a tourney title and possibly being named the MVP.

"I've been through a lot of different things over my four years and this is an unbelievable feeling - to know that I will be playing in the Big East Championship," said Gates.

There's no way the Bearcats would have rallied to beat Georgetown in the quarterfinals if Gates didn't score 10 straight points in the last five minutes of regulation.  Coach Cronin called it the best game of Yancy's Cincinnati career.

"He put his team on his back and made them win," said Coach Cronin.  "That's the mark of a great player.  There have been times in the past where Bearcat greats have done that - Steve Logan, Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin - I think that's something that everybody has wanted Yancy to do and he maybe wasn't ready to do it.  It shows his evolution as a player.  He's still growing as a player and his best basketball is ahead of him."

2.  New York Newspapers.

I was up at 6:00 this morning to see what the local papers would have to say about the shocker over Syracuse.  Here are two of the headlines.

New York Daily News.jpg

New York Post.jpg


I was disappointed that none of the papers took my suggestion from Friday night's postgame show.  At the time of the year where we often hear the phrase "one and done," I thought a great headline (in reference to Syracuse's record) would be "31-and-1-and-Done"

3.  Bulletin Board Material.

When the Bearcats got to their locker room after beating the 'Cuse, freshman Jermaine Sanders picked up a marker and wrote "1 More" on a dry erase board.

"That's our mindset," said Gates.  "We came here to try to win the Big East Tournament and tonight we get that opportunity.  Everybody is happy that we beat Syracuse, but not because of their record or ranking.  We're happy because we beat them to get to the championship.  Winning tonight would be even bigger than beating Syracuse for us."

4.  Fatigue Factor.

After a double-overtime game on Thursday, Coach Cronin stayed with his starters for most of the game against Syracuse.  Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon played 37 minutes apiece, and Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick logged 38 apiece.

Of course, Louisville had to play three games to get to the championship, but Gates doubts that either team will feel sluggish tonight.

"Honestly?  I couldn't believe how fresh my legs felt when I walked into the gym last night," said Gates.  "Bob Mangine is a great trainer and we'll all get together with him to make sure that we feel the same way tonight."

5.  The Call.

I received several requests on Twitter for the radio call at the end of the Syracuse game.  Here is a link to the audio, courtesy of WLW radio.

6.  Record Breakers.

With one steal against Syracuse, Cashmere Wright is now Cincinnati's single-season record holder with 67 steals, breaking the mark shared by Puffy Kennedy (1979) and Brian Williams (1977).

Dion Dixon played in his 133rd career game and needs two more to tie the all-time Cincinnati record held by Steve Logan.

7.  Bagel Heaven.

Kudos to Bearcat superfan Greg Miller for turning me on to Ess-A-Bagel on Third Avenue.  It's about three blocks from the team hotel and people line up out the door for their wide variety of fresh (and gigantic) bagels.

If people are lining up for a bagel in New York City (where there is a bagel shop on every block), you know they have to be good.

8.  Prime Time Exposure.

The Bearcats are likely to add a couple of recruits in the spring signing period, and tonight's prime time ESPN telecast certainly can't hurt.    

"It's a huge recruiting tool and our players tell the recruits all of the time that there's nothing like playing in the Big East Tournament," Coach Cronin told me.  "It's the 'neatest' thing that you'll do as a college basketball player." 

9.  The Freight Elevator.

One of the unusual things about Madison Square Garden is that the court is actually a couple of stories about ground level.  It's always somewhat amusing to arrive with the team because everybody piles into a gigantic freight elevator to go up to the court level.

Freight elevator (550x310).jpg

I guess it an elevator is big enough to lift the elephants in the Big Apple Circus, it can handle a basketball team.

10.  In Bed In The City That Never Sleeps.

Under normal circumstances, I would have loved celebrating at a pub near Madison Square Garden with Bearcat fans after the last two games, but I have been under the weather and have gone straight to bed.  Brutal!  I think I am the first person in history to travel to New York City on an expense account that hasn't gone out to dinner for two days (you're welcome WLW).  I am hoping that if the 'Cats win tonight; I will be able to join the festivities.

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 3.9.12

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Has everyone's heart calmed down? If not, you might want to consult your physician.

Hard to imagine a more dramatic, well-played, intense game than that for UC's first win in the quarterfinal round of the Big East tournament. Twelve lead changes in ten minutes of overtimes is one of those numbers impossible to believe or wrap your head around unless you saw it yourself.

How many times have we seen UC come back to win games like this? When shots aren't falling and all appears lost, an instinctual, animal reaction comes out of this team where grit, resiliency and refusal to be denied take over.

This team knows how to win. It's a product of being led by juniors and seniors. And it's the only characteristic that really matters this time of year.

Parker.gifLet's eat...

--- UC (23-9) vs. Syracuse (31-1), 7 p.m., Big East Tournament Semifinal, Madison Square Garden, ESPN. Enjoy.

---  Dan and Chuck checked in just after UC's win yesterday with this video recap.

--- Relive the game-winning bucket by Cashmere Wright here.

--- Here's Yancy Gates and Mick Cronin talking postgame.

Mick says what anybody whose watched UC basketball over the past four years can't deny: "Best game he's ever played in a Bearcat uniform."

No doubt.

Beyond his 23 points, 8 rebounds and zero turnovers, there were few plays bigger than his three steals which flipped momentum and provided monstrous stops.

The second came with UC trailing 50-45. It led to the incredible ally-oop from Cashmere Wright as UC's charge took on an unrelenting rush that didn't really stop until the game ended.

The third steal came in 2OT with the game tied at 66 and led to the fast-break layup by Dion Dixon.

Shooting 2 of 21 from 3-point range, UC needed a spark and offense from somewhere and Gates threw the team on his shoulders and provided it like never before in his career.

For anybody who has ever trashed Gates for effort during his time at UC, they all need to stand up and recognize that his effort and energy, which hasn't relented all year, salvaged one of the biggest wins in the Cronin era.

--- Plus, we saw the invention of a new favorite hashtag: #YancyGatesMeanFace.

--- Plus, Part II, he came inches away from draining what would have been the greatest shot in UC history at the end of regulation. Coincidentally, it would have also come on the Great Alaska Shootout play design -- only a complete ad-lib version of it. The Mel Levett dunk currently holds the place of greatest shot in UC history, in my book anyway.

--- The fantastic Dana O'Neil tackled the topic of Gates with typical precision. Dana also points out only six conference schools have ever played for, let alone won, a Big East tournament title. UC could become No. 7 tonight.

--- Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News and Matt Norlander at CBS Sports also picked up on the Gates storyline.

--- Sure looked like the 70th best team in the country out there yesterday. Death to the RPI.

--- Without doubt, UC will need more of the same from him tonight against Syracuse. The Orange's only weakness -- if there can be one if you are 31-1 -- is their rebounding.

According to KenPom, in conference play Syracuse is 15th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage allowed and 11th in the league in gathering their own offensive boards. For a team that leads the league in BOTH offensive and defensive efficiency, that's the only major stat where they land in the bottom half.

Here are the offensive rebounding percentages from their last six games with the first meeting against UC included.

                Opp     Syr
UCONN     33%    25%
LOU          37%    23%
UCONN     38%    39%
USF          34%    28%
RUTGERS 28%    29%
LOU          50%    40%
CIN           33%    37%

--- In that first meeting,
Gates had 10 rebounds, but only one on the offensive end. UC led until midway through the second half, but watched the Orange pull away. That was losing the rebounding battle against a team whose weakness is exactly that. If they can flip the rebounding script tonight and shoot better than 2 for 21 from 3-point range, the numbers would say UC should be right back in another nail-biter.

--- Cronin has said a few times he thought the Bearcats ran out of gas against Syracuse on Big Monday earlier this year. The game came at the tail end of three games (@UConn, @WVU) in six days. And those were three grinder games as well. SK hit the game-winning 3 at UConn and the Cats lost in OT at WVU.

Hopefully the 50-minutes of basketball yesterday don't show up again in the final 10 minutes.

--- Mike Waters of the
Syracuse Post-Standard writes about UC having to face Fab Melo this time. The 7-footer was out for the first matchup and changes the face of their defense with the way he blocks shots on the interior.

He is fourth in the country in percentage of shots blocked.

--- I said on Twitter Wednesday
that UConn had a nice little story again with their first two wins but it would come to an end against Syracuse. I was right. And I couldn't be happier about it when you hear comments like these from Jim Calhoun who continues to prove his reputation correct in taking shots at Iona's coach.

Tim Cluess talked about not letting middling Big East teams like UConn in over his squad. Calhoun pointed to his team playing 22 of its 32 games against the Top 100 teams in the country.

Congrats. You were 0-6 against the Sagarin Top 25, Jim.

As Mick Cronin said this week, "you and I can go lose to Tiger Woods in golf, it doesn't mean we are any good."

Not saying UConn doesn't belong in The Dance over Iona, but easy on boasting that tough schedule when you've lost to every quality opponent on it.

--- By the way, after Thursday, UC is now 5-3 against the top seven teams in the league this year.

--- Cashmere Wright tied the
single-season steals mark yesterday. He now has 66 on the year. He also has 12 steals in the last two games.

Some randomness...

--- Mr. T and Old Navy: A logical match. Though, I really do pity the fool who spends more than five minutes in that store.

--- Having lived in a small town deprived of culture before, I can completely relate with reviewing the long-awaited opening of The Olive Garden. Predictable unanimous consensus: Delicious!

--- Blake Griffin: Still good.

--- Top 16 athlete fashion fails. "Tom Brady wore this outfit to the opening of Milan's first KFC franchise."

--- Headline of the day: "Lohan wants to meet Miss Piggy in rehab"

--- No music today, just the highlights of one of the greatest games in the Cronin era. Enjoy the game tonight folks.



Living the dream

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Seeing the University of Cincinnati on the court Saturday night at Madison Square Garden would be a dream come true for Mick Cronin.

CINCINNATI -- Mick Cronin represents the face of one of the fastest rising programs in the Big East. In a league loaded with coaches sporting gray hairs, no hair and bags under the eyes developed over decades spent steering teams toward New York City, Cronin has been in the conference longer than half of them.

BETourney.jpg

The dream of coaching for a Big East championship at Madison Square Garden filters through the mind of every coach in this league and even beyond it.

Arriving at MSG for today's 2 p.m. quarterfinal against Georgetown, the dream seeps closer to reality than ever before.

"One of my big dreams for the program," he said. "To be playing on Saturday night for that championship is something I've thought about for a long, long time."

The concept of owning that stage himself became his own personal dream scenario "when I took the job." There are other goals, but few compare to this. Rarely can anyone find a grander, more historic stage than the championship in that arena.

"Just think about all the games, the close games, the battles," Cronin said of the tournament enjoying its 30th edition. "It's hard to describe unless you've been to it."

Yet, he's never experienced Saturday night of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. No, not just coaching in the conference championship - the majority of coaches in the league haven't felt that rush.

Since becoming the coach of Bearcats six seasons ago and igniting this NYC dream, Cronin's never even been in the building.

"No," he said. "Always recruiting."

The two-game gauntlet to change that fact begins today and within 48 hours Cronin knows that for himself and his program, 80 minutes of fantastic basketball (maybe more, after all, this is the Big East Tournament) and he might need to pinch himself.

"I grew up watching the Big East," Cronin said. "Son of a coach, basketball has been my entire life. I have vivid memories of sitting there watching the Big East championship, Georgetown playing Syracuse."

Now, they more than likely will have go through both of them.

SKHighSchool.jpg

Relishing the endgame here spans beyond Cronin and the UC fan base. For a player like Sean Kilpatrick, who played high school basketball in shadows of MSG in White Plains, N.Y., there's a different feel to these games. It's palpable the instant the players enter the building.

"It's a lot more attention, especially at the Garden," Kilpatrick said. "That's one of the world's most famous arenas. There will be a lot more people there than a normal crowd, say like, at Syracuse or Cincinnati or St. John's. It's different because you are not used to playing there like that. You only play there in one tournament a year. At the Garden, the team has to be a lot more together."

Banding together is necessary because so much is at stake. While some coaches like Kentucky's John Calipari bemoan even having to play in their conference tournament with bigger ideas of March, the benefit of playing and winning the Big East tournament extends past sentimental value and program notoriety. It predicts NCAA Tournament success.

In four of the last five years, the team to win the Big East Tournament at least advanced to the Elite Eight. Only Pittsburgh in 2008, who bowed out in the second round, fell short.

The 2011 tournament champion, Connecticut, went on to win the national title. West Virginia in 2010 and Georgetown in 2007 lost in the national semifinals at the Final Four and Louisville in 2008 went from regular season champs to tournament champs to the Elite Eight.

Surviving The Garden party creates a mettle of armor and confidence impossible to calculate on a team sheet or box score.

For the first time since Cronin arrived at Cincinnati, himself and his team believe they have a realistic chance of earning those immeasurables.

"You think you got a chance to win it when you only got to play three games," Cronin said. "It's tough when other teams only have to play three and you have to play four or five. For us, our mentality with our kids, I know they think they have a chance to win it. Only playing three gives them a realistic chance of winning the thing instead of just trying to get to Friday night."

No, this tournament isn't about getting to Friday night. This is about Saturday. This is about living a dream.

Wright Feels Alright...And A Top 10 List From NYC

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When Cashmere Wright is finished playing college basketball next year, he hopes to move on to a pro career.  After that, he should probably get into broadcasting.

But not sports broadcasting.

Wright shot (203x465).jpg

Wright jokes that he could have a future as a TV meteorologist.  The junior guard says that he knows that rain is coming when his surgically-repaired knee starts to hurt.

"Before I go to sleep, I start to feel a little aching in my legs and when I wake up and see rain I go, 'Yep.  I knew it,'" Wright told me.  "When it rains it feels horrible.  Even walking hurts.  Sometimes it's kind of hard to get out of bed.  But once I get out and get stretched, it feels a little better."

The Bearcats chances of making lengthy runs in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments will depend in large part on Wright's knees.  He's had three surgical procedures on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, and Cashmere recently hurt his right knee.

"That's the sad part," said Wright.  "In the Louisville game, I did something to it.  But after taking a few days off, they feel much better.  It must be the new tights that I have.  I love these new tights."

Cashmere has started wearing full-length compression tights under his shorts to control the swelling in his knees.  Head coach Mick Cronin is also limiting his reps at practice and had Wright come off the bench against Villanova in hopes of limiting him to 25 minutes of playing time in the final game of the regular season (he played 27)

"He is a guy that needs rest - especially late in the season," said Cronin.  "He knows what he's doing and he proved at Villanova - despite being hurt and despite me not starting him and trying to get him more rest - his stats were off the charts."

Wright finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 7 steals, and no turnovers against 'Nova and the Bearcats outscored the Wildcats by 21 points while he was in the game.  The 22-year-old from Georgia says he understands the importance of resting his knees as much as possible.

"You have to realize that you're getting older and your body is getting older and if you want to have a career in basketball, you have to realize that your body is your future," said Wright.  "You can't be out here going hard in every second of every drill.  Sometimes you have to take some time off."

The break ends on Thursday afternoon at 2:00.

"Everything is one-and-done from now on," said Wright.  "It's all about winning now.  It's time to play."

**********

Since Late Night with David Letterman is doing re-runs this week, there's no chance of getting Dave to do another Chuck Machock spoof, but I will continue my Letterman-like tradition of doing a daily Top 10 list from the Big East Tournament.

1.  Final score from Wednesday afternoon:  Georgetown 64 Pittsburgh 52.  So it's the Bearcats against the Hoyas on Thursday at 2:00.

"They are a very hard team to defend so that's a problem," said Cronin.  "We all know that the offense that they run is very complicated.  But this year, their defense has really been the staple for them because of their size.  I really think for us to have success up here, we're going to have to shoot the ball well."

2.  One of fun things about the Big East Tournament is that you never know who you are going to see in the arena.  Two years ago when UC faced West Virginia, former President Bill Clinton and actor Denzel Washington were in the stands.

Clinton Big East.jpg

"I didn't see them until we got home and I watched the highlights," said Cashmere Wright.  "We had no clue that they were there.  I was like, 'Whoa!  We had a President at our game.'  That had to be one of the coolest things ever.  To actually have Denzel Washington and a former President watching."

Will Wright be scanning the crowd for celebs before any UC games in the Big East Tourney this week?

"I think that would throw off my game," said Wright.  "You have to go out there and focus and not worry about who is in the crowd."

I suspect Coach Cronin will be very happy to hear that.

3.  The Bearcats played zone defense for nearly all of their last two games and it was highly effective in wins over Marquette and Villanova.  But that might not be the best strategy against Georgetown since the key to beating the Hoyas in their first meeting was forcing 17 turnovers.

"We practice man-to-man every day," said Coach Cronin.  "We work on our defensive principles and I think that helps our zone because you see us matching up at times.  If we're going to lose, we're going to pick how we are going to lose.  We're not going to let certain things beat us.  Going into a game, you have to assess the other team's strengths and what gives us the best chance to win.  Right now, I feel good about our defense because we are just as good in man-to-man as we are in zone."

4.  My favorite broadcasting crew in any sport is the ESPN trio of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, and Bill Raftery and I always look forward to hearing their calls in the Big East Tourney.  I also really enjoyed this story that Bilas recently wrote about the late, great Skip Prosser. 

5.  The Louisville press notes include a reference to Rick Pitino being "the only coach to take three different schools to the NCAA Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville)."  I didn't realize it until reading this interview in The Sporting News, but that is a not-so-subtle dig at UK coach John Calipari who has also taken three schools to the Final Four (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky).  Louisville can technically use the line about Pitino since two of Calipari's Final Four trips were vacated due to NCAA rules violations.

6.  Today's amusing New York City room service "deal" is the Big Apple breakfast at the Intercontinental Barclay. 

Room service 2.jpg

Two eggs, meat, potatoes, bagel, fruit, juice, and coffee...for a mere $42.  Needless to say, I won't be ordering.

7.  Last year, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey took his team to see the musical "Jersey Boys" before playing their first game in the Big East Tourney.  There are no Broadway shows on the itinerary for the Bearcats, but Mick Cronin is giving the players some time to enjoy themselves in New York. 

"I'm a big believer that these kids work hard and you have to let them have fun," Coach Cronin told me.  "Obviously, my job is to get them focused on playing basketball, but they put in a lot of hard work and it's a long season.  The worst thing you can do is make it all business all of the time."

8.  For the second straight year, Tom Gelehrter has joined us in the Big Apple to provide video content on GoBearcats.com.  Look for daily pre- and post-game reports as long as the 'Cats are alive in the tourney. 

9.  I am six years late on this (and it has nothing to do with the Big East Tournament), but my wife and I are watching Season 5 of The Shield on DVD and Forest Whitaker's performance as Lieutenant Kavanaugh might be the greatest acting job in TV history.  He is unbelievably creepy.  I am obsessed and felt the need to share.

10.  There are 12 colleges that use "Bearcats" for their team nickname (13 if you include the Sam Houston State Bearkats).  Ironically, Cincinnati practiced at one of the other 11 schools on Wednesday. 

Baruch (550x413).jpg

In addition to Baruch College in Manhattan, the other "Bearcats" are Brescia University, Lander University, McKendree College, NW Missouri State University, Rust College, Southwest Baptist University, St. Vincent College, Binghamton University, UC Blue Ash (formerly Raymond Walters College), and Willamette University.

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 3.7.12

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If you haven't listened to the latest episode of the podcast, it is now up. As is the case with all of them, I highly recommend it. Tommy G and myself break down all things surrounding UC and the Big East tournament and even delve into some of the alumni coming around these parts.

Here is the link. It's 30 minutes. You and I both know you have nothing better to do.

Also, remember Tommy G, Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock are in NYC and will be posting video reports periodically on GoBearcats.com. Be sure to keep checking back for more.

Let's eat...
Unis.jpg
--- I got a closer look at the new infrared jerseys yesterday. They had them out prior to the availability with Mick and the players. My initial reaction? Their different. I'm not a huge fan, but I haven't seen them in action, and to be perfectly honest, my opinion is worth a cup of steam.

All that matters is one thing.

"The players don't like them," Mick Cronin said. "They love them. Whatever recruits and players like, I like."

And recruits and players love different uniforms, also, UC will be one of only three teams sporting the new unis. This will be the sixth and seventh different uniform they've worn this year, counting red, black and white regular, white and black throwbacks.

"New look," Sean Kilpatrick said. "It's good for  anew look, especially going into the Big East tournament, you want to feel refreshed and everything going into there. I think new uniforms give us a new outlook."

Bill Koch wrote a full story on the uni topic.

--- Mick jumped a bit
into the topic of the NCAA Selection Committee yesterday. Talking about strength of schedule and projections he offered some interesting observations.

"To me, it's who you beat," he said. "You and I can go play Tiger Woods in golf, doesn't mean we are any good. Your ability to beat another good team. That is how you would gauge what your team is capable of."

Granted, this philosophy plays nicely into his current team sheet, but there's no denying that playing a tough schedule doesn't prove much other than you played a tough schedule. At some point a team needs to win those games (the RPIs biggest weakness, right there -- win or lose, they give you extreme credit just for lacing them up).

What does it mean on the flip side along that line of thinking, in UC's case in particular losing to poor teams (ie. You and I can go play a 9-year-old in golf, if we lose, it proves we are not very good).

Mick offered this.

"Yeah, because of your ability of how good are you," he said. "Who were you when you lost? What injuries did you have? What place were you at that point in your season? You can be a totally different team."

The example of USF, which inherited a slew of bad losses early in the season playing without three of their best players. Those losses need to be taken into consideration, but it doesn't serve as a true value of what the team is capable of -- 12-6 in the Big East does.

The same could be said for UC, which lost to Presbyterian and Marshall without JaQuon Parker. Curious if he would have played a difference in a buzzer-beater and OT loss? Check the Marquette game tape.

By the end of the conversation, the common thread was, the committee has one of the toughest jobs in sport and none of us want to be responsible for what comes out of that room.

"I just think there are a lot of teams that look the same when you really start looking at that stuff," Cronin said. "It's a tough thing to kind of figure out. I don't know how they do it."

--- Koch on UC utilizing the
zone defense well late in the year.

--- The Wall Street Journal talks about UC liking their chances only having to win three games to win the BET.

--- Good stuff from Mick talking more in regards to ESPN analysts and the true way to judge who is most likely to win the NCAA tournament.

"I do know that if you look at it and want to know who the best teams are all you have to do is go to Las Vegas," he said. "Which one do they have favored in Vegas? (TV) experts don't have to be held accountable. They forget they are 0-for-The Final Four the last three years. Those other guys aren't right, it costs them a lot of money."


For the record and strictly for informational and recreational use, UC is among a group of 14 teams falling between a ranking of 24th to 38th going off at 100-to-1 to win The Dance right now, according to Sportsbook.com.

--- Went 3 for 4 on my f
irst-round picks yesterday. UConn had an easier time than I anticipated they would with DePaul, though, I am still not buying a Huskies resurgence.

Pitt looked impressive and I wouldn't be shocked to see them upset Georgetown tonight. Remember, the Panthers beat GT 72-60 in January.

Jordan Theodore was incredible with 13 assists, but dishing out 13 assists against whatever it is Providence claims to be defense is the equivalent of being shocked Clooney walked into the party and left with your girl. It's just what happens in that situation.

Villanova's win against Rutgers sets up an intriguing second-round matchup with a team that plays no defense facing a team that plays only defense.

--- As for picking the winners today: UConn tops West Virginia. (Yes, I know I said I don't believe in the Huskies resurgence, but I believe even less in this 'Eers team's ability to win a big game).

Upset alert: Pitt over Georgetown, my gut continues to scream for the Panthers.

Louisville over Seton Hall. The Pirates have been overrated all year. I feel the same way about U of L, but they still have more to offer than SH.

USF over Villanova. In a game I will watch while changing the channel to anything else as much as possible.

--- The mystery of the Kevin Jones vote surrounds the BET.

--- I look forward to seeing the full 1-68 S-Curve that the NCAA will release for the first time this year.

--- Randomness...

--- A third Bill and Ted
movie with Keanu on board appears to be happening. At least Keanu can revert to playing a character more loosely based on himself.

--- Try to rob the girl scouts and you're bound to get smacked.

--- At what point in time
once you leave Chuck E. Cheese do you realize you left your 3-year-old there? Apparently, while watching the 11 o'clock news. Wow.

--- I see you Minnesota T-Wolves marketing staff. Anytime you can rerack the Family Matters theme song, I am on board with full support.



Episode 10: Inside the Bearcats Podcast

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The double-bye edition of the podcast is upon us and I welcomed the first three-time guest of the ITBP, Tommy Gelehrter, UC's Director of New Media and Broadcasting.

TommyG.jpegThat's right, I just went acronym with it. That's allowed now that we've reached double-digit episodes.

Tommy G was nice enough to take time away from the science experiment that is attempting to pack for a trip when you have no idea how many days you'll be there.

We discuss the greatness of Jason Kelce in the student section, Chuck Machock stories and TG pulling strings to find his way into some NYC hot spots. Oh, and we also talk a ton about the Big East awards and what to watch for in the Big East tourney.

Here's the breakdown. Enjoy.

Minutes 1-5: Snoop and Dr. Dre bring the Nuthin but a G thang intro and we jump right into what makes the the Big East tournament special and what a double-bye says about the changing face of UC basketball.

5-9:30: What's the itinerary in NYC and a tangent about the greatness of a sleeveless starting NFL center in the student section for the Marquette game.

9:30-16: Big East Coach of the Year, the candidates, who should have won and where Mick falls in there.

16-21: The All-Big East teams, the humility of Sean Kilpatrick, the recruitment of good guys and my concerning obsession with statistics. Actually, 54 of the last 62 blog readers who also listened to one of the last three podcasts and own UC season tickets don't believe my overuse of statistics are an issue.

21-24: The Yancy Gates snub. Why?

24-26: Why this schedule worked well for UC.

26-28:
Ballparking the Bearcats chances and the absurdity of wishing UC didn't have a double-bye.

28-31: Why the NCAA and Adidas will be in a fight if UC, Louisville and Baylor advance to the Final Four and a pitch for a new story time with Chuck feature on the site.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio


Bearcats Breakfast 3.6.12

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Happy Tuesday and, more importantly, happy beginning of the Big East Tournament. Enjoy kicking back and watching teams play their bodies into submission over the next two days while the Bearcats kick back in the hotel with their feet up.

Quite a feeling. Enjoy it. There are a lot of programs with piles of money dedicated to the basketball program looking jealously at the Bearcats and Mick Cronin right now.

Let's eat...

--- There is plenty of Bearcats on the plate, but I'd be remiss if I didn't start by talking about Miami coach Charlie Coles, who announced his retirement last night.

Since arriving on the UC beat three seasons ago, every year when UC played Miami has been a treat. I was even lucky enough to see him at least once a year while in school at Ohio. The guy is the Michael Jordan of postgame press conferences. And he's an even better person.

You never know what he is going to say, only that it will make you laugh and offer perspective.

I've heard him wax poetic about the name Cashmere and tell us if he had his druthers his name would have been Rudyard Othello Coles. I've seen him bring his granddaughter into nearly every press conference and remind us that is why he's coaching.

There's the classic facial reactions like the ones he offers beginning at the nine-minute mark of this BearcatLair postgame video from UC-Miami 2010.

Of course, one of the most famous recently was this exchange given at Kentucky when the RedHawks lost at the buzzer to John Wall and Coles was asked how it got away from him.



Sad to think he held his final postgame presser last night. It's been a fantastic ride. Thanks, Charlie.

--- Moving on, the opening round of the tournament is today, beginning at noon with DePaul-UConn at noon, Pitt-St. John's at 2 p.m., Providence-Seton Hall at 7 p.m., and Villanova-Rutgers at 9 p.m.

As for predictions, I think DePaul puts a serious scare into UConn, but the Huskies hold on. Then I have Pitt, Providence and Villanova.

--- Dan Hoard asks, who is this year's JaQuon Parker. If you remember early in the season, we gave Parker as the answer to who is this year's Dion Dixon.

As Mick precisely said when talking to DH, it's whoever puts in the effort during the offseason. That's been the common trait between Parker and Dixon -- countless hours in the gym. Both came by virtue of motivation. Dixon from a disappointing sophomore year capped by the brutal conclusion at MSG against WVU. Parker from a season that saw him barely grace the floor.

Next year, who knows? Cheikh Mbodj and Kelvin Gaines are the two that come to my mind as both will be needed to fill in for Yancy Gates.

We shall see. Just poke your head into the gym late at night and you'll find your answer.

--- I wanted to point something out which critics love to throw in the face of the Bearcats: The old non-conference schedule.

Yes, that dreaded non-con number. What is it now? 326? Point being, we praised Mick because last year his team was fresh, resilient and energetic for its postseason run due in large part to a early-season schedule designed to prepare his team for conference play, but not overwhelm them over the course of the year. After all, the team need to be playing its best, and not worn down or tearing each other's throats out, by the time the calendar flipped to March.

Such is the case this year, as his team finished the regular season playing its best, winning 6 of 8 and 5 of 6.

The non-con schedule ended up weaker than anticipated and changes are expected in coming years, but there's no denying a young team needing to find itself early on did that (with some unanticipated help at The Cintas Center) and eventually came together fresh and prepared for a run late in the season....again.

There is a method to Mick's madness and for the second year in a row, it is proving itself.

Jersey.jpeg--- The Bearcats will be sporting new Adidas jerseys for the postseason. Here is a photo gallery of the new unis. It's unigeek Christmas!

--- Dana O'Neil rightly points out that Mick Cronin and Buzz Williams are among a new group of young coaches following in some serious footsteps for a conference built on legendary leaders.

--- Bill Koch writes on Sean Kilpatrick seeking to improve after earning Second Team All-Big East status.

Take a look at all the underclassmen the last two years who have been named to the second, third or honorable mention and where they ended up the next season.

2011    -----      NEXT YEAR HONOR
SECOND TEAM
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette, G, Jr.  --- FIRST TEAM
 
THIRD TEAM
Kris Joseph, Syracuse, F, Jr.,  --- FIRST TEAM
 
HONORABLE MENTION
Peyton Siva, Louisville, G, So. --- UNRANKED
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse, G, So. --- SECOND TEAM
Kevin Jones, West Virginia, F, Jr.  --- FIRST TEAM

2010
SECOND TEAM

Austin Freeman, Georgetown, G, Jr. --- FIRST TEAM
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, G, Jr. --- THIRD TEAM
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh, G, So.  ---  FIRST TEAM

THIRD
TEAM

Samardo Samuels, Louisville, F, So. --- PRO
Corey Fisher, Villanova, G, Jr.  --- SECOND TEAM
Kemba Walker, Connecticut, G, So. --- FIRST TEAM
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, F, So. --- PRO

HONORABLE MENTION

Jamine Peterson, Providence, F, So.  --- TRANSFER
Jimmy Butler, Marquette, F, Jr. --- HONORABLE MENTION
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame, F, Fr. --- THIRD TEAM

--- To note, only one player (Peyton Siva, 2012) didn't jump up another level or stay the same after being selected.

--- Of the players who returned and were named to the second or third team, 5 of 7 ended up on the First Team All-Big East the next season.

--- Point being, history shows players who show up on this list tend to take a step to the elite of the league when they return. The bar of expectations will be set very high for SK next year. His development should place him among one of the top five players in the Big East.

--- Scott from Bearcats Blog suffers a color-coded, statistical hemorrhage in his Big East Tournament primer.

--- Did anybody happen to listen to the Mick Cronin Radio Show last night on 700WLW? If you didn't, you missed a dandy.

Here is the podcast of a question that got him going on the ESPN analysts, via The Big One. Jump forward to the 26:30 mark to hear Matt ask the question that opens the comedic floodgates.

He essentially takes shots at every analyst ESPN and other stations have to offer.

"Joe Lunardi is a professor at St. Joe's, why do we care what he thinks?"

Then, when Jerry Palm is referenced, he breaks out, "who is Jerry Palm?"

My favorite was ripping on the teammate thief, Doug Gottlieb.

"If you can't shoot over 50 percent from the free throw line as a college basketball player, you shouldn't get to be an analyst."

Plus, Chuck uses the word morphisis.

--- The selection committee claims it doesn't really use the RPI for team evaluation. Yet, on the team sheets they look at to compare every team, the acronym RPI is listed 16 times. You can say you're not affected all you want, it's there. We'll see how much on Selection Sunday.

--- According to John Gasaway's Tuesday Truth's stat bonanza, the Bearcats finished just about where they belonged by the numbers in the Big East.

--- Mike DeCourcy's Q and A with Coach Cal deserves a read.

--- Some randomness...

--- Please let me see somebody park like this trying to find a spot at Fifth and Vine.

--- Dikembe Mutumbo can't believe what he just saw.

--- Mila Kunis says she doesn't get asked out. I would be more than happy to change that.

--- What a story of heroism from this mother of two.

--- It's been a while since I've broken out some Pearl Jam. Here you go. Look out for the latest Inside the Bearcats Podcast coming later in the day. Have a good one.


So Who Is Next Year's JaQuon Parker?

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Last week, JaQuon Parker scored 39 points in wins over Marquette and Villanova.  Last year, Parker scored 35.

All year.

Parker.jpg

JaQuon is one of several players on this year's team who has made huge strides during his UC career. 

"That's player development," head coach Mick Cronin told me.  "JaQuon is an interesting guy because he only played three years of high school.  Then we brought him in and played him at the point out of necessity with Cashmere's injury.  He did it because he's such a team guy.  It doesn't surprise me now that he's on the wing and attacking the basket that his game is developing.  The more minutes he gets the more success he is going to have.  His early-season injury is the only reason why you didn't see this earlier.  When a player has a groin injury, you have to completely shut him down.  He wasn't even practicing during that injury.   Playing at this level is so much harder than a lot of people realize, and it takes guys time to develop.  For Park, it's taken him some time, but now you are seeing it."

Parker was named to the Big East weekly honor roll for his outstanding performances last week and is averaging 9.2 points and 5 rebounds this season.  Of the six Bearcats who have attempted at least 30 three-point shots, Parker has the best 3-point percentage at 42.7.  Last year, he was a woeful 3-for-20 (15%) from beyond the arc.

So who is next year's JaQuon Parker?  In other words, the most likely candidate to make a quantum leap in offensive production. 

"The answer to that is whoever works the hardest," said Coach Cronin.  "You've seen different guys improve over their careers.  Dion Dixon is a great off-season guy...Sean Kilpatrick is a great practice player...JaQuon had a really good off-season.  I like all of our young guys and I think they are all going to get better.  I think the key for all of our freshman - including Shaq Thomas and Octavius Ellis who are redshirting - the time that they put in is going to be the most important thing.  That's going to be the key for us as a staff.  We are a player development program - that's really what we are.  One-year guys are an aberration for us.  The truth for us is to get four-year guys and develop them into really good players.  We have to make sure we're on top of them in the off-season."

Watching JaQuon Parker play a key role on an NCAA tournament team should provide plenty of motivation for his younger teammates.

**********

Kudos to my fellow GoBearcats.com blogger Paul Dehner Jr. for researching a question that I posed on Twitter after Saturday's win at Villanova.

Wright drive (550x418).jpg

While broadcasting the game, it seemed like Cincinnati completely dominated the action while Cashmere Wright was on the floor.  In just 27 minutes of playing time, Wright had 9 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 7 steals and no turnovers.

So after the game, I sent out the following tweet:

"I'd like a plus/minus stat for Cashmere Wright today."

Thanks to Paul, I now have one.

The Bearcats outscored the Wildcats by 21 points while Wright was on the floor.  A performance that's even more impressive when you consider that the junior guard's knee has been acting up.

"People probably don't appreciate his level of toughness," said Cronin.  "I have the same issue of having no cartilage in my knee and there are days where you wake up and for no rhyme or reason you're just sore.  We have to manage that with Cash.  Some days when he feels fine, he doesn't need to go 110% at practice.  But that's easy for me to say when you have a young kid who is chasing a dream.  When he feels great he wants to play.   

"The double bye in the Big East Tournament will be huge.  Cash was playing on one leg (on Saturday).  He needs rest - there's no other way around it.  That's why not playing until Thursday helps us a lot.  It really helps us."

The Bearcats did not practice on Sunday and Wright was given most of Monday off as well.

********** 

One of the most positive developments in Cincinnati's strong regular season finish was the fan support in the 'Cats critical late-season home games.

Big crowd (480x319).jpg

The Bearcats averaged 12,498 fans in their final three games at Fifth Third Arena, providing a significant home court advantage in badly-needed wins over Seton Hall, Louisville, and Marquette.

"Our home crowds carried us down the stretch," Coach Cronin told me.  "They gave us the lift that we needed to win six of our last eight.  It makes the guys feel like they are playing for the fans."

The big crowds could also pay future dividends.

"We had a recruit here for Louisville, and we had recruits here for Marquette and great crowds make a difference," said Cronin.  "You want us to recruit great players?  Then keep coming to the games because they pay attention.  And it affects winning.  When you have a guy like Rick Pitino saying that we had the best home court advantage that he has seen in a long time - that affects winning.  We sent that quote out to all of our recruits."

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 3.5.12

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On Dec. 10, nobody could have predicted this. Not me. Not Mick Cronin. Not Yancy Gates. Not Nostradamus. Not Miss Cleo.

For the sixth consecutive season under Cronin, the Bearcats reached a new high-water mark. The previous five years came with increased win totals. And while that could still happen this year (if it does, Bearcats fans have a hell of a March in front of them), this year's accomplishment was a new high in Big East wins and the first tourney double-bye in school history.
Cronin suit.jpg
Hard to believe how far this team has come.

The players deserve credit for withstanding the adversity. The university deserves credit for handling the brawl swiftly and successfully.

More than anyone, Mick Cronin deserves credit for one of the finest coaching jobs amid adversity there's been anywhere this year.

From nine seconds left in the Xavier loss to today, nobody has done more while having to deal with more. Yet, here he is, his team -- again -- playing its best basketball as the postseason rolls around and reaching unprecedented heights in the conference as they head to NYC.

He probably won't win Big East Coach of the Year. But he deserves to be in the conversation.

Jim Boeheim only lost one conference game, but he did so with one of the best recruiting classes in the country.....not even seeing the floor.

Mike Brey took a team of castoffs nobody gave a chance and spun them into the third-best team in the conference. A team I still don't understand how they are winning.

Buzz Williams perfectly positioned his talent to create a supersystem that fits them. And it's turned two great players and a bunch of role players into one of the most well-oiled machines in the country.

But none of them dealt with what Mick did. None of them ever had to worry about setting punishment precedent or reacting in the heat of the brawling moment on the podium. None of them had to rebuild a team midseason then meld the two back together soon after.

Again, Cronin probably won't win, but he certainly deserves consideration. And nobody around this city has any substance if they attempt to criticize him anymore. All they should do is stand up and applaud.

Let's eat...

--- UC has the double bye
and will play the winner of Georgetown vs. St. John's/Pitt at 2 p.m. on Thursday on ESPN.

Here is the full printable tournament bracket.

--- Recent years, the phrase
"double-bye" has usually been preceded by the word "dreaded." Teams sitting in the double-bye spots have traditionally struggled in the quarterfinal opener against teams already in a rhythm with a game or two under their belt.

Last year was a bounceback year for those teams, with ND (against UC) and Marquette both blowing away the competition and three of the four teams winning. Only UConn and their remarkable run prevented the sweep. That has most definitely not always been the case.

Double-bye record in quarterfinal round:

2011
3-1 (9 seed UConn won)
2010
1-3 (8 seed Georgetown lost in Finals)
2009
2-2 (6 seed Syracuse lost in Finals)
2008
1-3 (7 seed Pitt won)

--- Over the last four years, the double-bye teams have gone 7-9 in the quarterfinal round and a team from outside the double-bye advanced to the championship game every year and won the thing twice.

UC's position, while enviable and impressive, ensures very little beyond an extra day of rest.

--- The double bye will be
particularly important for UC because they are banged up. Mick said Cash was playing on one knee Saturday.

By the way, what a performance on one knee.

After the game, Dan Hoard was wondering on Twitter what Cash's +/- stat, traditionally used in NBA and hockey, would have been for the four-point win.

Turns out UC was +21 with him on the court.

He finished with 9 points, 6 assists, 7 steals, 5 rebounds and ZERO TURNOVERS in 27 minutes.

For a guy playing on one knee, I can only say that is one heck of a knee.

"The last couple days have been bad days for him," Cronin said on the radio after the game, admitting he wanted to keep him under 25 minutes but couldn't hold him out with Nova charging late. "He needs rest."

Cronin went on to say Cash is the best defensive rebounder at point guard than anybody he's seen since Kenny Satterfield.

--- Loved this monologue
from Cronin after the game on the radio:

"If we play with toughness and don't let people push us around and take care of the ball, I really believe in our talent.


"This is what is what I told our guys. Butler is in the NCAA Finals two years in a row. VCU is in the Final Four. Connecticut, who barely beats us, wins the title. Don't watch ESPN and listen to those guys. They are wrong every year. The same guys who are proclaiming to know who should be in the NCAA tournament say the bubble is weaker this year. Well, that weak bubble last year, Butler played their way in to the confernece tournament and weak bubble and nobody picked VCU, both of them were in the Final Four. Never let people define who you are. We got talent. We just got to believe in ourselves."

 

--- Sean Kilpatrick was named Second Team All-Big East on Sunday. A deserved honor for a guy who everyone was counting on the take his gave to the next level this season and met expectations.

His final regular season stats were 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 36.4 percent from 3. He tied for first in the conference in 3-pointers made.

Here is the full list of All-Big East award winners.

--- One coach didn't vote Kevin Jones First team All-Big East. Think about that. #Givemetransparencyorgivemedeath

--- Somebody asked me on Twitter if Sean Kilpatrick was Mick's best recruit at UC. Thought it was an interesting question. While I think signing Lance Stephenson was probably his best recruit, what he's done in finding/developing SK would be his best get. With JaQuon Parker not far behind in the diamond in the rough category.

--- Some end of the season
KenPom stats to gauge your Bearcats by:

UC had four players in the top 275 individually in the turnover rate category. Yancy Gates (31), JaQuon Parker (79), Sean Kilpatrick (150) and Dion Dixon (264).

Cashmere Wright finished 43rd in the country in steal percentage (4.0 percent of possessions with a steal).

UC finished 8th in the country in offensive turnover percentage (16.1) on the season.

--- Bill Koch breaks down the Big East tournament and even sees UC as the dark horse. That's probably about right. For some reason my gut says Pitt has a run left in them, but that could just be the pirogi from lunch yesterday.

--- Eamonn Brennan states what I've been saying for weeks: we will learn a ton about how the committee looks at computer numbers and RPI by what seed UC ends up.

More RPI hate, this time from the Washington Post.

--- Bringing The Dance back
to Cincinnati would be a fantastic development. Just wish we had a better facility than US Bank to house it.

-- Joey Brackets latest
update places UC as the No. 9 seed. Personally, I'd like to see UC jump off the 8-9 line into the 7-10. Whether they are 7 or 10 doesn't matter much, but there is a big drop off from 1s to 2s, IMO. The possibility of playing a two in the second round would be a very winnable situation.

--- I believe in the eye test in regards to the NCAA tournament. Seton Hall and UConn don't pass.

--- Jason King of ESPN blew smoke out his keyboard in this verbose Regular Season Awards piece. UC makes an appearance in the lead and SK being named Most Underrated Player in the Big East.

--- The last location of the Big East tournament before Madison Square Garden was the Hartford Civic Center. Hartford: The nation's capitol of grey.

Never, ever, ever leave MSG, Big East.

--- Some randomness...

--- If this college basketball player is also a janitor, does he have to wipe the court during timeouts?

--- Kenyon is thriving in Lob City.

--- Is LeBron James carrying a clutch?

--- Chad Ochocinco was peed on by a lion.

--- Well, I'll be the first one to show you this highlight again this week. I estimate you'll see it 453 times if you watch all the Big East Tournament games. Poor Gary McGhee.




Wolfe and Schaffer among Bearcats interviewed at Pro Day

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It's a combination cattle-call/job fair that occurs every year at the University of Cincinnati. They call it "Pro Day".

Years ago, a handful of scout would show up at the Armory Fieldhouse and work out a five or six Bearcats and go home.  Some would get camp invites, some would get lip service.

Every now and then something odd would happen like basketball player Rod Monroe using his 6-4 height and seemingly endless wingspan to haul down a high football, pivot, bounce it perfectly on the surface and dunk it into a basket that was in the way.

Rod and his two career catches as a Bearcat was a seventh-round NFL draft pick and played in a Super Bowl for the Falcons.

Now, Pro Day is held in the spacious, climate-controlled Sheakley Athletic Center on a regulation-size field. 28 of the 32 NFL teams were represented March 1.

As the voice in the cornfield said, "If you build it, they will come."

I'm sure this has been rehashed in other areas, but my impression was Isaiah Pead was the "darling" of the group with 4.47 combine 40 and his impressive Senior Bowl.  Bengals running back coach Jim Anderson spent a lot of time with the Pead family.

Zach Collaros also looked good to me throwing the ball.  He threw some precision deep balls and benefited by having former teammates Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton back to help catch them.

Again, Zach will be knocked for his height, but he's roughly the size of Drew Brees who's had a relatively good run around the six-foot mark.

Derek Wolfe also did his share of interviews after measuring out with the biggest hands there (10 3/4) and pounding out 33 reps on the bench press.

Here's Wolfe in a drill with Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes:
x


Also turning some heads was tight end Adrien Robinson who ran a 4.51 40. That time would've been third best at the NFL Combine.

Finally, despite a hamstring issue that kept him from running, linebacker JK Schaffer cranked out 26 reps on the bench press and probably as many interviews as he worked the crowd like he was running for office this November.

For what it's worth, I think JK is a sleeper. Whatever camp gets him will get a relentless, blue-collar worker who seemingly is in on every play.  From covering NFL drafts and college football for 25-plus years I can tell you what is often ignored is, "Can they play football?"

JK Schaffer has represented the La Salle Lancers, UC Bearcats and certainly can.

Coombs Departs, But His Sales Pitch Remains

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Shortly after Urban Meyer was hired as the head coach at Ohio State, I ran into Kerry Coombs on an elevator at the Lindner Center.

"Has Urban called and offered you a job yet?" I asked.

The answer at that point was no, but I wasn't shocked when the news broke on Thursday that Meyer was trying to add Coombs to his coaching staff at OSU.  I'll admit to being mildly surprised when I heard that Kerry had accepted the job.

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Kerry Coombs loves the city of Cincinnati as much as anyone I know.  He turned down multiple opportunities (with significant salary increases) to join Brian Kelly's staff at Notre Dame and I'm sure he struggled with the decision of whether to leave this time around.

I wish him nothing but the best.

It's no secret that Kerry would like to be a college head coach and having Ohio State on the resume won't hurt.  While I doubt he made the decision for money, a bump in pay doesn't hurt either.  I thought UC head coach Butch Jones showed tremendous class with the comments that he made about Coomb's departure to Bill Koch in the Enquirer:

"I will always be indebted to him," Jones said.  "He helped me with the whole process of coming to Cincinnati.  He brought me along.  He introduced me to the right people, taught me different things about Cincinnati.  This isn't just a relationship that started when I came here.  I knew Kerry for years prior to coming here.  He made for the transition to be very smooth."  

Kerry will be missed as a coach, recruiter, and ambassador for the UC football program, but I have complete confidence that Butch Jones will find a capable replacement.  As for recruiting, the head coach sets the tone and Coach Jones wakes up thinking about recruiting as much as any coach that I know.  Cincinnati signed its highest-ranked class ever this year, and I expect that success to continue under the current staff because they have a great product to sell.   

I once asked Kerry to give me the sales pitch that he made to Cincinnati-area high school recruits.  I didn't write it down verbatim, but the basic spiel went as follows:  There are several schools where you can play for championships, maximize your ability, and get a great education.  But there's only one school where you can do all of that in your hometown in front of your friends and family.

That message hasn't changed, even though a spot on the coaching staff has.

**********

One aspect of Cincinnati's 72-61 win over Marquette that didn't get enough attention in my opinion (although my man Mike DeCourcy mentioned it in The Sporting News) was Mick Cronin's decision to play zone defense for the entire game.  It was the biggest change in strategy that the coaching staff made after a 95-78 loss at Marquette on February 11th.

Gates defense (237x410).jpg

"I thought I made a calculated error in our first game against Marquette," Cronin said.  "We played zone in the first half and they made six three-pointers, but the reason why were down by 12 was they had 16 points off turnovers.  We went man-to-man in the second half and we never got our bearings.  They had 45 points in the second half on layups and free throws.  Marquette is the fastest team I've ever coached against and the zone makes them take their time - it forces them to run offense.  So we were going to stay in the zone no matter what.  If they made 10 three-pointers in a row, I was staying in a zone.  I told the guys, they can only win if we turn the ball over and let them run it down our throats."

UC only committed 7 turnovers and Marquette finished with 3 points off turnovers and 5 fast break points (total of 8 combined).  The Golden Eagles had 56 points when you added those two stats in game one.  As a result, the 'Cats won by double digits on a night where they were 4-for-24 (17%) from beyond the arc.

"That just shows you that defense is where you have to hang your hat," Coach Cronin said.  "You won't always make shots.  Your defense is your constant.  When you have a really good team and you make shots, you should win easily.

"When we are at our best, we take care of the ball and get shots.  That's who we are.  We don't shoot the highest percentage, but we get more shot attempts than nearly anybody in the Big East - I think we're ranked 1-2 with Louisville in field goal attempts.  Shooting percentage isn't as important for us as some other teams because we get so many attempts.  We don't turn the ball over and we're a pretty good rebounding team even though we're small.  We just get more possessions than our opponents."

The Bearcats attempted 9 more shots than Villanova in an 82-78 win on January 14th.  It's a stat to watch on Saturday afternoon in Philly.

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 3.2.12

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Busy, busy day around the Bearcats athletics offices. We've got UC Pro Day going on all morning with the bubble filled with NFL scouts and probably a few stopwatch salesmen. Then UC basketball will hold a media availability at 11:45, their last before departing for Philadelphia and the game against Nova this weekend.

I'll be down there all morning, remember to follow on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for updates as they happen or send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) if you have any questions you'd like answered.

Let's eat...

--- Big day for JK Schaffer. Top among the combine snubs, Schaffer earns his opportunity today to show his size/speed combo belong on the next level. Nobody can doubt his instincts. Three consecutive years over 100 tackles prove that. NFL scouts want to see that 40 time, though.

Best of luck to him. As I've said many times, JK will land in camp with somebody next year. Today will go a long way to determining where.

--- Combine guys Isaiah Pead,
Derek Wolfe and John Hughes should be in the house, but I wouldn't expect any of them to do anything after performing well in Indy. I'm hoping to catch up with them and relay back some of their observations of the experience to you.

--- It was odd yesterday not hearing the voice of Kerry Coombs booming through the bubble during practice.

For the Bearcats football mic'd up series, his departure is akin to Michael Jordan retiring.

Here's my story on Butch Jones' perspective of his leaving.

--- On to basketball, where
Villanova scored a victory last night in their final game prior to hosting UC for Senior Day on Saturday.

The Wildcats have been the kings of finding ways to lose recently, but are in almost every game -- especially at home.

Take a look at their home results since the last time these two played (82-78 UC win Jan. 14).

Seton Hall  W  84-76
Marquette   L   82-78
Providence  W 74-72
Notre Dame L  74-70 OT
Georgetown L  73-70 OT

That's right, the closest thing to a runaway win was Marquette's four-point triumph. That's no slouch slate there, either. Those are three of the current top four teams in the league, losing two in OT and all three by a combined 11 points.

Toss in Senior Day and the bandbox of The Pavillion and you've got a difficult task ahead.

--- The Bearcats could still earn the double-bye in the Big East tournament depending on Saturday's results. They, of course, would need to win in Philly.

There are three teams one game ahead of them battling for the final two tourney spots.

Georgetown (12-5) at Marquette
Notre Dame (12-5) vs. Providence
USF (12-5) vs. WVU

If the Hoyas and Notre Dame both lose, UC will go in as the No. 4 seed. Now, even as bad as the Irish have been playing, losing at home to the Friars is a pretty big long shot.

If all three of the teams lose, UC would actually go in as the No. 3 seed by virtue of winning the four-way tiebreak.

The most likely scenario would be ending up in a three-way tie with GT and USF for the final spot. All three teams split the season series with each other and UC would win the three-way tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed.

Other than that, UC would go in as a five or six seed, but no lower than that.

--- Bearcats Nation wrote about the attendance figures for the season. The Bearcats averaged 7,878 per game, but brought in 10,907 a night in Big East play, including two sellouts.

Those are up from last year.

Fifth Third Arena was louder and crazier than I have ever heard it the last two games. From opening tip through final buzzer the place was wild. Remember, Rick Pitino called it the toughest home-court advantage they'd played against all year.

"Tremendous home-court advantage here for us late in the year," Cronin said. "It's a big factor in our wins, so big thanks to our students and all our fans. Our goal, obviously, is to get that advantage on a nightly basis. It affects winning, A, and it affects recruiting."

I'm also personally delivering a thank-you to all the fans from the UC Marketing Department. The turnout and responses to the various promotions and theme nights were incredible and really flipped Fifth Third into a special place.

Plus, I spotted a Vinny and Pauly D Big Head Wednesday night, and that pretty much made my night. Oh yeah, Big Head, yeah.

--- While Mick Cronin wasn't
afraid to state his opinion on UC's inclusion in the NCAA tournament, his players were still holding back a bit after the game Wednesday. Probably a good attitude to have considering how tough Saturday at Nova will be.

"Who knows (if we are in)," Dion Dixon said. "Win this game Saturday. Hopefully then we are in."

UC's RPI moved up to 68 now, it's high point in the season. While everyone knocks the Bearcats schedule, it should be noted in the BPI (ESPN's new college basketball metric), they rank 44 overall and their BPI SOS is 61.

That SOS is better than Kentucky, North Carolina and Missouri among many others.

For the record, KenPom now has UC all the way up at No. 33.

All I will say is this, if UC ends up in that 7-10 game, some 7 and 2 seed is going to be pretty angry when a team that beat Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville and Notre Dame shows up in their pod.

--- I never got a chance
to link to Mike DeCourcy's column from Wednesday night. Here it is. I highly recommend it.

--- After stating he thought the
Marquette win solidified his team's spot in The Dance, Cronin went on to talk more in depth about where they are at.

"It's like I told the players, because of those five losses at the last seconds, you don't want to be playing on Tuesday," Cronin said. "Of course, they didn't know what that was."

Too funny, but playing in Dayton in the First Four wouldn't be a fun trip up I-75.

"Saturday is a big game for us," he said. "Our RPI is an issue. I'm not smart enough to figure all that stuff out, so I'll just stick to trying to coach a little ball and make sure I keep (JaQuon Parker) in the game."

--- Earlier this week
, Cronin was talking in regards to Yancy Gates staying and being loyal to UC all four years, that what happenes nowadays is if the top recruits struggle early, they transfer and blame the coach.

Basketball Prospectus published this data showing 4 of the top 100 recruits transfer every year.

--- Lance McAlister posted this today and I can't help but follow his lead. This is from 12 years ago today. Kenyon Martin. Man, was that team ever fun to watch.



Coombs departure holds conversation on Day 1

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Butch Jones confirmed earlier reports following the first day of spring practice for the Bearcats. Kerry Coombs has left the program.

All reports have Coombs landing at Ohio State, but neither UC nor the Buckeyes officially confirmed that on Thursday.
kerry.jpg
Jones said he wasn't really surprised at Coombs' departure. He talked at length with him about the decision and understands why he's decided to move on.

"Obviously, family decisions come in and opportunities that maybe could set him up for a lifetime," Jones said. "We are very, very close. We spent a lot of time discussing it. At the end of the day, he has to make a decision that he feels best for him and his family."

Coombs spent five seasons with the Bearcats after spending the majority of his coaching career as the head coach at Colerain High School. He's a bit of a high school legend inside the I-275 belt and there lies the biggest question surrounding his departure: who will man the fields on UC's home recruiting turf?

Jones will turn to assistant Mark Elder to take over the Greater Cincinnati recruiting mantle and rightly points out the Cincinnati ties aren't lost. Elder attended Sycamore High School and remains a prominent name within the city limits.

"(Recruiting) will not suffer one bit," Jones said. "We have great coaches, great recruiters. It's all about relationships. The high school coaches in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area understand that we are their football team, we are their institution and we are open to them. We have those relationships already etched in stone."

As for taking over Coombs' position on the staff, Jones didn't have to wait long to see a list of candidates lining up to join his team.

"We will do a national search," Jones said. "We'll have the best of the best. My phone has already been blowing up and candidates from the National Football League to all over the country and the big thing is going to be the best fit for us. The greatest teacher, the greatest character individual and greatest recruiter that we can find."

When teams have success, assistant coaches are plucked away. It happens all across the country and Jones views this as a compliment in the same manner Tim Banks move to Illinois was viewed as a compliment.

"Everyone understands what we have," Jones said. "We really are an attractive commodity in the world of college football. People see what we are doing here at the University of Cincinnati. They have great respect of our coaches and like what we are doing."