In the wake of the Belk Bowl for the ages, the Bearcats season comes to a successful close with a fifth 10-win season in the last six years, another piece of the Big East championship and transition from Butch Jones to Tommy Tuberville.
Looking at the talent being replaced when the season opened, to think this team reached double-digit wins and came within an overtime of ending up in a BCS Bowl falls nothing shy of remarkable. The reputation for reloading instead of rebuilding has started to become the norm around Cincinnati.
A successful season means a number of worthy recipients for my personal Bearcats Beat Blog Awards. Without further ado, here are my winners for this season.
TEAM MVP: WALTER STEWART This might seem unorthodox to select a player that only took part in half the team's games, but Stewart transcended the field for this group. Not only was he a key component to the perfect 5-0 start, but when he was diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury he never faded to the background. Always the heart and soul of the team from the first bench press in January on, he stayed the heart and soul even when not donning the uniform and facing the fact he may never put any football uniform on again. He taught everyone on the team lessons in true heroism, positive outlook and living every play like its your last because it truly might be. Runner-up: George Winn.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: MUNCHIE LEGAUX TO DAMON JULIAN Maybe other plays were more aesthetically pleasing, or even more important in the grand scheme, but for living at the intersection of drama and national stage, none were bigger than Legaux to Julian at FedEx Field. The miraculous 39-yard bomb in the final seconds secured a wild comeback victory against Virginia Tech and earns the "jump off the couch" moment of the year. Nothing on the field this year quite compared. Runner-up: George Winn jump pass.
TOP NEWCOMER: JOHN WILLIAMS While not a newcomer to
college football, he was to the Bearcats and made a significant impact
plugging a middle replacing NFL linemen Derek Wolfe and John Hughes.
Williams filled into a rotation with Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp as a
playmaker in the middle. He finished with 2.5 sacks, 5.0 TFL and the
biggest fumble recovery of the season against Duke. Runner-up: Chris Moore. BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: GEORGE WINN VS. SYRACUSE Midway through the win against Syracuse, Winn resembled more half-man, half-robot than all running back. Needing the running game to carry the day as Legaux struggled with accuracy, Winn continuously delivered. He accepted and produced pounding hit after pounding hit. When Butch Jones made the call to replace Legaux with Brendon Kay, he needed the running game to take the lead even further and he did just that. He eventually wore down the Orange defense into a 35-24 UC victory finishing with 30 rushes for 165 yards, 3 TDs and tossed a score on a perfectly executed jump pass to Travis Kelce. The signature game in the second-best rushing season in UC history. Runner-up: Greg Blair 19 tackles vs. Louisville.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: GEORGE WINN Despite any inconsistency in the passing game throughout the season, Winn served as the constant every game. This team was built on its running game and that meant Winn pounding the rock. He fell just short of the greatest rushing season in school history finishing with 243 carries for 1,334 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Plus, of course, 1 of 1 passing for 37 yards and a touchdown. Runner-up: Travis Kelce.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: GREG BLAIR Somewhere midway through the season Blair transformed from the new guy in the middle to emotional leader of the defense. He led the team in tackles by almost 50 and led in tackles for loss. He even added two interceptions including a critical pick in the end zone of the opener against Pitt. PLEASANT SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: OFFENSIVE LINE LT Eric Lefeld, LG Austen Bujnoch, C Dan Sprague, RG Sam Longo and RT Parker Ehringer are the biggest reason to be excited about the future of the Cincinnati Bearcats. These five were supposed to be a major question mark on the line entering the season and ended up one of the team's primary strengths. And all five will be back next season. They plowed the way for George Winn's spectacular season surpassing Isaiah Pead's 2011 mark and allowed only 13 sacks -- good for 18th in the country.
BEST INTERVIEW: ELIJAH SHULER The junior shared the story of dealing with the death of his father in the moments following the Virginia Tech game and proved why he's such a strong, uplifting young man. Always known for the smile on his face and good-natured attitude, he showed that through the most difficult of times and it was my pleasure to hear him tell his story. You can read that here.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: DL STEVE STRIPLING Not only does Stripling deserve credit for staying behind to coach the Belk Bowl when so many of his colleagues jumped ship early for Tennessee, but the job he did with a beat up defensive line should be admired. Without Wolfe and Hughes in the middle he added two new starters and a Central Michigan transfer to the middle then worked around the loss of the team's best player in Walter Stewart. All the while, the UC defense turned out to be one of the best scoring defenses in the past 30 years of UC football.
BEST ATMOSPHERE: UC 34, PITT 10 There's nothing quite like the opening game of a football season, but there was truly nothing like opening it on national TV against one of the team's fiercest rivals. Fill the stadium with 34k on a perfect night for football and blacked out student section and you have Nippert Stadium at its finest.
BEST GAME: UC 48, DUKE 34 As far as entertainment goes, there's no topping the Belk Bowl victory. Six touchdowns of 25 yards or more, overcoming a disastrous 16-0 deficit and all the emotional swings you can handle during the improbable final minutes before Travis Kelce's 83-yard touchdown reception from Kay. All this from a team with a skeleton crew of coaches and playing for each other. Special night.
I want to hear from you! Let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices and who you would have ranked where. You can send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
The first loss of the season for the eighth-ranked Bearcats comes with a lesson in offensive toughness in the eyes of Mick Cronin.
CINCINNATI -- The leaner, faster Bearcats molded their bodies to run track meets and wear opponents down with depth and waves on defense. Playing an uptempo style sounds infallible stumping on the sports stag and booster circuit.
Inside the bright lights of a national showdown pressure-cooker against New Mexico, those philosophical musings are worth the letterhead their printed on.
"Teams are going to scout, they are going to get back on defense," Cronin said. "That's why you got to be able to dance to every song they are playing at the dance."
An interesting analogy at the postgame podium following the Lobos 55-54 win handing UC its first loss of the season. In truth, the Bearcats spent too much time dancing while around the rim and not enough time finishing aggressively.
The imposing presence of 7-footer Alex Kirk bullied UC into a game of offensive execution and physicality they'd prove unable able to handle. Repeatedly, the Bearcats lined up point-blank shots and repeatedly their attempts to maneuver around desperate rim defense of the Lobos rolled away.
Truthfully, the Bearcats made every aspect of this game work for them. They hit 11 of 26 from 3-point range and did a relatively good job keeping New Mexico off the free throw line. They held the Lobos to 55 points where they came in averaging 71.5.
All that stood between UC and victory was about 10 feet of paint. Inside that range, they missed 21 shots. Twenty-one.
And lost by one point.
They missed 15 shots in the paint in the first half alone.
"Our finishing is beyond soft," Cronin said. "We play against each other every day. It's not like we are small. We've gotten soft, success has made us soft. We think things are going to be easy."
Beginning Thursday, any ease lives in a pile next to Mayan Armageddon and Steelers playoff hopes. UC played four of their first 12 games against teams ranked in the KenPom Top 100. Starting against No. 39 New Mexico, they play all but one game against teams in his Top 100 (DePaul 111). That continues with a team he places in the top ten, Pittsburgh, on Tuesday.
Finding strength and finish around the rim cost the Bearcats a game Thursday. No other reason. They were good enough to beat a quality New Mexico team in every way shape and form except for maybe the most overlooked in all of college basketball - making layups.
Shooting 9 of 38 inside the 3-point line will leave them wondering what should have been.
"Last two games we've been in a drought when it came down to that," said Sean Kilpatrick, who scored 15 points on 5 of 22 shooting. "We'll get through it."
Cronin will lead them now with an illustration of how lacking toughness equates to the loss column. Singling out any one player wouldn't be fair on a night most everyone enjoyed an opportunity.
Knowing the game would have been any easy win if not for the struggles around the rim falls somewhere between solace and eternal frustration depending on how close your seat is to Cronin. On one hand, there's little reason to believe this team will continue to miss so many shots around the basket, on the other, to give a quality win away by what should be a simple task is Morton's on flesh.
The problem opens up a concern about UC's interior scoring. On this night, the four/five spot contributed eight points on 4 of 16 shooting. For the Bearcats to reach the elite level they aspire to, Cronin knows this team needs a hardened edge - not only in their defensive demeanor, by aggression in finish from the bigs.
This loss can serve as a wake-up call in that regard. At least this week in the practice gym buried underneath Lindner Center, that will be the hope.
Teams without an edge in Big East play endure dull seasons.
"Their physicality bothered us," Cronin said. "I give them a lot of credit for that. Things have been too easy for us. We were going to get taught a lesson sooner or later."
I want to hear from you, shoot me any questions, comments or thoughts on UC in the Big East to my email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
In one of the more unpredictable bowls that I can recall (and I've seen them all since 1997) UC beat Duke 48-34 at the Belk Bowl in a game where everyone was pulling for Duke outside of those that made the trip down in red and black.
That includes locals that were sponsors and freelance workers. Nothing wrong with that, most of the folks are from North Carolina so they understandably would pull for their neighbors from Durham.
I'm not going to rehash the game, as I assume most of you watched it. I think we're all in agreement that after a 16-3 deficit in the first quarter, things were looking bleak at the Belk.
However, the mark of a champion is to pull together, band together, work together and unite to prevail. Understaffed and with some odds against them, Team 125 gave their fans one of the more memorable games in Bearcat football history.
They may have saved the best for last.
John Williams recovers a fumble when it appears Duke will score to take the lead.
Brendon Kay then hits Travis Kelce for a long touchdown that brings the house down.
If that wasn't enough, Maalik Bomar racks up Duke quarterback Sean Renfree to jar the ball loose for Nick Temple to pick up a score the knockout blow.
I could go on, but perhaps Mr. Kelce could say it best:
(Addendum: clearly my video ran out. I will post a celebration video shortly that's more comprehensive.)
For those who haven't been paying close enough attention lately, tonight is a big night in Bearcats athletics. The football team takes on Duke in the Belk Bowl at 6:30 p.m. and the basketball team hosts New Mexico at 9 p.m. for a UC fan doubleheader. You're likely still buried amid a pile of receipts and Christmas cookies, so fear not, I'm here to catch you up on all you need to know to informatively fill your night with exciting Bearcats athletics.
BELK BOWL: UC vs. Duke
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. (grass, outdoors)
When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN/700WLW
Follow along: UCGameday.com
Forecast: Temperatures in the high 30s at kickoff, not precipitation expected
2012 records: Bearcats 9-3 overall, Blue Devils 6-6
Ranking: Cincinnati receiving votes.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: Black and red.
This is the first meeting between the two schools in football. In basketball, of course, this happened at the 1998 Great Alaska Shootout.
Need to know: This will be the final game led by the old coaching staff. Butch Jones has gone to Tennessee along with coordinators Mike Bajakian and Jon Jancek. Assistants Mark Elder and Don Mahoney took off as well. New coach Tommy Tuberville will be in attendance but not coach despite the pared down staff. His philosophy is with a situation like this, the kids need the guidance of those who have been coaching them all season. Wide receivers coach T.J. Weist will make the offensive play calls and interim head coach Steve Stripling (defensive line) will make the defensive play calls.
Game-changing stat: With a small coaching staff, this should be an opportunity for the Bearcats to keep it simple and do what they do best -- run the football. They couldn't have asked for a more favorable matchup in that respect. UC finished the regular season ranked in the Top 25 nationally in yards per carry with George Winn rushing 227 times for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Duke ranks 103rd in the country against the run. And even those numbers took a nosedive the final six weeks of the season.
Here are Duke's last six games against the run:
Opponent: Rushes-Yards-yards per carry Virginia Tech: 39-268-6.9 North Carolina: 38-177-4.7 Florida St.: 47-261-5.5 Clemson: 52-339-6.5 Georgia Tech: 72-330-4.6 Miami: 40-248-6.2
Who to know: Duke QB Sean Renfree. He's completed 67 percent of his passes on the season for 2,755 yards. When Duke's at their best, Renfree is slinging it all over the field. In their season finale 51-45 loss to Miami he was 36 of 59 for 432 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The 2012 ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe handed him the ball and gave him free reign. Hemming in Renfree with the pass rush from senior Dan Giordano and friends on the front line will be key to keeping Renfree contained.
Defining matchup: TE Travis Kelce vs. Duke LBs/Safeties. If the Blue Devils can't slow the Bearcats leading receiver it will be a long night in Charlotte for the Duke fans. UC shouldn't meet much resistance running the ball so if they can spring Kelce open often there will be no way for the Blue Devils to stop this offense.
Kelce showed how dangerous he can be in the season finale against UConn where he caught two TD passes and threw for another to clinch a share of the Big East title. Scouts are now projecting Kelce as a mid-to-late round draft pick in April.
By the numbers: A win for UC would mean five 10-win seasons in the last six years for the program. They would join Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon as the only schools to make such a claim.
Quotent Quotables: LB Greg Blair on how the coaches leaving united the Bearcats around winning the Belk Bowl:
"We all we got right now," Blair said. "We try to be a player-driven team. Now all the players are coming
together as one. We all met with each other and said what we had to say. We
all said that we have to come together more than ever right now. Our
goal is to beat Duke, get 10 wins, become an elite group with 10-win
seasons because that don't come by very often. Our biggest goal is just
to win a game. We're all good. We will win this game."
Looking Ahead: A complete changing of the guard will occur after the bowl game as Tommy Tuberville's staff will officially take over this team and begin the transition to 2013.
2012 records: Bearcats 12-0, Lobos 12-1 Ranking: Cincinnati No. 8 in both polls, New Mexico No. 26, just outside the Top 25.
Tickets: Tickets are still available. Pick them up at building or catstix.com.
What to wear: No color scheme in place tonight.
This is the first meeting between the two schools.
Last year: New Mexico was a four seed in the NCAA tournament and lost by two to Louisville in the second round.
Need to know: This will be the best team UC has faced this season. Despite losing their first game of the season Saturday against South Dakota State, they spent the majority of the season ranked in the Top 25. Their top win came on a neutral court against UConn, 66-60.
Game-changing stat: New Mexico leads the country in percentage of points obtained at the free throw line. Nobody has been better at drawing contact and converting it into points.
The Lobos have MADE 68 more free throws than their opponents have ATTEMPTED this season.
"We got to keep our bigs out of trouble because that has been our
weakness lately," Sean Kilpatrick said. "With Cheikh (Mbodj) being in foul
trouble a little bit and David doing a pretty good job when Cheikh came
Who to know: New Mexico PG Kendall Williams. He leads the Lobos in points (14.8) and assists (5.0) with a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. He runs their show, rarely leaves the floor and creates much of the offense.
He's only committed nine turnovers in the last eight games. For a UC team focused on flipping turnovers into offense, they need to find a way to keep the ball out of Williams hands or rattle him.
How this happened: UC looked for a home-and-home matchup with a similar team and found a way to make New Mexico work for them and TV by fitting it in between Christmas and New Year's Eve. UC will repay with a visit to The Pit next year.
By the numbers: The Bearcats have played four games against teams in KenPom's current Top 100 (Xavier, Oregon, Iowa State, Alabama). The rest of the season, the Bearcats play but one team ranked outside the top 100 (DePaul at 111). New Mexico stands at 37.
"We're going to have to get a lot better," Mick Cronin said. "The waters, beginning with New Mexico, start to get a lot deeper. It's a parade of Top 25 teams or top 60 teams ... from here on out. I think the (players) want it. My concern is our veteran guys, they got to be locked in and in tune to playing winning basketball at a high level. If they are the rest of the guys will follow. I think that's the key. You got to have your veterans. That's why certain teams are really good because veterans know how to win. Not only are they good players, they've been around so they play smart and give great leadership."
Defining matchup: New Mexico perimeter defense. The Lobos rank in the bottom third of the country in 3-point FG defense. UC comes in hitting an average of seven per game. If the Bearcats are allowed to spring open 3-pointers for Cashmere Wright (46 percent) and Kilpatrick (36) all game, it could turn into a three-point bonanza against the Lobos.
Record watch: Wright needs eight assists to pass Oscar Robertson for fourth on UC's all-time list.
Quotent Quotables: Kilpatrick on if it's nice to crack the top 10 and be ranked No. 8 this week:
"We don't pay attention to the rankings. Leave it up to me, I rather just be undefeated then not be ranked. That puts a big target on you, everyone in the nation is looking at you. We like the exposure, but it don't pay us no mind."
Big East play opens on New Year's Eve Day at Pittsburgh (12-1). Rude opener to say the least. I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or photos of your multi-TV setup tonight to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.
Back to work for many of us, for some of you today begins the sojourn to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl festivities. UC-Duke will beat 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. For those still in town, UC will host New Mexico in basketball at 9 p.m. Thursday.
For those buried under a pile of children's toys and manuals, we're all thinking of you.
Let's eat ...
--- UC is now rankedNo. 8 in the AP and Coaches poll after a weekend where three top ten teams lost. The ranking represents the highest spot for the program since midway through the 2003-04 season.
Tweet of the week thus far came from Mike DeCourcy: "Cincinnati Bearcats ranked top 10. Polls are dumb, but it's a long way from one scholarship player."
Seems like we say this with every passing milestone, this being the latest. Because it deserves to be said. Remember when some wondered if this program would ever return to relevance or how anybody could a program out of a hole this deep? Nobody says that anymore.
This may be a brief stay in the top 10 or maybe a stepping stone to another milestone, regardless, sit back and savor this one a little bit. And enjoy this team.
--- Only undefeated teams left in the country: Michigan, Wyoming, Cincinnati, Duke and Arizona. --- New Mexico fell out of the Top 25 to No. 26 in the AP after losing to Nate Wolters and South Dakota State on Saturday.
No matter, still will be a great test for UC and fantastic non-conference showdown for Fifth Third Arena tomorrow.
Hope to see a number of fans out for this game, as a momentum seems to be building as the season ramps toward conference play at the end of this week. The Bearcats drew about 10k for the Wright State game on Saturday so a game of this magnitude on national TV will hopefully follow suit.
The staff had to work pretty hard to make this game happen. Finding like major non-conference foes willing to do home-and-home deals doesn't come easy.
It wasn't the ideal time, Cronin would prefer to play it before Christmas, but when all the other pieces aligned for it to be on the 27th, he needed to go through with it.
"I don't like playing this game on the 27th," Cronin said. "We tried hard to get a
non-conference home game against a top 25 team. We have a flicking hope
on the horizon from a Midwest state school to try and get a series with.
But this year New Mexico was the one team willing to do it, and we have
to return it. This is the only time they could do it is because they
are playing Saint Louis after us, and it's the only time ESPN could. I
would rather have my guys be able to go home for Christmas. I think it
should be like that for all of college basketball, but there is too much
Notice Mick hinting at another home-and-home? Midwest state school can only send speculation out there, so I'll let you conjure up the possibilities while I move on.
--- Sean Kilpatrick namedto the Big East Honor Roll. He averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two wins against Xavier and Wright State last week.
--- Hope you caughtmy story from the Wright State game about UC trying to work on its offensive execution. While still enjoying the 12-0 run to start the season, Cronin's been sure to keep those in perspective as he said he's been "coaching like we're losing."
From my angle, the only improvement needed to elevate the Bearcats among the elite and on track to compete for a Big East championship is honing the halfcourt execution. When teams don't allow UC to jump out in transition and force them to work sets, they need to be more consistent.
At a time where teams everywhere have a mountain full of troubles, sitting at 12-0 needing to tighten up the offense is pretty enviable.
--- Everybody be safe out there, especially those of you headed down to the Belk Bowl through this storm. --- Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and received what they wanted, or a least a 12-month subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. "That's the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round."
Life feels better when you're winning. The food tastes better, the sun shines brighter, the cold Cincinnati night doesn't feel --- actually, check that, it's still intolerably cold.
Around the Bearcats basketball program these days, fat and happy could be an easy crutch for one of five remaining undefeated teams in the country following a 68-58 win against Wright State on Saturday.
Don't expect Mick Cronin to be painting rainbows and unicorns on the locker room walls anytime soon. Not with the inconsistency from the team's offense for three consecutive games.
"I've been coaching like we lost," Cronin said.
You don't believe him? Just ask JaQuon Parker what halftime was like as UC trailed 28-22 to the Raiders having shot 24 percent from the field and missed 9 of 11 3-point shots, mostly of the contested variety.
Parker could only laugh when prompted by the question. He shook his head and quickly uttered, "halftime was crazy."
No need to expound. Not without clearing it with the FCC.
The message worked. The first-half offense saw Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles fire off deep 3-pointers before either could break a sweat, lazily forced 15-foot jump shots hailed from every corner of the court. The Bearcats shot 3 of 19 on shots outside of the paint while 64 percent of their points came on offensive rebounds.
Cronin spent this week and the majority of halftime preaching "offensive toughness." When UC attacked the basket instead of settling for jumpers, the offense rode like a Ferrari fresh off the lot - Parker behind the wheel.
The senior ripped off 15 points in the first six minutes out of halftime and lingered in the "zone" great players talk about.
"He was the difference," Wright State coach Billy Donlon said. "Give him a lot of credit, he stepped up and won them a game."
When the offensive system works properly with attack trumping perimeter heaves, these Bearcats belong in the conversation with the elite teams in the country. Yet, over the last three games the first-half efficiency fell into the category of fat and happy.
In first halves of last three games UC scored 73 points. In second halves of last three games they've scored 127. Against Marshall, Xavier and Wright State those lulls work, but as Cronin said following the Xavier win it will get them blown out as the schedule hardens. And it hardens immediately.
"Huge concern," said Cronin, who faces No. 16 New Mexico (12-1) and Pittsburgh (11-1) next week. "But what happens when you win and your players think, 'Well, we are winning anyway.' It falls on deaf ears because you are winning. Our second half was tremendous, what you do as a coach you show film, you show film. My leadership has got to realize that we have got to get better."
About 338 schools in the country would gladly switch Cronin positions right now, but his grinding mentality reflects a goal grander than 12-0. If this team wants to win the Big East understanding the difference between half one and half two stands in their way.
For the most part, in Cronin's mind, it boils down to shot selection and authority at the rim. When Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick make SportsCenter draining bombs from the Fifth Third logo, an easy tendency would be to fire at will. It's a fine line to consider muzzling electric playmakers, but the attitude can stretch too far and filter down throughout the team. Such has been the case when the offense falls into sluggish lapses as the last three games.
In the first half Saturday, UC took 19 shots outside the paint and 16 inside the paint - most off offensive rebounds. In the second half, UC took 19 shots in the paint and only 11 on the perimeter.
Advanced statistics aren't necessary to understand the difference.
Just power-dribbling to the lane wasn't necessarily how the offense healed. Nobody knows that better than Parker, who Cronin pointed out "finishes at the rim as well as anybody we've had here in a long time."
"All of us, in the first half wasn't nobody attacking," Parker said. "Everybody was trying to stay back and shoot 3s. It was like we are just going to go there and play how we play, especially for me, I got to get to the rim. We got to pass the ball better in the first half. Second half we play ball, pass the ball more, get more open shots."
The key will be making that message sink in.
"We get in the habit of wanting things to be easy," Cronin said. "You can't attack if you take a bad shot. If you take a bad shot on the second or third pass, you never are going to break the defense down."
The 11th-ranked Bearcats will go to work in an enviable position one game away from sweeping their non-conference slate for the second time in three years. They will likely have earned a spot among the top 10 in the country. Practice won't sound much like it. Not if anybody places a mic on Mick Cronin.
Last year this team learned hard lessons early in the season. They are filed in the archives under Presbyterian, Marshall and Xavier. The Bearcats haven't suffered losses to teach tough lessons this season. And Cronin doesn't plan on using a defeat as a coaching point.
"I hope not, that would be a shame," Cronin said. "We shouldn't have to. We are too much of a veteran team for that."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr with comments, questions or stories about the time you scored 15 points in six minutes.
With The Crosstown officially in the books, we must rehash what it all means going forward. Thursday I decided to do that by bringing in national columnist from FoxSports.com Zac Jackson for the first 20 minutes as we talk about UC's suffocating defense, where they rank among other teams in Ohio and how run down a phone battery in under three hours.
For the second 25 minutes of the podcast I chatted with Rick Broering of Musketeerreport.com to talk about the future location of the Xavier-UC game. It appears Xavier wants it on campus and UC will fight for it to stay at US Bank. Rick and I share this podcast to discuss how both sides feel about the issue and what will ultimately become of this rivalry going forward.
Thanks for reading and listening -- enjoy the podcast. And as always shoot any questions, comments or suggestions to me via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. And yes, I'm working on this being downloadable to iTunes and am very close to making that happen. Things are happening, the wheels are in motion.
--- In case you missed it, I wrote last night about Mick Cronin stumping for the game to be permanently moved downtown. Also, please hit the link if only to vote in the poll. We want to hear from you. Do you want the game downtown, at campus sites, in a three-year rotation or do you not care? Vote! And feel free to read my stuff while you're there.
--- Zac Jackson of FoxSports (remember that name, podcast fans!) writes about Mick trying to avoid a post-Xavier swoon which has often been the case with this game. By my estimation that was the reason he called this the "most overrated game in history" on ESPN not because it doesn't matter to the school. Rather, players get jacked up with the win and let down after because they think they won something when in actuality it means little in the grand scheme of conference play.
--- We have to talk about this defense and what they are doing right now. The offensive efficiency needs to improve for UC to win the Big East as they hope. They can't have a first half where they shoot 9 of 36 as they did last night and win at Syracuse or Louisville. Yet, with his defense, they always will be in the game.
As I have a tendency to do around these parts, I took a deeper look at the numbers and not just what they are doing to teams defensively but what they are doing in relation to their season averages. Every team is being held far below their average numbers when playing the Bearcats. Take a look at this chart
---- Of the five major opponents the Bearcats played this season (Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Marshall, Xavier), UC held them all to double-digit fewer points than they average on the season.
--- The difference between season average in points for UC's five
major opponents and what the Bearcats held them to came out to 16.2
less per game. The smallest difference was minus-12.
--- Many times teams scoring fewer points than average stems from tempo. That's not the case here as UC fights to push the tempo at every turn this season. To keep teams at that kind of futility while also pushing up and down the floor is remarkable and exactly how you end up fifth in the country in defensive efficiency.
--- They also held each of the five major opponents to a lower field goal percentage than they average on the season.
--- The Bearcats defense forced double-digit turnovers in every game this season.
--- UC hit the target of 40 deflections last night with 41, according to Sean Kilpatrick.
--- Here were some thoughts from Xavier on what UC's defense can do and did to the Musketeers:
Brad Reford: "They were just aggressive. They are comfortable in their system. Once they get one turnover it seemed like they kept coming harder and harder. We just didn't do a good enough job taking care of the ball. It's as simple as that. But, yeah, they are tough defensively. They are a really good team. There's a reason they haven't lost a game yet this year."
Chris Mack: "They have closing speed like NFL defensive backs. In the second half we came unglued. They really rattled us in the second half with their defensive pressure."
--- While Xavier actually played more bench minutes (many forced due to Dee Davis and Semaj Christon cramps), UC's depth clearly took its toll in the second half. In fairness, Xavier won't win many games with Justin Martin and Brad Redford handling the ball. Nor do they expect to.
"Something certainly happened at halftime," Mack said, "because their depth really showed itself in the second half."
--- Kilpatrick not shy firing up the basketball last night. He took 27 (!) shots on his way to 25 points. His previous career high for field goal attempts in a game was 21. Having trouble tracking down the last UC player to take that many shots in a game, but you could probably just start at Deonta Vaughn.
--- The Bearcats just shot 5 of 24 from 3-point range and won handily by 15 points. Go ahead and marinate on that for a minute.
--- It may be time to tell Titus Rubles to stop shooting 3-pointers for a while. After going 0 for 4 last night he's now 1 for 19 on the season.
--- Quote of the night: From Cashmere Wright about his thoughts at halftime --- "I just know this was my last UC-Xavier game and coming in at halftime my whole mind state with Cronin was, I can't leave here with a loss. Not like that. Not not playing hard and giving them the game."
--- Shout out to UC hoops SID for staving off the masses and giving me one of the limited courtside press seats. Much appreciated. Honestly, US Bank needs to set up a second riser on the floor just behind the fans on the floor for the extra media. That is an easy fix, it would seem, and an oversight by the facility with a lot of national media on hand.
Here was the facility from my angle around pregame intros. Really, a great atmosphere. Hard not to love this job, folks. Thankful every day for the opportunity.
On a night The Crosstown moved from an ugly chapter with a 60-45 Bearcats win, Mick Cronin believes it opened an exciting new chapter representative of the level Xavier and UC ascended their programs.
CINCINNATI -- As the UC men's basketball team jogged out of the locker room for the first time Wednesday night, the boos instantly cascaded from one end of US Bank Arena. No sooner did they reach the ears of Cashmere Wright leading the way, until cheers erupted from the opposing end.
The individual pregame introductions sent both fan bases comprising 14,568 strong into an electric uproar. Vocal intensity swung from one side of the building to the next. Organized chaos.
Standing in the middle next to the Crosstown Classic logo, Mick Cronin couldn't help but feel like he'd seen this before despite this being the first Xavier-UC game at US Bank since 1987.
"It reminded me of the Final 4 for people that were there," Cronin said. "When Louisville played Kentucky in the Final 4 when both teams came out, it was the way it should be."
A unique ebb and flow evolves when both fan bases are represented inside the same arena. With red split down the middle against blue, no lulls exist. A Xavier run brought energy from the South, a UC run elicited energy from the North. No moments of calm quash chaos. Not in this atmosphere. Momentum lived in every second and could be monitored by decibel levels.
"I loved it, personally," said Wright, who felt the love burying a deep exclamation-point 3 in the final minute to finish with 15 points. "You get two sides so when they scored their crowd went crazy. When we scored our crowd went crazy. We kept going back and forth it was like for the first time this happened it was a great experience for me."
If last year brought the worst out of these teams, moving into the same building brought the best of our their fan bases.
"I thought it was off the charts," Cronin said.
Sure, that premise might hold more water inside Cronin's locker room following the 60-45 UC win since momentum suffocated the Musketeers with every turnover in the decisive opening 10 minutes of the second half. An unrelenting intensity from the Bearcats defense that would put Tony Horton's Insanity Workout to shame fueled the 17-4 run out of halftime.
By the time Xavier staggered off the mat to regain composure, Dee Davis and Semaj Christon were buried on the bench with cramps and the UC segment of US Bank took over.
"The atmosphere, it was great, seemed to me both teams very well represented," Mack said. "But down the stretch I felt like I was playing an away game."
Such can be the case in these types of environments reminiscent of Final 4 games. And Cronin didn't embellish on his analogy. Perhaps the importance of such a comparison can be lost in a discussion too often spent arguing about the game's name.
These two programs that share a city also share the upper echelon of all college basketball. They've become regulars in the winner's postgame interview of the NCAA tournament. Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16 four of the last five years. UC won three tournament games in the last two years and this undefeated team ranks No. 11 in the country.
This atmosphere does more than bring two fan bases together, it emulates NCAA tournament intensity. It prepares these two programs with plans of deep runs in March for what those games will feel like.
You don't think Mack will point to Wednesday's game when teaching about handling trending momentum on a neutral floor? Wright talked about first-half jitters arising as missed shots set off Xavier's crowd. The swings are felt inside these 20-somethings. In March, this experience can only help relax them.
For two national programs, they deserve a national atmosphere.
US Bank, of course, offers a fair share of problems. The building itself makes Stonehenge look state of the art, too many media need pack mules to reach the auxiliary press tables, 1996 offered more reliable Internet and pricing gouged a number of fans in corners of the upper deck.
These issues can be addressed, however, some may always be a part of
the "experience" of the old Riverfront Coliseum. Sure, a better facility
would be ideal, but what evolved out of the celebration of elite
basketball in the city should outweigh any frustrations with an aging
No vitriol gathered steam against a collection of
college kids. No home crowds turned with ugly fits of verbal abuse -- at
least, to lesser degrees than what occurs when the power in numbers
overwhelms a home building.
Instead, Wednesday was about
basketball and both schools representing themselves against each other,
on and off the court. For Cronin, it opened his eyes even further to
what he believes this game should be about and why he pushed unabashedly
for it to stay downtown.
"It eliminates the hatred that gets spewed in the on-campus environment and it keeps it positive for everybody," Cronin said. "Couldn't have been any better for the first time, I think it will only be better if we commit to playing it this way. I have strong feelings about that."
Nobody could be confused about his thoughts after 11 minutes at the podium Wednesday. A podium he hopes he'll be returning to for many years to come, win or lose.
"This was all positive and it's only going to get better," Cronin said. "The people that are responsible for it should see the big picture. It's about our universities, celebrating our universities and our city, so let's do it." I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or thoughts on if The Crosstown should be played at US Bank or on campus. Send emails to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Not a normal day around UC today. Of course, the day of the Crosstown never is. This one definitely feels different, though. In the past, I always felt like I knew what to expect from this game and that's why I couldn't wait to get in the building. Hard to know what to expect tonight, not on the floor, I expect the same intense game there, but off it.
How will the neutral floor play in this rivalry? Will it add to the atmosphere or will the need to move back to campus be obvious? Is this the next IU-UK to see extinction because of differing views between the two? Can these two fan bases get along?
Personally, having somebody to cheer against at a game always made them more enjoyable and we've seen that from Bearcats fans. One of the biggest reasons the Louisville game last year, which Rick Pitino lauded as one of the best home-court advantages he'd seen, became so rowdy was the strong contingent of Cardinals fans in the upper corners to yell against.
Hopefully that will be the case tonight and this game will make sense. Whether it will make sense to move back to campus or stay at US Bank is yet to be seen, but I think everyone is ready for this game to make sense again, from many angles.
--- I heard that in these games you throw the records out the window. Can anyone confirm?
--- For reference and entertainment purposes only, UC is an 8.5-point favorite against Xavier. Though, somebody should ask Cedric McGowan and Lenny Brown how much being a favorite really matters in this rivalry.
"The perception of it being the Hatfields vs. McCoys ... I think there
are some fans that maybe take it to that level," Mack said. "But our
players are in the Deveroes summer league together. They drive ofter to
Clifton and vice versa. They'll come over here. They'll play pickup, and
it's not like we need security over here to have our guys play with
their guys in an open gym.
"The familiarity, just wanting to be
able to prove to the people you know very well that we can win this
game, we're going to win this game."
--- Stat to watch tonight: Xavier offensive eFG. This pits the strength of both teams against each other. Xavier does a great job of making the majority of their shots, in fact their effective FG% on offense ranks 11th in the country (56.3). On the flip side, UC does a great job of taking teams out of their offensive comfort zone and ranks 5th nationally in eFG% defense (39.2).
UC is now 5th nationally in overall defense (KenPom).
Xavier's offense has been among the most efficient in baskteball, but like most who face UC, they haven't seen a defense quite like this one. Here are the defensive ranks of Xavier's opponents this year
Opponent: KenPom national defensive rank
Robert Morris: 137
Kent State: 230
Of course, Xavier beat Purdue despite the top 30 defense and scored 63 points. And they lost to Pacific who ranks 243, so go figure. The game will be about much more, only pointing out this will be the greatest challenge to Xavier's strength they've seen by a pretty wide margin. --- Can the Bearcats jump out to an early lead and shock Xavier with their defensive intensity the way they have most everyone else on the schedule this season? No team has topped 35 points in the first half yet this season against UC. The Musketeers have gone five straight games with fewer than that in the first half. No lead is safe in this rivalry, but UC should hope to take a sizable lead into half.
--- The area to exploit on Xavier would be their defense. As with any young team, getting them to buy in and pick up complex defensive concepts can be a challenge and X is still learning. They rarely block shots (326th nationally), rarely get steals (322nd) and worse than the national average in 2-point FG percentage defense (283rd).
--- Matchup of the game: Semaj Christon vs. Cashmere Wright. Christon is one of the top freshmen in the country and one of the players on the absurd CBS Top 50 PGs list above Wright. The UC single-season steals leader loves matchups like this and who comes out on top might be the determining factor considering how well Xavier has done this year at not turning the ball over.
The plans laid out inside the Goin Room of the Lindner Center painted a sparkling rendering of how the future of Nippert Stadium will look.
Dazzling suites, sprawling club levels, pristine loge boxes, expanded pathways, dynamic skywalks and every amenity imaginable for a $65 million renovation.
Few doubt the University of Cincinnati would know how to pull off a facelift of their front porch with flair and unique style. Take a look around campus.
The question Tuesday ran deeper than execution, though. Most asked, should UC be doing this at all?
At such a hefty price tag the option to play downtown at Paul Brown Stadium and focus campus renovation to Fifth Third Arena would seem to be a quick fix. Schools like South Florida, Pittsburgh and Temple utilized the model, to varying levels of success. An argument could be circulated the move helped the Panthers land in the ACC.
The thought, while exciting for some, cuts too deep into the Bearcats fabric, both physical and financial.
This renovation concept does not come to life because the university wants a few more seats to fill. It is needed because the current financial model of the athletic department proves "probably unsustainable," according to AD Whit Babcock, under the current football infrastructure. In a landscape where football everywhere draws in enough money to support every other program plus accumulate profit, sapping the most out of football money represents priority No. 1. It has to.
This isn't about fixing an infrastructure of a broken stadium. This is about fixing the infrastructure of a broken balance sheet.
How do you fix the bleeding of any number of issues inside the department without starting at the root of the gusher? All bleeding begins and ends with football revenue, especially at UC with one of the smallest athletic budgets in the country, but certainly with most every major program in America. These are the facts. For better or for worse.
UC, quite simply, doesn't draw near enough from it.
"Primary reason we are doing this project is to change our current financial model in the athletic department," Babcock said. "That is the key reason."
Nippert Stadium boasts two suites. Two. Look around at the FCS, see if you can find a school with fewer. Go ahead, Google it, I'll wait.
That's what I thought. Next to nobody. Without suites and a club level, making money to sustain the department stands a near impossibility.
"The premium seating model works," Babcock said. "All the expansion that's occurring these days has a piece if not all in premium seating."
You know how much money the Bearcats would make off the Bengals suites? None. The Bengals own those suites and Bearcats draw no revenue from them.
The Bengals and the city also take a hefty portion of concessions, tickets and parking. Gone are the sponsorships, fundraising and recognition.
Two years ago with two games against Louisville and West Virginia held at Paul Brown, the Bearcats drew about 48k and 42k to those two games. They took a loss of greater than $100,000 on those two compared to what they would have drawn at a sold out Nippert Stadium.
"It does nothing to improve our financial model," Whit Babcock said.
Beyond the financials, Babcock heard his fan base loud and clear upon taking a study of fans who attended games at Paul Brown compared to those at Nippert. The fans, students, coaches and players alike all gave resounding support of playing at Nippert.
Plus, when 200k people visit Cincinnati to watch these football games, accessibility to the campus and the dynamic culture surrounding it only adds to the allure and selling future students.
Where every school needs an element to set them apart, the Bearcats own that with Nippert Stadium.
"Nippert is a part of our fabric, our brand," Babcock said. "It's what separates us."
The issues with concessions and foot traffic will be mostly alleviated with this renovation and suddenly it can turn into a money-making machine. Babcock estimates if even 70 percent of the suites were filled the revenue would pay the construction bill over a number of years.
The word from other schools like USF and Temple any time the Bearcats visit revolves around how much they'd prefer an on-campus stadium to renting the NFL facility. And what's not to like, in a year when over five-million people watched games against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, to keep the campus as the front porch for the university.
When it comes to selling this university to be in the best conference available, whatever that may be, the desire is not for a stadium that seats 65,000 people. Conferences care about TV market and lively, sold-out atmospheres.
"A half-full stadium is never a positive," Babcock said. "Sold-out stadiums are."
In the chance UC were to be absorbed by a bigger conference such as the ACC or Big 12, does anybody think a solid stream of teams with massive fan bases would be overrunning Nippert and make it obsolete in size so nobody could be accommodated? Sure, in a year Texas came to town, yes. In a year Florida State came to town, sure. But few others in said conferences would cause such demand considering Oklahoma and Texas are always split in what teams they travel to.
With an accordion plan available where UC can stretch out to PBS occasionally if necessary for an opponent such as Oklahoma or Ohio State, those bases are covered. For the rest, one of the great home-field advantages and unique experiences in all college football projects to the country.
Does this place Fifth Third Arena renovation further down the road? Probably, but in the end with a revenue stream executed properly and fortified financial model, that could be done sooner than most would believe. Argue all you want about the tradition of UC basketball, which is enduring and continues be a beacon driving the image of the university as much as any football win. Basketball just doesn't deliver the dollars of major college football. Anywhere. Including UC.
Parking will still be an issue, but when breaking out a list of pros and cons all the reasons prior stated surely outweigh those two concerns.
This project is about much more than those hassles.
Rarely do universities own an opportunity to be truly unique. Rarely do athletic departments own opportunities to fix the the largest hindrance in their advancement. Moving to Paul Brown Stadium would be fumbling both of those away.
I want to hear from you! Send me any questions, comments or what you think about the Nippert Stadium renovations unveiled Tuesday. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Before today's big announcement on athletic renovations, I stepped into the Sheakley Athletics Center to catch the end of today's practice.
Yesterday, I was able to witness quarterback Brendon Kay listening to a phone call granting him an extra year of eligibility. Now the Bearcats will return a starting quarterback and a key starting linebacker.
Recently, Greg Blair got the same news. Originally thought of as a "one and done" player, his appeal from Compliance was also successful, giving the Bearcats a pretty good one-two punch for next season.
In the meantime, Belk Bowl preparation continues and Blair fills us in on the latest from "The Bubble":
I thought December was supposed to be a dull time around here? This is supposed to be the window during the season where everyone can catch their breath. Yet, every day it seems something surrounding the Bearcats makes me gasp for it.
Tommy Tuberville, undefeated basketball, realignment, Crosstown Classic and now an unveiling of the renovation plans for Nippert Stadium today at 2 p.m.
--- Hope everybody got a chance to read yesterday's piece about the UC football players banding together over the coaches leaving. I thought the players only meeting and subsequent dedication to celebrate Team 125 since the Bowl game was inspiring, really. I know how feeble my emotions were as a 20-year-old and a group of guys learning from the past and attacking the future despite being deserted by their leaders kind of makes me want to watch an after school special movie. Their reaction has been textbook as far as how people should react to this type of adversity.
Here's an extra quote from Dan Sprague about what the message was at the players only meeting after the assistants bolted:
"Stick together," he said. "Don't veer off to screw
the coaches, that's how you get embarrassed by 40 points against
Florida. Stick to the gameplan. Run the ball play good defense and
we'll be fine."
His point makes perfect sense. This doesn't need to be complicated, specifically when you run the ball as well as the Bearcats do.
Remember, Duke is a dumpster fire against the run. They rank 103rd in the country and even those numbers took a nosedive the final six weeks of the season.
Here are Duke's last six games against the run:
Opponent: Rushes-Yards-yards per carry Virginia Tech: 39-268-6.9 North Carolina: 38-177-4.7 Florida St.: 47-261-5.5 Clemson: 52-339-6.5 Georgia Tech: 72-330-4.6 Miami: 40-248-6.2
And these weren't necessarily powerhouse rushing teams. Florida State and Georgia Tech ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry, but the other four teams ranked lower than UC (21st) in yards per rush this season -- three outside the Top 50. And they still rolled it up on the ground.
--- Plus, how can the Bearcats lose when they will be looking so strong? We caught a glimpse of the alternate helmet they'll be sporting for the bowl. It's among the tightest of the new helmets I've seen anywhere. Huge score by UC operations.
--- This story by Dennis Doddat CBS about the future of the conferences outside the Big 5 is a quality read. He mentions UC in it with two telling paragraphs: "The intentions of Cincinnati, Connecticut,
the ACC and possibly more. So far, the two schools have not been
thrown lifelines to BCS leagues, but are on record as being
willing to jump. Cincinnati has a surprising amount of juice at
this point. It has been to a BCS bowl. It draws surprisingly good
TV ratings in basketball. Call it the best player left on the board.
"Cincinnati is more valuable than what is being let on," an industry source said."
--- Even more good news rolled in yesterday when QB Brendon Kay was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He'll now be back for another season and adds depth, experience to a quarterback battle that will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason. Kay has played well in his role the last four games and will likely top the list of QBs entering spring football, but nobody quite knows what Tommy Tuberville and OC Eddie Gran have in mind at this point.
--- Kay numbers since taking over against Syracuse: 69 of 111 for 950 yards, 62.2-percent completion, 8.6 yards per attempt, 6 TDs, 2 INTs.
the former Florida State special teams coordinator and running backs
coach, will be missed in Tallahassee. Conversely, he's a great addition
to the Cincy
staff. For the past two decades, Gran has proven to be one of the best
recruiters in the country. He has great ties in Florida and is a great
communicator. He's a guy who was in the mix for a few head coaching
vacancies this month and ultimately ended up reuniting with Tommy
Tuberville as the Bearcats' offensive coordinator. It'll be interesting
to see what Gran does as an OC. I've heard he's going to spend some time
with UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get a better handle on
the Bruins' version of the spread."
--- Moving on to the Crosstown Classic, UC and Xavier both held their media availability yesterday. The Bearcats weren't making any waves or delving much into last year's incident. Taking last year as the past and downplaying any of it really represents the only way to go in this case. Rehashing anything only leads to blowing that element out of proportion.
This game needs to be about two quality teams in an event great for the city and downtown. Not about who threw punches or any aftermath comments. Mick has long since taken that approach and it continued yesterday.
One quote from Mick stood out to me which I tweeted out yesterday: "I
have no concerns with that whole incident; it's in our past. I don't
have much to say about it. It's not a concern of ours. We have two teams
of young kids, good kids that are trying to get their education and
chasing their dream in basketball. I think if anybody talks about
anything but that it'd be unfortunate."
--- As we all know, Cronin's not afraid to speak his mind, so it's not because he doesn't want to rock the boat.
--- More interesting to me than conduct on the court -- which I fully expect to be civil -- will be the conduct of the fans off it. Placing both fan bases in the same building was the biggest risk associated with moving this game to US Bank. Let's hope both bases represent themselves well. *Crosses fingers/cringes*
--- Mick Cronin downplayed the need for both schools to come together with community outreach, but asked his players to reach out to Xavier players they know to make sure the game stays all about basketball. Of course, these schools have provided opportunities to get together including this group walkthrough of the Freedom Center museum.
--- Detroit's Doug Anderson reminds me of Curtis Bostic. With a slice of Melvin Levett. Point being, all ridiculous.
Have a great day everybody and remember, I want to hear from you, it's been great to see all the emails/tweets coming in and if you have some more shoot them over today because I'll be throwing together a mailbag for Wednesday morning. Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @pauldehnerjr.
New women's soccer coach Neil Stafford believes creating a family foundation will set a base to reinvigorate the program.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- University of Cincinnati athletics puts an emphasis on being a family within both the athletic department and the individual sports teams. New women's soccer head coach Neil Stafford fits that mold.
"My vision is always going to be about a player-centered program," Stafford said. "Building that family environment would be a huge vision of mine and really laying down a great foundation to build on for future years."
Hired in November to replace Michelle Salmon, Stafford was born in Liverpool, England and raised in Boston. He grew up with soccer in his blood. His father played in the Liverpool organization and Stafford played in Boston as a kid.
"It was always something that was really close to my family and my childhood and my everyday life," he said. "When you're born in a place like Liverpool, England, it's what people talk about every day."
The atmosphere of soccer fanaticism didn't end when he moved across the ocean. His passion for soccer as a child led him to play at Assumption College in New Hampshire and later start his coaching career as an assistant for the men's team at Assumption. It was there the coach of the men's team told Stafford he would get more opportunities coaching in the women's game.
"Of course, me being the immature person I was at the moment, I vowed never to coach women," Stafford said.
He realizes now if he would have stuck with that attitude, he wouldn't have ended up with a "remarkable experience" during his first coaching job with the Boston Renegades of the United States League Women's Division.
"It really set me up for that path," Stafford said. "The Renegades, Assumption College, Central Michigan, and now here I am at UC and couldn't be happier."
Though, he hopes to be much happier in the coming years. The aspect that drew him to UC was not only an appealing university both academically and athletically, but also that he saw the job as a real challenge, with the team being last in the Big East this past year.
The Bearcats posted but one winning record in the last 10 years.
"To work and create something here was really something that was an intriguing project," he said.
Stafford has many favorite moments as a coach, but one of his most memorable comes at Assumption College the night he got his first ever NCAA win. The picture he keeps in his office of the field that night says it all.
"Snowing, halftime [the field] getting plowed, getting brushed off," he said. "It was just one of those magical nights."
A guy who loves movies, U2 concerts, golf, the Liverpool soccer team and spending time with friends and family back in England thinks of himself as very much a people person. He values relationships in every aspect of his life, and that includes coaching. He says building trust is the biggest thing in establishing a relationship between him and his players.
"To get the players to produce at the highest level that they can, they're going to have to really trust and believe in what we're trying to accomplish with building the program," Stafford says. "There's such a fine line sometimes because this is a business, but there has to be a very unique human element to it."
Stafford hasn't had a chance to explore the city yet because he has "hit the ground sprinting," with meeting the team and putting his coaching staff together. But he wants to get out in the community. He wants to establish a fan base for Bearcats women's soccer. But he doesn't want people to just be aware of the team; his goal is for people to be proud of the team.
"I want black and red all over the place and I want them to be just so proud of what we're going to build here at Cincinnati," he said. We want to hear from you. Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr with any questions, comments or thoughts on new soccer coach Neil Stafford.
the years, the UC Bearcats have had a number of vertically talented
players.There was James White who
could fly from the foul line and actually participated as a high jumper on the
UC track team.
that, there was Melvin Levett.Levett once jumped over a golf cart at a Midnight Madness function and
dunked.His ability to soar gained
him such nicknames as "The Helicopter" and "The Grim Leaper".
former Bearcat that shares something with Levett is 6-foot-7 forward Darnell
Wilks.Wilks didn't have the
collegiate numbers that White or Levett had, but he's had a pretty good run as
a Harlem Globetrotter.
joins Levett, Biggie McClain, Jermaine Tate, Jesse Jemison and John Howard as
Bearcats that have become Globetrotters. Of that group, he's the only one still
lining up to "Sweet Georgia Brown".
former Bearcat forward now resides in Tennessee when he's not "trotting the
globe" which he is currently doing.He left for China last month.
Globetrotters' US tour begins on Christmas Day and they're scheduled to be at
US Bank Arena on Dec. 29.Two
games are on tap that day at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
leaving for China, Wilks wasn't sure if he would be on the crew of
Globetrotters coming to Cincinnati.Last year, as "Spider", he returned to his collegiate stomping grounds
in the Queen City.
unlike the "Meadowlark" Lemon days, Globetrotters are known by one nickname
alone.While Bearcat fans know
that he's Darnell Wilks, to the rest of the country, he's "Spider".
gave that to me because of my ability to climb to the basket," Wilks said.
used that ability to sky for the Bearcats and was actually named co-MVP of the
2010-11 Mick Cronin team that went 26-9.
losing their second game in the NCAA tournament to Connecticut that March, Wilks
went on to be a semifinalist in the Denny's Slam Dunk Championship in 2011.
performance started the ball rolling toward wearing the red, white and blue
think it was after the dunk contest," Wilks said. "Then it was me using my
connections to get a tryout for the team."
from a military family, Wilks was accustomed to traveling the US, so the job
was a perfect fit.As a kid, he
was able to witness the Globetrotters in person.
been to a lot of places," Wilks said. "Three different high schools. I moved a
he moves from arena to arena as part of one of the world's most famous
been throughout Canada and I've been in Mexico," Wilks said. "China will be the
first actual overseas tour I'll be doing."
Wilks was selected for his jumping and dunking, just as he could at UC, he does
have a perimeter shot.Actually,
in Globetrotter games, it extends beyond the arc.
those that didn't know, the Globetrotters employ a four-point basket that is 12
feet away from the traditional NBA three-point line.
a couple 'fours' last year," Wilks said. "I made four in one game. I shoot some
four-point baskets and some threes."
also emphasizes that the Globetrotters are made up of talented players that can
still "ball".An evening on the
court is not necessarily all confetti, water buckets and the "weave".
always playing real basketball," Wilks said. "We just incorporate a little
showmanship into the game."
many blessed with talent, Wilks has the uncoachable gift of good DNA.His mother ran track and played
volleyball and his father played basketball.
came easy to Wilks and the roundball was introduced to him almost immediately.
always get the story of my Dad bringing a basketball into the delivery room
when I was born," Wilks.
still keeps tabs on his former teammates as he's not that far removed from the
current upperclassmen. He has fond memories of playing in the NCAA tournament
with the 'Cats and having a good showing against Georgetown his senior year.
got depth so I think they'll be just as good as they were last year," Wilks
said of Cronin's crew. "They've got Sean (Kilpatrick) and Cashmere (Wright) and
JaQuon (Parker) and Justin 'Jumpin' Jack' Jackson.That's what I call him.He's still going to be blocking shots and playing hard."
current Globetrotter tour runs between now and April. In between, he hopes to
catch UC making a spring run.
the past couple of years they've been under the radar a bit," Wilks said.
"That's the way we've always been.I think they kind of like that."
Linebacker Greg Blair knew Butch Jones might leave. Like most every Bearcats football player, he stayed locked into every news cycle twist and refreshed his Twitter feed. He prepared for the possibilities.
As Jones traded red and black for orange, Blair lacked surprise. The lesson was learned: College football is a business. Yet, in the week following Jones' departure when both coordinators and three more assistants were poached to Tennessee two weeks before the Belk Bowl, Blair learned just how dirty business can be.
"That kind of hit us hard and had ... a bitter taste
in our mouth," Blair said. "We didn't know they was going to do us like that."
But, they most certainly did. And as practices were held inside the bubble this week, they were notable mostly for how quiet they were. Jones screams into the microphone were gone along with most everyone else. Interim coach Steve Stripling ran a quiet, all-business approach with a stretched collection of new coaches manned a skeleton crew.
The story of Team 125 no longer belongs to coaches, though. Not that it ever did. More than ever, Team 125 is about the players wearing the Cincinnati jersey. Once the news broke the players were orphaned by their "Bearcat Family" the team realized what family really means. Amid adversity, they called a players only team meeting to hash out their feelings.
The residing theme to leave that meeting was these guys only owned two things: Each other and the Belk Bowl. This band of brothers control nothing, they know that better than ever now. So, you better believe they will latch onto the one piece of this season still in their control as if fighting for their last breath.
"It just brought us together more than ever because we know if we all
start to branch out and doing our own thing we'll lose," Blair said. "That's
all our focus is on, one game, we can only control what's ahead of us.
We can't control whose coming in and what coaches is going to coach us,
we just got to worry about the Belk Bowl on the 27th."
Had Jones and his staff stayed, no way focus this driven and intent would be bestowed on the Dec. 27. The narrative would involve over-looking a struggling Duke team and building a foundation for next season.
Instead, this bowl game now symbolizes something more, something bigger, at least for these players. The Belk Bowl symbolizes one final hurrah, one final opportunity for these players to stamp their mark. More importantly, one final chance to prove this overachieving run was never about the coaches, rather, the accomplishments were about these teammates.
The Belk Bowl: One final, united celebration of a year of blood, sweat and touchdowns.
"Absolutely," said C Dan Sprague. "Looking back a couple years ago when Coach (Brian) Kelly left we kind of went
our separate ways and said screw it we are just going to go have fun and
we got embarrassed. Those of us who have been through that we pull
together and play for each other. We love the coaches who have stayed
but they will probably be gone so we play for each other and send the
seniors out the right way."
With OC Mike Bajakian and DC Jon Jancek gone, WR coach T.J. Weist will call the offensive plays and Stripling will call the defense. Offensive line coach Don Mahoney, TE coach Mark Elder and strength coach Dave Lawson are already in Tennessee with Stripling on his way out after this game.
Sprague received instruction from respected TE coach Dave Johnson for the first time in his career. Johnson worked with edge linemen but never on the interior. Blair will attempt to keep continuity listening to a new voice sending in calls to the middle linebacker. Surrounded by chaos, only one piece of continuity exists.
"We all we got right now," Blair said. "We try to be a player-driven team. Now all the players are coming
together as one. We all met with each other and said what we had to say. We
all said that we have to come together more than ever right now. Our
goal is to beat Duke, get 10 wins, become an elite group with 10-win
seasons because that don't come by very often. Our biggest goal is just
to win a game. We're all good. We will win this game." I want to hear from you. Send me any questions, comments or ways you are helping to support the program right now via email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Plenty to talk about as everyone writes the Big East obituary following the basketball schools defection. I've got reaction from Mick, talked to SK about the Big East tournament at MSG and insight into Saturday's game against Marshall. Also, the mass assistant exodus continues as players are left to wonder who exactly will be coaching them in the Belk Bowl. Both OC Mike Bajakian and DC John Jancek left for Tennessee along with a cast of other assistants.
Remember when 5-WRs was considered a gimmick offense? Oh, 1999, you are so cute.
But I will get to the football situation with much more later.
Not going to waste any more time, though, let's eat ...
--- The seven Catholic basketball schools (Providence, St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Villanova, Georgetown, Seton Hall) decided they are branching off and forming a new hoops league. They don't own the power to dissolve the Big East, so that will not happen. However, who owns the rights to the Big East name and tournament is yet to be seen as there's about to be a lot of lawyering going on.
Most importantly, what does this mean for UC basketball? Mick Cronin didn't appear worried about it. Nor should he be. Nobody likes what occurred yesterday with the Catholic 7, but this wasn't out of left field. There will be more fallout to realignment coming. When it does, UC sits in a great position. None of these wholesale changes to basketball will be coming until at least next year, likely longer since there is a 27-month agreement that needs to be worked through.
"If I would send any message to our
fans, stay positive," Mick Cronin said. "We have an elite basketball program. We always
have. We might have had some blips on the radar over the last 50
years, but we got national championships, Final Fours, National
Player of the Years, former coaches that are legends. Our program
speaks for itself. We always are going to be in a great conference,
it may just be a matter of when or maybe a matter of the Big East. I
can tell our fans this, it's not something I lose sleep over. In who
we are and what we bring to the table and also the leadership of our
Cronin specified he doesn't lose sleep because of the leadership at UC. AD Whit Babcock and President Santa Ono have been in front of everything and he trusts they've got control of the situation.
"We have an elite basketball program. We
have a football program that has been winning enough to attract a guy
like Tommy Tuberville. That's why the direction of our athletic
department is not something I worry about. It's all positive. It's
got to work itself out and everybody's got to keep the faith as that
--- Also, in regards to basketball, let's take a look at exactly what is being lost. Two great opponents in Georgetown and Marquette, yes. But also five bottom-feeders of the conference. What have St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, DePaul and Providence won the last two years? Nothing. They can't be counted on to make the tournament and own zero NCAA tournament victories.
As for what is left of the Bearcats home (for now, at least), Having UConn, Memphis, Temple and UC serves as a solid top portion of the conference and we'll see what happens from there.
President Ono tweeted yesterday for everyone to stay calm and believe. I know everyone wants to freak out, but I tend to trust him and trust the one rule of realignment, if you don't like it, wait a minute. The winds of change are still blowing, folks.
--- What makes me saddest in all this is what will become of the Big East tournament, even if the Catholic 7 or the new Big East run it, the event will never be the same. MSG and the Big East tournament served as the premier event in the sport outside The Dance forever. I grew up on those games and loved everything about the tournament there. When UC was able to be a part of it, the UC base further understood what it means.
For Cronin, who recruits the heck out of the NY/NJ area, he sells the Big East and the tournament at MSG. Now, Mick pointed out to me 90 percent of what he sells is being happy and loving Cincinnati, you have to. And he recruited plenty of great players here when it was Conference USA. Remember Kenny Satterfield? Remember Steve Logan? Remember Kenyon Martin?
That said, selling MSG to a kid from New York was special. I find the bastardization of whatever that even will become to be one of the saddest victims of all this.
Talked with Sean Kilpatrick a little bit about it. "The Garden, it's just amazing," he said. "I remember Deonta Vaughn's sophomore year, I remember at home watching him watching the Big East tournament and he was going crazy hitting 3 after 3. That was the first time I really glimpsed at Cincinnati, like, that's a good team. In order for us to go there and play at The Garden and do crazy things there is huge.
"East Coast kid like me Shaq (Thomas) and Jermaine (Sanders), that's something we've always wanted to do. With Shaq and me we never had a chance to actually do that besides like All-Star games. Now that we have a chance to play there on a regular basis is crazy."
--- Want to take a look at Saturday's game against Marshall. The game is technically a Marshall home game on their season ticket plan. It will be played in Charleston and not Hungtington, though.
Cronin was urging UC fans to make the short trip for the 2 p.m. game Saturday. It's about a 3-hour drive or so taking 32 east to 35 south to 64. (thanks to Twitter follower KRalst07 for the tip).
As for the game, must have been odd watching the game film of last year's loss to Marshall because this Bearcats team is so dramatically different. The biggest observation that stuck out would be the rebounding in that game. The Herd dominated the boards. it's been a point of emphasis in practice this week and while Cronin never expects this team to lead the country in rebounding -- they'll always be a group trying to offset rebounding disadvantage with turnover margin -- they do need to be effective enough to stay even.
They currently rank 13th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 88th in offensive rebounding percentage defense. Most of those numbers are skewed from dominating the cupcakes. In the eyes of Cronin they need to improve on the boards against the more physical teams. With a front line that runs 6-8 almost the whole way across, it will be imperative Saturday.
"It's nothing we haven't seen yet," Kilpatrick said. "It's something we've been playing against all year because we are one of the small teams. If you just go there and box out and capitalize in the half-court offense and just run, you will be all right." --- The biggest advantage for UC will be Marshall PG DeAndre Kane missing the game with a hand injury. He came in averaging 15.3 points and 8.5 assists per game. He was their QB. And a great one. Takes much of the punch out of their offense.
--- Originally, this was set to be the game that could force Ono to come good on his bet to shave his head if the Bearcats won 10 in a row. As I discussed on the Inside the Bearcats Podcast this week with Tommys G&T, Mick is allowing Ono an out and maybe coming up with a more difficult accomplishment to set the clippers in motion.
Out of curiosity, I stopped by UC's second Belk Bowl practice on Thursday to see who exactly is there coaching.
Interim coach Steve Stripling is firmly in charge, along with corners coach Shannon Morrison, receivers coach T.J. Weist, tight end coach Dave Johnson and running backs coach Roy Manning. The rest of the practice positions were handled by grad assistants.
New head coach Tommy Tuberville did spend some time in the Sheakley Athletics Center observing the practice.
Senior Dan Giordano has been coached by Steve Stripling all year and adds his comments about the upcoming bowl and changes in Bearcat football:
Former Bearcats standout Trent Cole was selected in the fifth round in 2005 by the Philadelphia Eagles and over the course of his seven-year career developed into one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL.
Of his 2005 draft class, only DeMarcus Ware collected more sacks than Cole's 70.
The Eagles rewarded him this past offseason with a contract for six years and $59.3 million, including $14.5 million guaranteed.
The native of Xenia, Ohio endured a difficult season this year with only two sacks as teams focus more intently on him with an Eagles team that sputtered to a 4-9 record. Many Cincinnati eyes will be on Cole again tonight as the Bengals play at Philadelphia on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m., NFL Network/Local12). This would have been an opportunity for the Philadelphia BearEagles to show off for the city, but Jason Kelce (IR) and Brent Celek (out this week) both won't play.
I had a chance to catch up with Cole on a conference call earlier this week and the conversation swung from his disappointing 2012 season to thoughts on UC to what he did when stood 10 feet from a bear. Here's what he had to say.
How tough has this year been for you guys? TC: It's been pretty tough. It's been a tough road, just trying to get on a winning streak. Here we're used to winning games. This is a winning organization here. Having a year like we've had this year it's just been really tough. We came off a win last week. It was great for the team because we've been seeking for that win. Guys have been fighting pretty hard to win a game.
The win last week at Tampa Bay (snapped eight-game losing streak) feel like a weight off everybody? TC: Yes. And that's what we wanted. We wanted to be able to start somewhere. We're not going to the playoffs. It's a pride thing and it's also finding out where we're going to be at, what we need for next year.
Signed huge deal in offseason with Eagles, what it mean organization viewed you like that? TC: I told them I want to be here, I want to be with this organization. It's done me well and I like it here, I like being here. I play for the city, we got great fans, great fan base behind us and it's a great place to play, a great organization to play for.
Your sack numbers are down, are teams treating you differently? TC: Yes. This year I've seen stuff I haven't seen ever in my career. This year it seems like the league turned into a passing league and also it seemed like I've seen a lot of attention. We've seen a lot of chips and cracks from teams. I don't know if it's with every team. People know our team as we like to come off the ball and we come hard when we had Jim Washburn.
How tough is it to adjust to the extra attention? TC: It's not difficult. I don't think it's difficult. That's what I've always done - read and react. Jim Washburn came in and we were getting off the rock and running the line. It hasn't been hard at all, the change back.
You're one of three UC guys on the roster there, strong Bearcat contingent there. TC: Yeah, it seems like they take everybody in the fifth round. I guess it's a thing they do. It seems like it's turned out pretty good.
Tough luck with Kelce's injury and Celek being out this week. TC: Kelce, he was a big part of our offense and stuff. We've had some of the younger guys, the guys behind him come up and they stepped up pretty well, I think, in place of him. We had two guys down.
How would you describe Kelce's facial hair situation? TC: He cut it all off. I don't know if you know about it but he cut it all off. He's got a new look now. You wouldn't notice him. Were people getting a little nervous about it? TC: I don't know. I really didn't ask him. It was funny, one day I came to work and I didn't think it was him at first. I kind of like walked in and was like, 'Oh, god.' I'm used to seeing him with his beard.
What you think of the Tommy Tuberville hire? TC: It's been real crazy for Cincinnati to be able to keep a coach. Seems like all the coaches there are good coaches and go somewhere else, but I'm starting to think the University of Cincinnati is making the coach good. They are making them the great coach.
You have a video production company, right? TC: I have a production company I own we produce the show Blitz TV on DirecTV and Dish, it's an outdoor hunting show. It's a group of me and some friends and we got together and did a show we hunt all around the world and state of Ohio and East Coast, pretty much what we do is educate people on the outdoors trying to help them be successful in the outdoors as well giving them examples and being leaders and show them the way giving them tips as well.
Most exotic hunting location? TC: The furthest I've been out was to Hawaii bow-hunting, then to Canada, bear hunting there. And deer hunting there as well.
Went bear hunting, able to track down any bears? TC: I had a show during one of my recent shows I had an encounter, I came within 10 yards of a bear came walking up on me on a trail. I really kind of thought I was done. I thought, 'Oh, this is bad.' That's what happens, that's part of why I do it because of the experiences. It isn't about the killing, it's about just enjoying the outdoors with your friends and family. It's just some of the experiences I've experienced. There's a lot of things that have been out there I've seen that people wouldn't ever see.
Didn't bull rush the bear? TC: Nah, actually I put my bow down and got my mic.
We want to hear from you! Shoot me emails with questions, comments or how there's no way you would put down your crossbow standing 10 feet from a bear. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Can't say I imagined last week that my guest on the podcast this week would be Tommy Tuberville, but so it goes around these parts. On today's pod I spent the first 20 minutes Tommy T, the new coach of UC football where we talk everything from his playing days at Southern Arkansas to his philosophy at UC to a great BBQ cook-off this spring.
For the second segment of the episode I also sit down with Tom Gelehrter, UC Director of New Media and Broadcasting as we discuss one of the craziest weeks in the recent history of UC athletics, insane rumoring, concluding the year of the bald man and how the coaching carousel turned from the inside view.
Thanks to everyone for listening, shoot any questions/comments to me at email@example.com and, of course, enjoy the pod.
Going to try and start doing more of these as we go along and with all that's been happening around the program this seems as good a time as any break out the mailbag.
So, if you have any questions you'd like to have answers, just shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. Any topic, off topic, it doesn't matter to me. Look forward to hearing from everybody.
Just remember, everybody, when you control the mail, you control ... information.
From Michael: I have a question that might require some research. In
the past 10 years, how many Div 1 football players actually graduated
under the head coaches who recruited them? Likewise, how many see 2 or
more head coaching changes before they graduate?
The reason I
ask, is that so many local commentators talk about the UC dilemma of
players losing their coach. However, I am not sure that the UC numbers
are all that "bad" or "out of line" compared to the average (mean or
median) of all programs.
That's a great question,
Micheal, and as any reader of this blog knows, there are few posts I
enjoy more than a statistical analysis. So, here's what my research
churned out for you.
In order for a coach to recruit a player,
then see him graduate, they'd need at least a five-year reign, maybe
more. So, for the sake of argument, here are the number of current FBS
coaches who have been at their program for the last five years:
total of 31 out of 124 current head coaches served their first season
in 2008 or earlier, meaning they've seen at least one recruiting class
from beginning to end. In the other 93 programs, no current player saw
the same coach from recruit to graduation.
Also, zero of the
current Big East programs employed the same coach for a five-year
tenure. As of now Syracuse's Doug Marrone, who was hired for the 2009
season, becomes the longest standing coach in the conference. Would a
Frank Beamer or Bob Stoops be ideal? Absolutely. But those two are far
in the minority.
From Robert: Cincy got a much better coach than Butch. Butch chose to leave behind David Johnson, his tight ends coach who joined him in Aug, 2011 after Butch's terrible first season in 2010. Johnson did a fantastic job with the tight ends , especially Travis Kelce. Johnson was recognized as one of the best tight ends coaches in the SEC conference during his seven years at UGA and was considered a great recruiter during the same period that Tuberville was at Auburn. Johnson did a fine job at WVU for three years as O-line coach. David Johnson is a man of impeccable character but was not one of Butch's buddies from CMU. Butch might come to to regret taking Mark Elder instead of Johnson with his experience in the SEC?
Nobody can deny the work Johnson did with Travis Kelce. He just turned in the best season by a tight end in UC history and depending on how his combine numbers turn out, should be selected in April's NFL Draft. With such a successful run of tight ends, the Bearcats are beginning to develop a reputation as a tight end factory. When Kelce hits the league, that will place three Bearcats tight ends in the NFL (Brent Celek, Adrien Robinson). Really, don't discount the work Johnson did with Adrien Robinson as well. Remember, Robinson rose up draft boards toward the end of his senior season and ended up as a fourth-round selection of the Giants. How Tuberville's staff breaks down is yet to be determined and nobody really knows who will stay or go at this point, but no doubt, Robert, Johnson proved his worth at UC.
From Steve: I have been a season ticket holder for three seasons now. Two of which have been with me living in Beaufort, SC. I have traveled well over 8,000 miles in the past 3 years to watch them play. I have shared my love for the City of Cincinnati and the Bearcats to friends of mine deep in SEC country. They now follow what the Bearcats are doing. Now if people in the greater Cincinnati would gave this program two seconds of their time. They would see what is being done there. And that it is being done with many kids from the Cincinnati area.
You are right, developing a deeper fan base continues to be the goal of the university constantly competing with the Reds and Bengals. Recruiting within the 200-mile radius of Cincinnati holds a top priority for Tuberville. Butch Jones focused much of his time recruiting the South with a definitive Florida/Georgia pipeline never before seen in Cincinnati. All that's fine and good and Tuberville should be able to pull a number of recruits from deep SEC territory considering his roots, expect a higher percentage of players coming from the OKI territory.
From Joseph: What happened with Armon Binns. He was doing so well at the beginning of the year, now I see he ended up in Miami? He was always a favorite and his catch in Pittsburgh remains my favorite UC memory of all-time?
Binns played well all through OTAs and into training camp with the Bengals. He earned the starting gig opposite A.J. Green, but when the team hit a four-game losing streak midseason, he fell out of favor with coaches searching for consistent answers on offense. Once rookie Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones emerged, Binns got buried at the bottom of the receiver depth chart and couldn't stay active for games. The Bengals saw a roster crunch when they needed a second kicker with Mike Nugent straining his calf and somebody had to hit the waiver wire. Unfortunately, Binns was the guy, but what he did early in the season caught the eye of teams around the league since both New England and Miami placed a claim on him. Binns will receive a change to make an impact on a Dolphins team lacking receivers. And, for us in Cincinnati, we'll always have this.
From Rick: Paul - Thanks for the updates in your article this morning. I will be watching for the up tempo pace. Last year Mick mentioned on his radio show that Shaq would be one of the best frosh in the country this year. I don't know what prompted this statement but to-date this is not the case. How would you describe his progress and what do you see for him in the future? Go Cats and a supporter of Mick.
Shaq possesses a ton of athleticism but for now he spend much of his time on offense worrying about being in the right spot. Cronin's pushing Thomas to play without thinking about it right now, the development is a process. After multiple games this year Cronin's mentioned frustration not being able to get minutes for him, but that's the downside of playing a spot where JaQuon Parker, Titus Rubles, Justin Jackson and Jermaine Sanders are in the rotation.
Give him time. When he starts reacting instead of thinking and reacting he'll be a force on the court.
From Al: What's going on with Jeremiah Davis III. He was great and I thought he'd have a bigger role this year, but he hasn't been playing?
Unfortunately, Davis suffered an injury to a tendon in his non-shooting hands. The last we heard about it was after Thursday's game. Cronin said they were contemplating surgery. If surgery is the answer, more than likely you'll see JD3 earn a redshirt year. That would probably be good for him because any time he's playing behind Sean Kilpatrick the minutes would be extremely limited and that's how Mick was attempting to groom him.
From Chris: Are you the new kicker for the Bengals? That dude looks exactly like you!
Just because a football player is bald doesn't mean he looks like me. Are you saying all bald people look alike? Maybe you're a baldist! Just kidding, of course, because I actually do look quite a bit like Josh Brown. I also look like Trent Dilfer. And Matt Hasselbeck. You pretty much can just pick a bald kicker or QB and you've got me pegged.
Buy a Christmas tree? Hang some lights? Bake cookies? Hire the 2004 AP Coach of the Year?
As I've stated to many people, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the events of the past weekend. From 7:30 Friday morning until Saturday night it all feels like a blur. Yet, here are the Bearcats, who come out of this event with a re-energized fan base, perspective and national credibility following one of the best off-field weekends in the program's history.
The Bearcats stole the spotlight from RedsFest and a Bengals playoff run -- that's not easy to do.
You can start by praising the efforts of Whit Babcock. I did. Here was my column from Saturday about how he changed the game of UC football. I felt a little remorse after not mentioning President Santa Ono in this, who also deserves credit for this splash. But the effort of Babcock, who looked about as tired as a man could be through all this was something everyone associated with the program should be proud of.
Whit says he never had more than four or five hours of sleep since the Rutgers game and it's been less this week.
"Drank a lot of coffee," he said. "I take a lot of pride in my job and I feel of all the people we represent of whole staff and our coaches and, man, I want to produce for them. I felt for our fans, I take pride in my job, I like being here."
If this weekend were any indication, the fans feel the same way. That was quite a scene at Fifth Third Arena considering it was thrown together remarkably by the UC marketing and operations staff in the span of about five hours. A great day for UC football.
At the bottom of my column Saturday I posted a poll asking if fans felt better, the same or worse about the program than they did one week ago following the shared championship in Connecticut. I figured most would feel better, but there was a strong contingent of Butch Jones supporters who would chime in.
Well, 96 percent of you said you feel better and not one person feels worse. That's an invigorated fan base. I think it's fair to call this the most high-profile hire in school history. Now, for Babcock, the message turns to the fans showing their support of this program and the work its done at the Belk Bowl and in season tickets for next year.
"I hope it re-energizes the fan base," Babcock said. "The ticket jump I think is great. He's undefeated until August so let's make some hay and sell some tickets. and he's a great promoter, one of the most laid-back CEO type leaders I've ever seen. He can be fiery, too. He's our guy."
--- The staff is changing as the Belk Bowl approaches, OL coach Don Mahoney, DC Jon Jancek and assistant Mark Elder already followed Butch Jones to Tennessee. Will be interesting to see how all this changeover effects staff for bowl game.
The one major issue that needs to be fixed around college football is all of this happening between end of regular season and bowl games. There needs to be some kind of embargo placed on hiring before January. Whether recruiting dates need to be moved or something, the messiest part of all of this is the timing in relation to finishing seasons.
--- The question everyone wants to know. Will Tuberville stay? He certainly has a far better chance of doing so than snagging a young, up-and-coming coach as has been the case the last three hires. In the constantly changing landscape of college football, that's all you can ask.
--- Oh, by the way, the basketball team is now 9-0. And with a win at Marshall on Saturday Babcock, President Ono and student boy president Lane Hart will all be shaving their head. The year of the shaved head continues. That's why I'll probably be in tears at midnight New Year's Eve. --- In maybe the most overlooked blog in my two-plus year history here, I wrote about Mick Cronin looking for more arrogance on the court from Cashmere Wright on Saturday. He started to show it with not only hitting 6 of 7 from deep, but distributing nine assists to just one turnover. He's had a turnover problem this year, once he cures it this offense should hit a new level.
--- KenPom stat update: Of those players used on at least 24 percent of their team's possessions, Cashmere Wright (28th) and Sean Kilpatrick (26th) both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rating (overall offensive efficiency).
--- Randomness ... --- Rolling Stone breaks out the 50 greatest hip-hop songs of all-time. First two I look for -- ATLiens by Outkast, "You're All I Need to Get By" by Mary J. Blige and Method Man and Juice By Notorious BIG. Outkast made the list twice for Rosa Park and B.O.B., but Method and Mary were left off. Juicy came in at 9. I imagine everyone's list would be dramatically different from the person next to you. Which is why they make such great blog fodder.
What a whirlwind 48 hours on the campus as Butch Jones exited for Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville almost got caught in the revolving door Butch dashed from. Before the UC faithful reached a crescendo of hate they were celebrating the arrival of Coach Tuberville. This college coaching carousel has to be modified or outright eliminated, but how?
I challenged UC fans who were so critical of Butch Jones leaving his players behind to view Coach Tuberville the same way. If you can, thank you and trust me I am not mad at either one of them. It's the business of college sports like it or not. Contracts aren't worth the paper they're printed on and a coach's word is only real when it doesn't interfere with their next stop. I think Chris Rock said it, "People are only as loyal as their options." In fairness to coaches, like Jon Embree who was fired by Colorado when he didn't rebuild a broken down program fast enough, university's aren't loyal to coaches either. There are the conspiracy theorist who say the booster are the blame; some say attendance drives decisions and other will say the barometer of donations is the guide. It's all wrong. If you sign a coach to a five year deal and he's losing you honor your contract, but that will never happen. If a coach signs a five year deal the coach should honor that as well but we know that's not true either; and the kids lose either way. How would you feel as a kid, or his parents when they come into your home and promise you to be there to see you graduate and the following year they're calling a team meeting to tell you it was the toughest decision they've ever made and it was a family decision, as if that lightens the pain. Bottom line is kids grow up quick and reality slaps them hard because all the rhetoric they were fed instantly becomes superfluous sentences. They understand everyone is saying only what they need to get what they want in the moment including them to sign on the recruitment line.
So am I mad at Butch Jones? Absolutely not. Tommy Tuberville? Not a chance. I'm mad because we get angry when our guy leaves and clap when someone's departed becomes our decorated. I get frustrated when we tell kids about values and morals only to turn around and show them money matters most. That is the real crime; the real problem and that issue that may never be resolved.
Whit Babcok has to keep the athletic program viable and he does it within the rules. He lost a coach and immediately secured another one with more big game experience on the main stage. That seems to have everyone happy for now and lets hope a year from now they're even happier. You have to applaud Whit for being in ready mode and acting quick enough for the current players to determine whether staying here is an option. I have a feeling Tuberville's southern drawl blended with football speak will be a unique attraction for the current UC players. Listening to Coach Tuberville made more than one person want to don football equipment and run through the proverbial wall during his press conference. He's just that inspiring without a doubt. Now he has to inspire the ones that count on their coach to be there the following year and mean it. That is the biggest challenge of any coach and university these days, building a long term relationship with the players and each other.
I should've had this up last night, but I had a Christmas party to get to. Needless to say, it was a festive occasion as many Bearcats celebrated AD Whit Babcock's early Christmas present of Tommy Tuberville as football coach.
As I told others and tweeted, I felt the move was one of the better counter punches I've seen, rivaling anything from any of the Ali-Frazier fights.
What a difference a day makes.
Here's UC quarterback Brendon Kay's thoughts shortly after Tommy Tuberville addressed the crowd at Fifth Third Arena.
The Bearcats lit up Maryland-Eastern Shore 92-60 on Saturday and in the process Cashmere Wright took a necessary step toward regaining the attitude Mick Cronin has been attempting to extract from him.
CINCINNATI -- Mick Cronin can offer expert analysis on a number of topics. Building a basketball program, proper use of foot stomp to snap attention during a game and, of course, reading Dr. Seuss to a 6-year-old.
But one topic probably tops them all right now --- Cashmere Wright.
"I've been around him five years," Cronin said. "When it comes to him, I'm an expert. Trust me."
In 2007 Wright became one of Cronin's first major finds out of Savannah, Ga., and prodding his development every step of the way since. So, when he witnesses an increase in turnover rate for his senior point guard and consequently in his entire team through the first nine game of the season he doesn't need to think long about the reasoning.
"I know what it is with him," Cronin said. "He's a wonderful kid. He's just too nice at times. He's got to stay mentally focused at all times."
Focus wouldn't properly quantify the exact issue. For Wright, the kid with the high-pitched laugh and contagious positive personality, focus means stepping outside himself once he steps inside the lines.
"I try to tell him, the great players aren't the nicest people on the floor," Cronin said. "You need to be arrogant out there and in command at all times. Great example for our guys I try to talk to them about how Oscar Robertson was as a player. You didn't take the ball from him. If you did you might have had no teeth left if you attempted to. Just toughness and the focus because he's got great talent."
Cronin and assistant coach Larry Davis met with Wright this week and broke down film of his play. They attempted to figure out why his assist-turnover totals flipped this season.
Wright was given the task as master of uptempo ceremonies this year as the new UC Blitz blurs up and down Fifth Third Arena. The process came with growing pains Cronin's unaccustomed to seeing. Running this type of a show requires arrogance, Cronin insists.
The senior rarely lacks it on the court it seems, at least when he's staring down the basket from 25 feet. On Saturday his standard routine of burying 3-pointers from the Fifth Third logos returned. He eventually would hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range and finish with 20 points.
Piling in the 15.3 points per game doesn't coincide to confidence or arrogance.
"He's always been a confident shooter," Cronin said. "There's a difference."
Most importantly Saturday, he pushed the break when it necessitated, threw alley-oops like batting practice and finished with nine assists to one turnover.
"Progress," Cronin said. "I was really happy with him."
Progress will continue. The hopes being that the attention to arrogance will return the efficiency in ball-handling displayed last season and on Saturday against UMES.
"As the point guard, I'm trying to walk a thin line between shooting the ball and not shooting so much and still get everyone else involved," Wright said. "It's still an ongoing progression for me trying to work my way to get to the best of that."
If the commanding presence returns and shooting continues as it has this season at 46 percent from deep, Wright will have all the reason to be arrogant. For Cronin, of course, that could be a chicken/egg argument.
"It's about belief," he said. "I am the man. I'm not turning the ball over, I'm a great player. Are you kidding me? There's nothing you can do to me to make me turn it over. That's got to be your mentality as a great guard."
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About 1,200 roaring fans filled into Fifth Third Arena on a late Saturday afternoon during the Christmas season. The UC band played. The cheerleaders screams echoed off the rafters. Streams of cameras focused on the C-Paw logo.
The chants began from the second the UC administration rolled into the building.
"Tommy T! Tommy T! Tommy T!"
All this for the introduction of a new football coach.
These press conferences have happened before. They've taken place in the ballrooms of hotels and been filled with more skepticism than fanfare. Saturday's introduction of Tommy Tuberville felt as much like those as Nippert Stadium feels like Sunday morning at the pee-wee fields.
This was different. This was excitement personified. This wasn't how UC has came off in the past. This was bigtime. This was an atmosphere as big as this home-run hire.
Whit Babcock stated Friday he didn't care about winning the press conference, he preferred to win games between September and January. Well, regardless, of what occurs in August, Babcock just won the press conference. To be fair, he didn't just win it, he beat it into submission like Southeast Missouri State.
As UC embarks on a journey to ascend to the center stage of whatever awaits in the uncertain future of realignment and renovations, it set forth a message that this program belongs in the conversation with the best NCAA football has to offer.
"I want to be the leader that helps this university go to the next level," Tuberville said. "I wanted to help Bearcat Nation take the next step forward."
The first giant leap occurred before he'd given one pregame speech.
But this day, this hire would be about more than pomp and circumstance. This would be about perception becoming reality. This would be about a program leaving adversity in the rear view mirror and running it over with a Texas-sized tank.
Approximately 30 hours from the moment Butch Jones informed his team he ditched Cheer Cincinnati for Rocky Top, Babcock emerged with the 2004 AP Coach of the Year in tow. Statement made. Not only did UC football not die with the departure of its latest leader, before the weekend ended it emerged with an injection of momentum stronger than before. Page turned.
His board of trustees did a double take when he approached them with the possibility of snagging a coach of Turberville's pedigree.
"I can see why they had that thought," Babcock said of the coach who ranked No. 1 on his list of candidates. "Fortunately we had one go our way."
The hiring of an accomplished coach like Tuberville shakes the standard around UC football. Don't like revolving door? Don't like three-and-out system? Change the hiring mentality. Think different.
None of this means Tuberville will be a long-term answer in Clifton. His nine-year run in Auburn came bookended by three-year stints at Ole Miss and now Texas Tech. In college coaching, loyalty and predictability come to a program as often as Heisman Trophy winners. There are no guarantees, but if you desire a different result take a different approach.
In the opening moments of his first conversation with Turberville, Babcock would be hit over the head with the advantage of bucking the trend.
"He said if I come there to be your
football coach, I'll stay," Babcock said. "I didn't prompt it. And I know there's no
guarantees. But I was really happy to hear that. I said we can do it
Every coach previously hired at UC showed up with an agenda and asterisk. They looked to make a name for themselves and none proved they could win on a major stage yet. Whether Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly or Butch Jones, the up-and-coming label attached to their red ties. Tuberville won at the highest level imaginable. He led Auburn to an undefeated 13-0 season in 2004. He was twice the SEC Coach of the Year. He won five SEC West titles.
No hire in UC history arrives with better credentials.
Babcock calls Tuberville one of the most laid-back CEO-type coaches he's come across, but with fire for football and reputation for selling a program. His reputation as an offensive wizard follows him and that was the type of coach the search committee coveted. His passing offense at Tech ranked second in the country in yards passing per game and in the top 20 in total offense.
Season ticket sales jumped 50 percent at Tech during Tuberville's time there.
Coaches with Tuberville's accomplishments don't ditch the Big 12 for Cincinnati, though, unless the expectations of conference stability were satisfied. College football can't be predicted from one day to the next, a fact everyone should know by now, but UC looks prime to be at the forefront of whatever the next dominoes will be. Tuberville essentially staked his career on it.
"I would not be here today if these two guys didn't say they want to give you every possible avenue to have the most success," Tuberville said.
Babcock left an impression on all he crossed paths with since arriving at UC. A renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope flowed through the building. Athletic Directors are rarely judged by energy and ideas, though, in the eyes of the public most will be judged by their hires within the world of football and basketball. For those who rarely step inside the walls of the Lindner Center, the last two days provided the most public insight into what Babcock brings.
As the he took the podium Saturday, the chants of his name began to ring out.
"Whit! Whit! Whit!"
It was a sound he'd never heard before and he couldn't help but crack a smile even through the eyes of a man with no more than four or five hours of sleep any night since Rutgers left for the B1G.
That stage stood far from his comfort zone.
"I'd rather be in the
background, I really would," he said.
The last few days he needed to step to the forefront. And he did so in as big of a way possible. He flipped adversity into enthusiasm and re-energized a fan base frustrated by the cycle of revolving coaches. There may have been better 30-hour periods after the loss of a coach, but you'll have a hard time finding any.
After the band cleared out, the fans filtered to the concourses, cameras disappeared and cheerleaders changed into street clothes, Babcock stood, worn down by the process but beaming with pride over the events of a "great day to be a Bearcat."
And dying to spend a quiet night with his family.
"I try to enjoy the days that are fun because the challenging days
will beat on you a little bit," he said. "When we are doing well I want our guys
up front, but yesterday, that's the time you got to step up and do
it. I'd much rather be in the background. And I'm quite content to go
back to doing that if y'all will let me."
Go ahead, Whit. You've earned it.
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While it's obviously not ideal to lose a football
coach every three years, it is just as clear that it's not the end of the world
for Bearcat football.
I am genuinely happy for Butch Jones.I know that he and his family loved it here,
and that it was difficult for him to leave administrators, boosters, fans, and
friends that treated him well.Most of
all, it was hard for him to leave his players.But having just played a road game at Tennessee last season, I can
certainly understand why he took the job.The football facilities are palatial and he'll have anything and
everything he needs to try to win SEC championships (with the notable exception
of imminent retirement plans for Nick Saban or Les Miles).
I hope that Butch is the third straight former UC
coach to make us proud at his next stop.Mark Dantonio is 50-28 at Michigan State and going to a bowl game for
the sixth straight year.Brian Kelly is
about to play for a national championship at Notre Dame.Cincinnati's oldest football rival claims the
title of "The Cradle of Coaches," but in the last decade, UC deserves that
The last three coaches have all left the program
better than they found it.Mark Dantonio
came in and laid infrastructure, methodically building a BCS-level
program.Brian Kelly energized the fan
base like never before and taught us that anything - including competing for
national titles - is possible at UC.Butch Jones proved that the Kelly era wasn't a fluke, and devoted every
ounce of his energy toward making the school as appealing as possible to
They deserve kudos for Cincinnati's success over the
last nine years, but you know what?UC
deserves a ton of credit for their success too.It's a program located in a high school football hotbed that can go to
major bowl games by winning conference titles.It also comes with a salary of more than a million dollars a year in a
great place to live.I know of several
impressive candidates that have already expressed interest in the job (and no,
I am not at liberty to share names).
"Anytime that you make a hire of this magnitude it's
pretty darn important, but we're not intimidated by it," said athletic director
Whit Babcock."We have a heck of a job,
a heck of a track record, and a state that's tremendous to recruit in.We have proven success in winning titles, we
have a plan for facilities, and my goodness, if you look at the last three
coaches - there's a little pressure to produce on that level - but we'll get a
good coach.We've already received a lot
of interest and we've been prepared for it.
"I wouldn't be doing my job as an AD if we weren't
prepared.Since August, a small number
of us have been working on potential coach replacements.We've added people to the list, we've taken
some off, and we've followed their progression throughout the season. We are
prepared, and we will get a great coach."
I thought that Whit's performance at Friday's news
conference was the best I've ever seen under similar circumstances and I hope
that Bearcat fans share my confidence that he and President Santa Ono are doing
what is necessary to put the Cincinnati athletic department in the best
possible position to thrive in the future.
"I'm disappointed today because Butch Jones was a
good friend and we lost a good coach," said prominent UC supporter Larry
Sheakley."But if I can make a statement
as a booster, I'm confident that this University and the athletic director did
everything in their power to keep him.Everything.And they're doing
everything that they can to get us where we need to be."
One of those things was briefly mentioned in the
news conference - a plan of action for improving Nippert Stadium that will be
announced in the near future.
"You'll have to wait," said Babcock."I would rather that (announcement) be a
celebration than what today is about.I
think it's an exciting vision."
Whit ended his news conference with a call to action
for Bearcat fans.If you want to see
this program continue to grow, you can make a difference by supporting the 11th-ranked
basketball team and by traveling to the Belk Bowl on December 27th
"Quite frankly, if every fan that had e-mailed me,
texted me, called me, and Tweeted at me about Butch or the next head coach had
bought a ticket, we would have sold our allotment out two times over," said
"We have a promotion called 'One Team, One Ticket '
and that's for people that cannot go to a bowl game but want to buy a ticket -
at least one - and donate them back to us," said Babcock."We'll put them to good use.If you want to step up to the plate today and
make a statement to the nation that we're about more than a coach, that is a
great action step to take."
The search for a new coach has started, but the
momentum generated by the last three isn't about to stop.
"Hiring good coaches is absolutely critical to our
success, but we're bigger than any one individual," said Babcock."We'll survive and we'll thrive."
Whit Babcock stood at the podium in the Lindner Center staring down unknowing, confused, hurt collection of staff, fans, media and players. He opened with a statement everyone across the Bearcats fan base felt.
"It's a tough day for the Bearcats," Babcock said.
Only, the Cincinnati AD spent the next 30 minutes disproving his own theory.
Babcock organized himself, President Santa Ono, players Ralph David Abernathy IV and Austen Bujnoch, alongside interim coach Steve Stripling to place transparency on a process that held hostage the minds, hearts and Twitter feeds of Bearcats fans everywhere. The message placed light on one residing theme: "UC is bigger than Butch Jones."
Even in the instant moments following the conclusion of the press conference and before Jones even dons an Orange tie in Knoxville, Tenn., the Bearcats already appear to have bounced back.
"Coach Jones is a great man, I'll miss him, but we play for the guys in the locker room with the 'C' on their chests," Abernathy said. "We play for Cincinnati. It's time to just move forward. Change happens. It can either break you or make you. We are going to choose to let this make us."
It comes as much with the territory around these parts as Big East championships.
The day Jones stood at the Kingsgate Marriott Podium being introduced to the staff, fans and media, the whispers were heard underneath the polite clapping and smiles.
There's no way anybody could replace Brian Kelly, they would say. Likely a four-letter word preceded Kelly's name during that bitter time, but the message remained the same. Kelly could coach and led UC to heights not only unprecedented, but unimaginable.
What would become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-74 toward South Bend?
Funny, the same whispers were uttered the day Kelly stood at the podium.
How could any coach follow Mark Dantonio? He'd returned this program to relevancy out of the doldrums. His style fit UC football and provided a long-desired identity. This program now went to bowl games regularly, nobody wanted to revert to the days of watching postseason football wearing red and black on the couch. What makes anybody think this Kelly guy can replicate his success?
What would become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-75 toward East Lansing?
A few weeks from now, whoever becomes the lucky winner of the coaching search will take the podium. And the whispers will flow underneath the polite smiles and clapping.
How could anybody replace Butch Jones? The passion, the enthusiasm, the winning on and off the field. He allowed UC a trademark energy and shared two conference titles in three years. Players swore by him. Jones left his mark on this program and one the fan base happily absorbed. The flash of Isaiah Pead at Paul Brown Stadium against Oklahoma, thunder of Derek Wolfe against Louisville, excitement of Ralph David Abernathy IV in the Liberty Bowl, workmanlike relentlessness of George Winn grinding down Pitt and surreal joy of Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian.
Those moments were real and added to the growing tradition of UC football. But to think because the coach who stood on the sidelines for them now departs, the moments will leave with him would be disregarding the past.
When the next coach takes the podium, though, nobody should be sharing the same concerning whispers. Babcock installed a group to keep an eye on possible coaching replacements months ago. Impressive resumes flow in. You better believe there will be candidates lining up to follow in the path that sent coaches to Michigan State, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
"We will be OK, we will come out of this stronger than we are today," Babcock said. "UC is a special place and we have received incredible interest in our head coach position already. This place has been here for 200 years it will be here long after we are all gone. Hiring good coaches is critical to success but we are bigger than any one individual. We are bigger than one coach. We will survive and we'll thrive."
Indeed, in the near future, they'll say it again. What will become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-75 South toward Knoxville?
We all should know the answer to that now. We've seen this movie before; we know how it ends. Butch Jones was great. UC football was greater. They both move on. Just like the last two times. Stronger than ever.
Few thoughts from my Twitter feed responding to the second consecutive impressive early December press conference reacting to adversity at UC. How'd the last one turn out for you?
--- Stated plan for renovating Nippert will be unveiled in coming days. Exciting, but didn't want that celebration to be lost in today's news
--- Said Butch needed to check CU/Purdue for "closure." Warned him of possible backlash of public interviews. Jones didn't quite heed warning.
--- Great line from Whit re: Butch struggling with off-field decisions: "Felt like a part-time counselor in my office at times."
--- Whit clearly had enough runaround by end of process. Gave Butch 24 hours to decide on UT. Circus caused too much stress to too many.
--- Whit not seeking big splash hire. "Not trying to win the press conference." If splash best hire, he'll do it, but not priority.
--- RDAIV being selected to stand up there as a sophomore shows all you need to know about him and the respect he has among his teammates. Born leader.
--- Most importantly, theme of day from Whit and one obv by presence of players, prez, coach, AD: "UC is bigger than Butch Jones."
--- Whit on the need to support team at the Belk Bowl: "If every fan that emailed me, text me, called me, tweeted at me about Butch bought a ticket, would've sold allotment two times over."
--- Even if you can't got to Charlotte, you can support the program by going to GoBearcats.com main page and the One Team, One Ticket promotion. You can buy a ticket and donate it back to UC and they will put it to proper use. It is the ultimate way to help support these players and everyone involved in UC football.
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Sean Kilpatrick can see the look on the their faces. Tired, frustrated, helpless. Those expressions mean the goal of this defense has been accomplished. The opponents have officially been rattled. And the fun has just begun.
"Yeah, when we are pressing like that, it's go-time," Kilpatrick said. "That's what we are. We are a press team and that's what we are going to give every team that comes in here for 40 minutes."
On Thursday, that team was University of Arkansas-Little Rock. And not only will the Trojans not forget this night of unraveling into an 87-53 disaster, future generations of Bearcats wont' forget it, either.
Cincinnati (8-0) set a school single-game record with 23 steals and forced 32 turnovers. A number more inconcievable than either of those were the 70-plus Bearcats deflections. By far the most during Mick Cronin's seven-year tenure. The goal for every game is 40. They reached 39 by halftime.
"It dictated the tempo of the game and never let Little Rock get their bearings on offense," Cronin said. "Great effort by our team defensively tonight."
That's the thing, though. This wasn't just tonight. This wasn't just because an overmatched Trojans team on the road entering into a whirlwind of unfamiliar pressure. We've seen it shock opponents on repeat this year -- both known and unknown. Every team on UC's schedule experienced the brushback pitch the Bearcats throw to set the tone.
In seven of eight games this year UC owned a double-digit lead in the first half. The only other game was Iowa State and the Bearcats led by six midway through the opening stanza. It's a defensive ambush.
"You could tell when they are tired because we continue to keep subbing in fresh legs," said Kilpatrick, who finished with 18 points and two steals. "That's the strength with our team, we have so many guys that can play multiple positions. And we have a lot of depth on our team. When they are rattled like that it's better for us because they start turning the ball over and get buckets with layups."
Many of the passes look awful. And rest assured, they were. Crosscourt tosses fly into the front row like t-shirts from the cheerleaders.
Such would be easy to criticize UALR. These guys can't play, right? Another sad opponent comes to Fifth Third Arena would undoubtedly be the narrative as pockets of the 6,127 pass the Oscar Robertson statue en route to their cars.
Maybe. Or maybe these types of performances show what the Bearcats defense can do to a team ill-prepared for the pressure. The swarming traps and snapping rotations can't be simulated in practice.
"That's a big part of it," Cronin said. "Teams haven't seen it, it's really hard to simulate. It'd be like trying to simulate Syracuse's zone. You can talk about it until you see it. What I was most happy with today was it was pretty much for 40 minutes."
In games against Alabama, Iowa State and Oregon, those initial surges made the difference. The energy and effort expended climbing out of an early hole combined with the waves of UC's depth become a textbook example of mental and physical fatigue on the college athlete. Or even the college coach.
Just ask UALR coach Steve Shields who burned through four timeouts attempting to stop the hemorrhaging Thursday. Not enough gauze in the city on this night.
"Most importantly, it's the coach," Kilpatrick said of sensing a rattled team. "If you can look at the coach and he's frustrated. That's the last thing you want as a player if your coach to be frustrated at you. That carries on."
This group smells blood in the water on defense as well as any in the Cronin era --- and even dating back Bob Huggins bangers of the mid-90s. When another team flails on the ropes, the Bearcats not only throw the knockout punch, they bring in fresh legs and arms to deliver it.
"Two years ago we were a deep team and used our press a lot," Cronin said. "The difference with this team both of our pseudo 4-men --- they are really 3-men --- are athletic and can press where Ibrahima Thomas couldn't. We've worked so hard at instituting certain things with our style of play that we needed some practice time to work on our pressure. And doing a better job of dictating the tempo with it."
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Everyone will point to the miraculous Cashmere Wright rainbow over 7-foot Moussa Gueye as the reason UC beat Alabama on Saturday. And make no mistake, Mick Cronin will be among those taking credit for it, too. Coaches take the fall too many times for player mistakes for him not to cash in credit on one that fell his way.
But Cronin knows better. His team avoided defeat because the Bearcats pushed the offensive pace just enough to allow Wright the opportunity to post the No. 2 play of the day on SportsCenter.
Those shots won't always fall. In fact, they rarely will. So, as Cronin and his 11th-ranked Bearcats hit practice and a run of lesser opponents this week in Arkansas-Little Rock and Maryland-Eastern Shore, the attention turns to perfecting a pace he believes will push this team to the next level.
Against quality defensive teams like Alabama, speed will need to be the difference-maker. On Saturday, Cronin learned his team doesn't yet know how to take full advantage.
"Got to be a 40-minute style of play, staying on the attack," he said. "That's why
we won the game; the last two minutes we got two fast breaks, a layup and
Those opportunities came few and far between. The Bearcats entered averaging 87 points a game, but Alabama slowed the Bearcats pace dramatically in holding them to 58.
Anthony Grant after the game called UC the best defensive team in the country, and he's not far off. They stand fourth in the country in Effective field goal percentage (38.4 percent). Much of the success stems from spending the majority of practice time working on defense. Cronin plans to change that.
"Right now our defense is way ahead of our offense," he said. "We have to find a way to play at our pace for 40 minutes. My theory is, no matter who you are or what you have on the front of
your jersey, if you can't get to 70, you are going to be life and death
against good teams."
Cronin installed The Blitz this offseason as team changed body shape to handle the uptempo change. Thus far, the possessions per game increased dramatically. Last year, UC averaged 64.2 possessions per 40 minutes. Thus far this season, they've averaged 74.2. A positive side effect has been UC increasing it's free throw 30 percent last year to 40 percent this year. Translation, the increased tempo helped forced a higher number of opponent fouls rather than giving up easy baskets.
Alabama, however, found a way to slow them down well below the season average pace.
The game morphed into a halfcourt grinder not conducive to the Bearcats strengths. Hence the drop to 29 points below the season average.
"The best thing to do when it's times like that is to get easy chipping
plays like backdoors and just trying to beat them with our speed," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We can
get the ball out as fast as anybody in the nation. Then just get up the
court and get layups because we have those type of players. If we're
able to do that every game, then it's going to be very hard to stop us."
The key over the next month will be figuring out how to do that despite teams attempting to slow down. The art of pushing tempo can be difficult to replicate in practice. Only inserting the theory into game pressure and mindset can measure how much better the team's performing and pushing the ball up the court. And that's about much more than dribbling ahead and forcing shots in traffic during the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.
The early details produce results.
"You have to dictate that with a couple of things -- your defensive pressure, but us our defensive rebounding," Cronin said. "You can't run without the ball. With us we are getting too many rebounds where it's getting knocked out of our hands, (then we've) got to take it out of bounds. Or when the game got close agaisnt Alabama and we started, 'Oh we blew a lead.' To have our style of play the scoreboard has to be irrelevant. You just got to continue to attack and push the pace. You can't say, 'Oh well we are in a close game.'"
The Bearcats don't figure to be in close games the next three days, but Cronin will be judging pace from the sideline. If a more efficient offense executing with speed can join an already suffocating defense, the Bearcats find themselves in the conversation with the best in the country.
As Cronin always says, this time of year is about molding the group for conference play. Perfecting pace is the final step.
to get to that point by the time we get to January to play at the pace
we want against whoever we are playing," Cronin said. "We can't let them dictate a
tempo against us."
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Well, quite an interesting day Tuesday as it came and went with many Bearcats fans wondering about the status of Butch Jones. Following the Twitters the last few days became an exercise that would make my journalism professors cringe and Joseph Pulitzer roll over in his grave. Misreporting and throwing of facts against the wall to see what sticks blankets the landscape without accountability.
Stay away from that world if you want your sanity. You can find those losing theirs at #Bearcats. All you need to know: Butch Jones is making a decision. Let him make it. Then you will be notified.
In the mean time, take a look around and understand the sky is not falling. Far from it. Read the column from my colleague and friend here at GoBearcats Dan Hoard. He tackles the current state of UC Athletics and says it as well as anyone could.
--- As of my typing of this no reports surfaced on Butch Jones future here. As he said on Tuesday, "I think all you have to do is look at my past and in the past years of
what's happened. And I'm still the head football coach here. I think
that speaks volumes."
As Dan said, everyone at UC would like Jones to stay. You won't find anyone stating otherwise. If he decides its time to move on the program was left much better than when he found it and there will be a long list of extremely qualified candidates who'd love to take over. If he stays, then all the better for UC football.
--- I want to discuss another story that came out in the midst of chaos. All the details are slightly sketchy for now, but what we do know is that Walter Stewart has been cleared to train for the NFL Combine. Fears exist that his spinal condition would end his football career. Those have not necessarily gone away but Stewart being who he is, won't go down without saying he gave every last inch of effort to pull it off.
He may still never be cleared to play, but that won't stop Walt from doing everything else in his power up to the line he's not allowed to cross. For right now, that means training for the Combine. Add it to the list of all the reasons to love Walter Stewart. --- Doc with a take on the big decision for Jones among the many big decisions hanging over the athletic department right now.
--- Greg Blair's 19-tackle performance against Louisville was rated one of the Top 5 defensive performances of the year in the Big East by CBSSports.com. --- This is the last day to order Belk Bowl tickets and get in by the priority deadline. Just have to be in by 5 p.m. today. Just head to the main page at GoBearcats.com for details. --- As you should know by now UC was ranked No. 11/12 in this week's college hoops polls. This is about where I thought UC should be slated before the season started. Knew it would only be a matter of time, but they are finally earning the respect the deserve and would have received in preseason had national folks been paying proper attention.
"It's great whenever your program gets recognition," Mick Cronin said. "It's something we're extremely proud of but at the same time we all know it doesn't mean anything right now in the scope of things."
As far as what also comes with rankings and the piles of praise being heaped upon this team right now, Cronin knows complacency comes with the territory. Avoiding it shoots to the top of his list right now.
"Complacency is inevitable whenever you have success," he said. "I'd like to be able to keep my team on the road. Win two in Vegas, come home, everybody tells you have great you are. It softens you up, no doubt about it. We did not play well enough Saturday."
He didn't find that hard to do going through a film evaluation.
"It was ugly," he said. "I thought we got out-executed, outplayed, out-coached against Alabama. We had probably our best and most physical practice of the year Monday, for us not living up to our expectations of how we physically compete is what we focus on. You would have thought we lost if you would have been at our practice on Monday. We got to get back to playing well Thursday."
--- Today is the three-year anniversary of my first game assignment covering sports in Cincinnati. UC 45, Pitt 44. Don't know if I'll ever top Day 1.
--- Some randomness as I quickly post this blog before all of the news inside it becomes old ...
--- Just when I was feeling special about my Inside the Bearcats Podcast -- turns out Rowdy Roddy Piper has one, too? --- Vanity Fair/50 minutes poll rightly named Seinfeld the greatest comedy sitcom of all time. It's a Festivus for the rest of us! --- Looking for more local flair in their teams nickname, the New Orleans Hornets are changing their team name to the New Orleans Pelicans. Having seen Bourbon St. a few times I'm surprised they passed on the New Orleans Gutter Vomit. --- In case you weren't in the mood for Christmas, I offer you DMX singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. My buddy and I always used to talk about how Steve Logan looked kind of like DMX and we always wanted him to bust out a rap during that season he was leading the country in scoring. This would have been ideal.
Remember, we want to hear from you so shoot any question, comments or rap versions of Hark the Herald Angels sing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Last Wednesday, there was a headline in the
Cincinnati Enquirer that read "UC Still Stuck In Big East."
As a friend of mine pointed out, "Can you imagine
how ridiculous that would have sounded a few years ago?"
For the past week, I've listened to talk show hosts
and fans moan and groan about the state of UC athletics.Whether it's conference realignment or the
possibility of losing Butch Jones, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of
doom and gloom.
I don't share that pessimism.
Let's start with the conference situation.I haven't heard a single so-called expert
express the opinion that this high-stakes game of musical chairs is finished.
"Conference realignment is not over," said Mick
Cronin."It's far from over."
If and when the next shift occurs, UConn and
Cincinnati appear to be on the top of the list to move to the ACC if any current
members follow Maryland's lead and bolt for more money elsewhere.Until then, UC will continue to polish its
"resume" in athletics and academics.
"We're very fortunate to have two individuals in
President Ono and Whit Babcock leading our university and our athletic
department," said Coach Jones."They've
been extremely proactive.They have set
us up to be very successful whether it's now or in the future and they continue
to work on it.I know that they are
working to make the University of Cincinnati the best place possible and I can
tell you this - we are in great hands with their leadership."
In the meantime, is the Big East really that bad in
the short term?
Assuming that Louisville and Rutgers remain in the
league for another year, the Big East next season will lose Syracuse and Pitt
but add Boise State, Central Florida (and others) in football.The winner of the league will get a BCS Bowl
bid in the final year of the current system and Cincinnati should be among the
favorites to win it.
If Cincinnati is in the Big East in 2014, it
will still have the opportunity to claim a spot in one of the six major bowls
since the new system guarantees a bid to at least one team outside of the
so-called "Power Five" conferences.You
could make the argument that the Bearcats will have a better chance to go to
one of those bowls than the schools that have left the Big East because of the
competition that UC will face.Do you
see Rutgers winning the Big Ten anytime soon?
Yes, Big East football will have a strong Conference
USA flavor at that point, but with a major difference from when UC was in
C-USA.Back then, the grand prize for a
conference championship was a trip to the Liberty Bowl.The Big East champ will not face the same
In basketball, the Big East would still have
Cincinnati, UConn, Georgetown, Marquette, Memphis, Temple, Villanova (and
others).It would no longer be the
deepest conference in the country, but it would still be one of the best.
"Cincinnati basketball is big time - it always has
been and always will be," said Coach Cronin."We're going to end up in a great league whether it is the Big East with
the remaining teams that are tradition-rich basketball schools or somewhere
else.It's not something that I really
worry about too much.I'm more worried
about things that we can control here at Cincinnati with our own University
such as our support, budget, and facilities."
As for Butch Jones, I think he is a great coach and
a better person and I hope that he stays at Cincinnati.I think he has devoted every ounce of energy
that he has toward building a great future for Bearcat football.If he leaves he'll be sorely missed, but the program will be much stronger than the one he inherited.
If Whit Babcock has to hire a new coach, there will
be no shortage of qualified candidates.When Cincinnati hired Brian Kelly, the other people that interviewed for
the job included John Harbaugh, Hue Jackson, and Bo Pelini.I hope that it isn't necessary, but I have no
doubt that Cincinnati can find another outstanding coach.
Our basketball team is currently ranked 11th
in the country.Our football team just
won a share of its fourth conference title in five years and is headed to a
great bowl game (that I hope you will attend).
The football Bearcats did it again. Picked to finish in the middle of the pack, they leave with at least a share of the Big East championship. Amazing how many times this keeps happening. To pull it off this time for some reason feels more remarkable. Each season establishes its own personality and each of these four lived on for their own reason.
2008: The emergence of a program long forgotten. 2009: The season to end all seasons, 12-0. 2011: The rise of Butch Jones, the family model and remarkable flip from 4-8 to a championship. 2012: Resilient, hard-working, all-business and recovering from the loss of as much veteran talent and leadership in the recent history of the program.
This won't be the first time I've pointed this out nor the last, but it always bears repeating --- these guys lost two defensive tackles drafted in the top three rounds, a second-round running back, a fourth-round tight end, Mr. Cincinnati and a Bearcat all-timer in JK Schaffer at MLB and a quarterback, leader at the center of the team for nearly three years in Zach Collaros.
Oh, and then lose your undeniable team leader and best defensive player in Walter Stewart before conference play hits.
Teams aren't supposed to just recover from that. Unless they are Alabama, Florida or Oklahoma where the top five recruits land on their doorstep like a newspaper every morning. Yet, here they were, Travis Kelce, George Winn, Austen Bujnoch and Brendon Kay hoisting a trophy in East Hartford.
Fans may not look back at the 2012 regular season as memorable as others in recent UC history, but perhaps they should. Don't we all love the underdog? Don't we all love the story of a scrappy bunch of overachievers. Isn't that our deal in this country? Well, maybe not in the country, but it is inside the I-275 beltway and the 2012 Bearcats provided a story worth telling.
And they gave us this latest celebration including the Butch Jones crouching cabbage patch/drink stir dance. Epic video from CoachButchJonesBlog.
Let's eat ... --- So in the middle of this video, Nick Temple screams out "four titles in five years," who else can say that? Well, Nick, glad you asked. How many teams across the nation can claim at least a share of four titles in the last five years?
Two -- with a few asterisks.
Boise State can claim the same, though their four championships in five years came across two different conferences (WAC/MWC).
And then Cincinnati. Four minimum shares of the Big East conference championship in five years.
Now, it should be noted Oregon also can make an argument for it. They won the Pac-12 outright from 2009-11.
This year they finished the regular season in a tie with Stanford at
8-1, so the Cardinal advanced to the championship game and beat UCLA.
Technically, if there weren't a title game, the Ducks could count that
as a similar share to UC. Of course, the conference doesn't, but Oregon's case is the only one even when looking at those with conference championship games to have similar success to UC.
--- Some highlights anda discussion of what it means for UC to be linked at the top again. --- The bowl destination became official yesterday. UC (9-3) will face Duke (6-6) in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. It will be Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
As I've been saying on this blog, Charlotte is a great destination city. The weather is typically bearable with highs in the 50s this time of year and the city comes packed with entertainment and unique cuisine options. If you don't go to the Cajun Queen while you're there you've missed the steamboat.
--- Travis Kelce placed the ultimate topper on a regular season for the record books at UC and he may have played himself into a job next season with his mustachioed brother Jason in the NFL.
As a tight end he ended up leading the team in all major receiving categories with 40 receptions for 599 yards and seven touchdowns.
He's built 6-foot-6, 260 pounds proved to be the most productive TE at a school that currently boasts two in the NFL (Brent Celek (Eagles/Adrien Robinson, Giants). Celek comes in at 6-4, 255 pounds and Robinson 6-4, 264. Kelce's more in the newer mold of NFL tight end with the athletic, taller, basketball types ala Jimmy Graham (6-7, 265).
--- Granted, the tight end has become a lost position in the world of college football spread offenses despite its renaissance in the NFL. But looking around the college game, Kelce's numbers stack up with the best nationally.
Top 10 receiving tight ends in college football Player, school: Receptions/yards/TDs Zach Ertz, Stanford: 66/837/6 Austin Seferian-Jenksin, Wash: 63/791/6 Ryan Otten, SJSU: 44/706/4 Chris Coyle, ASU: 53/659/5 Eric Ebron, UNC: 40/625/4 Tyler Eiffert, ND: 44/624/4 Travis Kelce, UC: 40/599/7 Blake Jackson, OK St.: 28/565/2 Mychal Rivera, UT: 36/562/5 Joseph Fauria, UCLA: 40/561/11
--- Kelce ranks fifth nationally in TDs by a TE. So, he ranks in the top seven in the country in both yards and touchdowns for a tight end. Pretty impressive.
So, let's say you rank him as the seventh-best tight end coming out of school -- in each of the last five NFL drafts the seventh tight end selected went in the fourth round. Last year? That was Adrien Robinson to the Giants.
In the last five years at least 12 tight ends have been selected in every draft. Yeah, with his size, athleticism and production, there should definitely be a place for Kelce.
--- Few quick basketball notes, needed to comment on the words of Alabama coach Anthony Grant following the Bearcats buzzer-beater win on Saturday.
"I think he's got his footprints and his staple on the program," Grant said. "I also
think when you look at it they're the best defensive team in the country
right now with what they've done and they're an explosive basketball
team. He's got a deep basketball team and I think they're going to be
really, really good."
That's quite a compliment. As Grant later delved deeper, he says the numbers bear that out. He'd be close to correct. If UC isn't the best defensive team in the country right now, they are in the conversation. According to KenPom, they rank 11th in the country in adjusted defense (ranked 12 right behind them? Alabama. Those were two very evenly matched teams).
Looking deeper, they rank third nationally in estimated field goal percentage defense (38.4 percent). That takes into account 3-pointers.
SK shook his head when he heard Grant said that about his team. But not because he didn't believe him.
"We have great coaches like [Anthony Grant] saying that we're the best
defensive team in country and we haven't even scratched the (surface)
yet," Kilpatrick said. "I wonder how it's going to be when we do get there."
If this offense can begin firing in the uptempo mold Cronin envisions -- look out.
--- Of course, if you haven't seen Cash Wright buzzer beater yet you must be really lost landing on this blog. Saturday, I took a deeper look at the anatomy of the buzzer-beater. I'm calling it Rainbow Wright. That name has been met with skepticism and apathy. That's fine, people. I respect your opinions. But I like it and, well, that's all that matters. So it stays.
Our friends at ESPN have a feature they call "Instant Classic" when the network immediately will replay a game that producers deem a contest so special, fans need to see it again right away.
Sunday's Crosstown Classic game between UC and XU was exactly what it name says: A classic.
First, congratulations to Amy Waugh and the Xavier Musketeers on the win. Xavier played a total of three overtimes in its two games this weekend, one in a loss to Appalachian State on Friday night, then two Sunday against UC. They were resiliant after facing double-digit deficits and came back to win.
Second, what a showing by UC, even in a loss. Dayeesha Hollins showed why she is the quarterback for Jamelle Elliott as the junior from Winton Woods practically willed the Bearcats to the win, all by herself. As it was, Hollins tossed in 25 points and a career high 14 rebounds. How many times she hit the floor chasing after a loose ball, I lost count. She gave every ounce of effort she had in this game.
UC was strong at the start as the Bearcat defense lived up to its billing, holding Xavier to only 15 points in the first half. But injuries and fouls started to take their toll in the second half. Give credit to Tiffany Turner, coming back from concussion symptoms, for playing well inside with 11 points. Jeanise Randolph, also coming back after a wrist injury, was a bit tentative early playing with a soft cast on her right hand, but seems to get more comfortable as the game went on. Her leg injury late in the second half may have been the difference in the game as the Bearcats missed her experience at crucial times in OT.
But the real winners in this game were the dozens of girls' youth basketball teams who attended the contest and got to see the best that women's basketball has to offer. You can only hope that in that crowd, some of these girls will be inspired to play a little harder, work a little longer and see a future that they can have playing basketball. They saw a true Crosstown Classic.
Cashmere Wright turned the ball over four times, occasionally drew the ire of his head coach, contributed but six points and battled a sore shoulder that kept him out of practice nearly all week.
But when the final play of a tie game with six seconds left drew up with his name on it, the words of his teammates echoed inside.
"They told me the next play will take care of the whole game," he said. "I had a bad game, right, but I guess that one shot is OK."
OK would be the understatement of the weekend, Cash.
In the end, his fadeaway jumper over the outstretched arms of Alabama 7-foot center Moussa Gueye incredibly found the bottom of the net and sent 10,155 and every member of the Bearcats bench into a frenzy in the corner of the court.
Wright says he never hit a buzzer-beater in his life. His first delivered the 58-56 victory over the previously undefeated Tide.
"It was the least I could do," Wright said. "I was basically throwing away the whole game at the end. Felt like if they could take me that far if I had the shot it's in me to shoot it."
A closer look unveils the true absurdity of a moment that will live for ages in the lore of UC basketball: Rainbow Wright.
DRAWING IT UP: Mick Cronin concocted the play to be for Wright driving to the left off a screen from Justin Jackson and attempt to create a matchup problem where he could either blow by Gueye or kick to Kilpatrick in the corner if help converged on him.
The screen would be critical. Jackson picked off barely enough of Trevor Releford to essentially take him out of the play.
The matchup came by virtue of what Alabama coach Anthony Grant viewed as a personnel mistake on his part. He didn't expect to see UC going with either of their big men and that left Gueye the lone big man on the floor.
"I tried to sub, that was my fault, they put four guards and forward in game," Grant said. "I figured what they would do is either go to Parker or Wright there at the end."
WRIGHT'S MINDSET: From the moment Wright caught the ball, he knew the spot he hoped to attack on the floor. The designed run to the left predetermined his point of attack.
"I knew we was going to the left so before I went down the court I already set myself for where I want to go and where I want to shoot the shot from," Wright said. "I kind of got there."
OVER THE TOP: Driving to the spot would only be a minor piece of the battle. Once he dribbled inside the arc the blow-by Cronin and Wright desired never unfolded. Gueye ran with him almost step for step and didn't require help as the clock ticked to the final seconds.
So, from about 10 feet in he began the fadeaway toward the corner, only fading back wouldn't be enough over the 7-foot-plus wingspan of the center from Senegal.
The defense couldn't have been better, really.
"I thought we contested the shot, but he's a hell of a player," Grant said. "He made a big-time shot and won the game for them."
The angle from the student section posted almost instantly after the game (reason No. 4,387,321 to love the Internet) show how ridiculous it was to overcome the wingspan.
LUCKY AND GOOD: Cronin joked about a "revelation" for the media and fans, these games don't come down to drawing up revolutionary plays. They come down to players. This came down to Wright.
"I just shot the ball hoping," he said. "I really couldn't see the rim. Shot a regular shot hoping you get it up and get a chance to go in."
It did. Somehow. Unbelievably.
"As he let it go I was thinking about Jarrod West, DeSean Butler," Cronin said. "Thinking, one of these has to fall for the Bearcats."
THE AFTERMATH: As the shot swished and set off pandemonium, Wright slid deep into the corner out of bounds almost unbeknownst what occurred.
"I think that was when they grabbed me," he said. "I didn't even see the shot go in before they grabbed me. I was like, OK, I must have hit the shot then."
Wright and the Bearcats celebrated the first true buzzer-beater of their college careers, but they weren't alone. In Mick Cronin's 17 years of college coaching and five in the high school ranks he claims Rainbow Wright to be the first winning buzzer-beater.
In a game where both Wright and Kilpatrick topped 1,000 points for the careers, the question arose to who would receive the official game ball. Supposedly, they both will receive painted footballs commemorating the feat.
Wright took the lead one final time: "I want the ball."
And Kilpatrick finished: "I am going to let him get it."
We want to hear from you. Email (email@example.com) any questions, comments or send your rankings of this shot in the recent history of UC basketball. You can always hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.