January 2013 Archives

The Podcast returns as I sit down and chat with Tommy G following UC's 62-54 victory over Rutgers. One of the more entertaining podcasts in the history of the ITBP. Really, I can explain the podcast all I want, really this incredible artist rendering of all the topics covered by our guy Shane Harrison explains it all.

As for my attempt to explain, we flip the script on Mr. Gelehrter as we take the questions he's been peppering to the freshman and sophomore players in his Know Your Bearcats series and play Know Your New Media and Broadcasting Director. Before that we touch on the stress of buying new glasses, the #JustinJacksonMeanFace Twitter contest/subsequent prize package the wild goose chase for a bike on Wednesday night and, of course, Fred Savage.

We also talk plenty of Bearcats, we hear from Mick Cronin while talking about mentoring players, the first/second half debate, Cashmere Wright and plans for National Signing Day including the possible return of critically acclaimed Fax Cam!

If you aren't interested in all our delightful, witty banter you can scroll to the 6:40 mark when we delve into UC hoops, though, I can't think of a reason you would want to do so.

Enjoy. And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast through your iTunes account by following the link here, opening it in your iTunes and clicking subscribe.

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I have to start off by giving a second run for one of the quotes of the year that came out of last night. We see a string of the usual suspects typically after games. Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker are all old pros at the game. They are typically pretty relaxed talking to us cranky scribes and will go on and on if the question begs it of them.

Justin Jackson is a quieter guy in general, at least around most of us. He's delightful, just not as loquacious as others. Never has been. And that's absolutely fine. That's why when I asked him last night about how getting a block energizes him and he started by saying he just can't explain the feeling, I couldn't have seen the next line coming.

"It's like getting a new pair of shoes."

Just a great line. And considering the source, was even greater. Jack is such an interesting character on the court and really embraced by this fan base for how he plays the game. To see him let some of his personality out with us and deliver a gold line like that made me smile. Hard not to like the young man.

Oh, by the way, Jackson played his best game of the season. Reminded me of the way he played regularly at the end of the last year when UC made its run to the Sweet 16. He clearly turned a corner in the eyes of Mick Cronin, who gave him his first start since he sat him down for the Notre Dame game and gave his starting spot to Titus Rubles. If we're seeing the return of the old Justin Jackson, it could be a huge development for the Bearcats already stingy defense.

That's what I wrote about in my postgame column, you can read it here.

Many other topics to plow through coming out of last nights games, let's run through a few:

--- First off, here are the highlights of the game from BearcatsTV, ICYMI.

--- Zach Collaros wants us to hold a best #JustinJacksonMeanFace impression. This is an idea I can get behind.

--- The theory of why the Bearcats have struggled at home some this year came out from Mick during his presser. It's been an interesting phenomenon we explored deeper a few weeks back as the Cats were coming off a three-game home losing streak. They've since beat Marquette and Rutgers, but the sluggish first half brought out some analysis from Mick. At least, the best he can come up with. Certainly from fans to media to coaches to players, we've all taken our shots at it.

"Stop worrying about the scoreboard and just play the game," Cronin said. "We have a tendency to do that at home. That's my theory, whether it is right or not we could all flip a coin, your theory might be better. Mine is, we play with stress at home like we are supposed to win by 30. It takes us a while to just get lost in the game and just play. We think we are supposed to be perfect at home. It's not realistic, for anybody. You got to just play the game. You don't get the win because you are at home. It's going to be a close game, all these games are going to be that way. I think that's a big factor, we play with way too much pressure on us at home. In the second half you could tell the guys forgot where the game was at, what was going on, what the score was and they were just playing. Shots start falling, guys were on the attack."

The numbers for the Big East have evened out a bit, but home teams still struggling to win as much as they typically do. The home team is now 30-25.

--- Cronin at one point had words with Cashmere Wright on the bench Wednesday. It came after a turnover that led to Cronin pulling Cash for Ge'Lawn Guyn early in the second half and Wright eventually moved down the bench after the altercation.

Something that happens occasionally in games, but I found it newsworthy since Cronin delved so in-depth to the incident and how it reflects on his coaching theory. I think it's a big part of what has made him an effective coach and mentor. The disciplinarian always mixes with the guy looking out for the players best interest, both on the court and in life.

"You talk back, you bring that on yourself," Cronin said. "I wasn't really in the mood to hear anyone's answers. Whether it was him or (assistant coach) Larry Davis, whoever said whatever they said. Today's player is no different than 20 years ago. The only difference is people let the kid talk back too much. That's not acceptable. My job is to help these guys understand how to handle themselves and deal with a boss and hold a job and be a productive member of society. Your opinion doesn't matter in the workplace. The bosses opinion matters. I try to talk to guys about that stuff every day. If Whit calls me in or President Ono, they got an opinion on something, I have two choices: deal with it or get another job. Talking back is not going to work. I try to teach my guys that all the time."

Always refreshing when a coach talks about basketball being about more than the games and practices, rather preparing kids for the real world as college students.

As for Wright's play, he endured a tough night.  Though even in a tough night he hit the 3-pointer that gave UC the lead.

"He was frustrated with the way he was playing," Cronin said. "I would have been frustrated if I was him as well. He mentally did some things tonight that he knows better. He had a couple of passes that were beyond my comprehension, and a couple fouls where I thought an alien abducted his body."

SKRut.jpg--- Kilpatrick continues be on a nice roll. He went on a run early in the second half where he threw the team on his back on their move from 10 down to taking the lead. Not that we haven't seen this movie before.

When UC needs scoring, there's no secret where they turn.

"That was something we were lacking in the first half and scoring," Kilpatrick said. "It was very hard to score because they were in every gap that we were trying to punch through, and coach kept telling me, 'don't force anything just let game come to you and everything will work out,' and that's what I did in the second half."

Over the last four games, SK's numbers are spectacular: 23.5 points, 17 of 41 from 3-point range (41.4 percent), 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

From the angle of Mike Rice, Kilpatrick played up to his reputation Wednesday.

"He showed what an All-Conference Big East player looks like," Rice said. "When they needed it, they kind of looked to him. There were a couple of shots that he hit that I thought we had the shot challenged and we were there, but he was just better."

--- Looking forward to Saturday, Seton Hall is in a bad way right now, Brendon Prunty of the Star-Ledger makes that clear in his gamer of their ugly loss last night vs. Georgetown.

--- Speaking of looking forward, even in the moments following the win against Rutgers, Cronin already moved on to Seton Hall in his mind. With an 11 a.m. tip in New Jersey facing him, there's no time to relish in the latest win. They guy has mastered the day-to-day focus.

"All I care about now is Seton Hall," he said. "That's all that matters. Our position in the league, where we are ranked, where we're at this time of year, is all irrelevant to me. We got to make sure we get rest and get ready to come out playing on Saturday at 11, if you're not, you will lose."

--- Remember when the St. John's defeat was looked at as a bad loss? Not anymore. The Johnnies have run off five in a row and a half game up in third place of the conference. Looking more and more like UC, Notre Dame, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Georgetown will all be battling for the third and fourth spots in the BE tourney. I expect MU to drop back and Louisville to rise up.

Those games down the stretch: ND2, Pitt2 and Georgetown will hold added weight for the Cats.

--- In case you haven't seen this, props to UC for this well-done video from Shane Harrison addressing the open, excepting culture at UC athletics. Would be cool to see more programs taking a proactive approach like this.

Junior Justin Jackson stole the show of a 62-54 victory against Rutgers on Wednesday with acrobatic saves, thundering blocks and energy nobody else on the floor could replicate. If this breakout becomes a trend, his fervor pushes the UC defense to the next level.

CINCINNATI -- For a moment, Justin Jackson disappeared. Not theoretically, as in from the offensive rhythm or from the rotation. Rather, from view. Of most everyone.

In a second attempt to improbably save a ball off a rebound, he ended up somewhere between the hallway leading to the visitor's locker room and Nippert Stadium.

jackson.jpegAs his teammates recovered to retain a valuable possession late in the 62-54 victory against Rutgers on Wednesday night Jackson finally emerged, trotting out from deep behind the stands with a smile stretching ear to ear.

This player who trends for #MeanFace ironically plays his best glowing with happiness. So do the Bearcats. In a sport now gauged by advanced metrics of every pass, shot, dribble and move, the value of energy doesn't register in percentages or shot charts. As Jackson and the Bearcats know, energy the junior provides not only affects the game, it changes it. For much of this season the effect of his shot-blocking, ball-saving, rebound-grabbing, mean-facing mentality fell to the background.

Not Wednesday, though.

"I'd say today he played the best game ---" Sean Kilpatrick began to say in the postgame media room, before Jackson broke in to finish the sentence himself.

"All year," Jackson said.

Can't deny the self-assessment. Jackson finished with seven points, seven rebounds, six blocks, three assists and one steal. His 26 minutes were the most since Wright State and the blocks a season high, one short of his career high of seven set against Marquette last year.

"He got back to the old Justin Jackson and that's blocking everything, saving everything, jumping in the crowd and being the energy guy that we need him to be," Sean Kilpatrick said. "That's something he's been working on and today it finally showed."

When Jackson plays with the intensity and effectiveness of Wednesday night the Bearcats defense morphs from excellent to elite. It was a staple of last year's Sweet Sixteen run and needs to be a staple if UC plans on returning.

So much of Jackson's game revolves around channeling attitude. An exciting block like his patented trailing rejection off the backboard on a fast break or sending a shot near Tony Pike sitting in the second row brings out the mean face and alters not only his mood but the atmosphere surrounding him.

The Rutgers win felt like a breakthrough moment in the season for a player who suffered through a demotion from the starting lineup and not playing a minute against Notre Dame.

"He was tremendous," said Mick Cronin, who gave Jackson his first start since the benching. "He got his teammates fired up, he obviously got the crowd into it. He earned a start the last couple days in practice. He was great in practice; I knew he was going to play well tonight. It's not that complicated in basketball. You can tell when guys are focused. He's hungry to get more minutes."

Cronin doesn't buy the concept Jackson played with more energy Wednesday than he has this season. Rather, the cumulative factor of staying out of foul trouble that so often plagues him. Truth, certainly. Yet, outsiders clamor for the nostalgia of a Jackson they remember who stole the hearts of a fan base that appreciates hustle and scrap more than skill or science.

This UC team clamored for that. Jackson, himself, clamored for it.

"(It came from) inside of me," Jackson said. "Just building up in me, it just came out, I hope it just stays out. That's my game. Just be the energy guy and do all the little things and do all the dirty work. "

Jackson led the way, but Kilpatrick and a cast of the usual suspects finished the job Wednesday. Rutgers coach Mike Rice said Kilpatrick "showed what an All-Conference Big East player looks like" en route to 19 points. The Bearcats found ways to run in transition much more after halftime and rode what's become a standard second-half surge for this team.

The push began with a defense that allowed only one field goal between 8:51 remaining and under a minute when the game was all but salted away. Forced turnovers and blocked shots played like a skipping CD.

At the center of it all was Jackson and his contagious shot-blocking that leaves the crowd smiling and cheering back at him.

What does it feel like to block a shot and feel the energy rise inside himself and 11,024 inside Fifth Third Arena? Hard to explain, he says.

When pressed to give an attempt, Jackson slyly slipped out his comparison.

"It's just like getting a new pair of shoes," he said.


Only, when Jackson gets a new pair of shoes, everyone on the team gets a new pair of shoes. Suddenly, the Bearcats bounce forward with a fresh hop in their step.

I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnejr with comments, questions or photos of your own #JustinJacksonMeanFace impressions.  

For those of you who checked out the last eight days with UC on a midseason break thanks to the conference schedulers, here is all you need to know for the Bearcats return home against Rutgers tonight.

What: Rutgers at No. 24 UC

Where: Fifth Third Arena

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.,

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Ohio/WatchESPN/SNY/TW-Wisco (Jim Barbar/Bob Valvano) -- 700WLW radio (Dan/Chuck)

CarterKilla.jpgFollow along: UCGameday.com

2012 records: Bearcats 16-4, 4-3, Knights 12-7, 3-5

Tickets: Student tickets sold out, regular seats still available starting at $15. (CatsTix.com/1-877-CATS-TIX)

What to wear: No color scheme in place tonight.

Past results: UC beat Rutgers 68-58 earlier this month and is 6-1 at home against them.

Need to know: Since the Bearcats beat Rutgers on Jan. 12, the Scarlet Knights spiraled. They've lost three in a row and four of five. The last two losses were both by double digits (St. John's, @UConn).

Game-changing stat: Myles Mack can be deadly from 3-point range and change a game. On the season he hits 43 percent from long range, ranking sixth in the Big East and 11th in total 3-pointers made.

During Rutgers three-game losing streak, his inefficiency has helped bury them, though. He's hit just 3 of 16 (19 percent) from deep during the streak.

Who to know: Rutgers G Eli Carter. Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats defense shut down the Scarlet Knights leading scorer (15.4 ppg) in the first game, holding him to just six points and the only conference game this year he didn't hit a 3-pointer, going 0 for 6. He's been hit or miss lately, he had a similarly wretched performance against St. John's last week where he only scored five points on 1 of 14 shooting. Yet, when he's on he can carry this team. He scored 20 in a near upset of Notre Dame and 23 in a victory against Pittsburgh.

His biggest problem of late has been turnovers. He alone has committed 14 turnovers in the last three games. The UC defense could feast on his struggles holding on to the ball.

Record Watch: Cashmere Wright is only three steals away from passing Darnell Burton (184) for second on the all-time steals list.

By the numbers: You don't want to get into a free-throw shooting contest with the Knights, so keep an eye on how close the game is being called. Carter and Mack rank in top three of the conference in free-throw percentage. They will knock them down from the line all night. On the flip side, UC ranks 295th out of 345 Division I schools in free throw shooting (64.4 percent).

Defining matchup: Kilpatrick vs. Carter. Kilpatrick was the clear winner in the first game, it would be unrealistic to expect another inept night from Carter, but holding him below his season average would be enough to keep him from carrying the Rutgers offense and, consequently, enough for a UC win.

Good read: Voice of the Bearcats and fellow GoBearcats.com blogger Dan Hoard with a good read on Cashmere Wright being appreciative of how Cronin held him back during this knee injury.

Quotent Quotables: Cronin on the importance of focus trying to beat a team for the second time: 

"We have to play Rutgers Wednesday night like it's the national championship."

Looking Ahead: This is the first of three winnable games for UC. They head to Seton Hall for an 11 a.m. tea and crumpets game on Saturday then to Providence after that. All three teams are in the bottom half of the conference and a combined 7-16 in conference play.

Great cause: Look for Mick Cronin wearing sneakers along with his suit for tonight's game, he's doing it along with all coaches this week to benefit Coaches vs. Cancer. Here's a video from Mick explaining the cause.

I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or photos of your experience at the game to my email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.

Wright Appreciates Cronin Using Caution

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How many times when you were a kid did an adult forbid you to do something before saying, "You'll thank me later."

Cashmere Wright is thanking Mick Cronin now.

Wright with Mangine (440x282).jpg

When the senior point guard sprained his right knee early in the second half of the DePaul game on January 15th, he wanted to return to the court minutes later.  Coach Cronin not only ruled that out since Wright could not have an MRI performed until the next day, but refused to let Cashmere play several days later against Marquette when he still felt some stiffness in his knee.

"If it was my choice, I would have played at the end of the DePaul game which would have probably made it worse," Wright told me.  "I tell him all the time that I appreciate him as a coach and like a father.  I feel like he's helped me grow up as a person and he showed me that it isn't all about basketball.  It's all about life after basketball and he wants what's best for me beyond being a Bearcat." 

Wright was able to play six days after the injury, but struggled in a 57-55 loss at Syracuse going 2-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three-point range. 

"He wasn't able to practice and his conditioning affected his game and his shooting - he wasn't himself," said Coach Cronin.  "But his leadership was tremendous as usual." 

The last minute of the game was especially difficult for Wright.  With the score tied at 55, the Bearcats grabbed an offensive rebound with 52 seconds remaining and could have worked the shot clock, but Cashmere drove toward the basket and committed a costly turnover.  Then after Syracuse scored to take a two-point lead, Wright missed a game-winning three-point attempt with eight seconds to go.

"He's a confident guy and I have no problem with his confidence and him shooting the basketball," said Cronin.

"The shot was the shot, but I feel like my turnover before that was the main reason why we lost," said Wright.  "I made a mental mistake basically, and like I texted my teammates when we got back to town, it will never happen again.  We felt like we had that game and I feel like I let them down as a leader.  I told them if you all just bear with me, we're going to do good things."

Wright layup (254x440).jpg

While Wright did not have a good game against Syracuse, he's having an exceptional senior year, averaging 14.5 points while leading the team in assists, steals, and three-point shooting percentage.

"He has a calming effect on our team and there's a confidence level when he has the ball in his hands," said assistant coach Darren Savino.  "He knows what Coach wants him to do, he knows the other guys on the team and what they can and cannot do, and it's not an easy job.  Coach Cronin is demanding on that position, and for us to be good, Cashmere has to be really good.  He's accepted that and understands that he can't come in lackadaisical because it affects everybody - not just himself."

"I've come to realize that when we win, (Coach Cronin) still finds a reason to blame me for something," said Wright with a laugh.  "And when we lose it's definitely my fault.  But you know what else I've come to realize?  I wouldn't change it.  To get this opportunity where somebody looks at you and says, 'You are the difference maker.'  That's a big achievement for me and that's why I'm striving to get better every day." 

The daily grind is not easy for Wright.  He's had three surgical procedures on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, and has also had to battle recurring pain in his left shoulder.

"I can't complain," said Wright.  "I'm well enough to run around and do all of the other stuff so it's fine.  It always could be better, but I can't complain."

"Nobody is allowed to get hurt in our practices is what we say, because if Cashmere can practice after all of the surgeries that he's had - he might not even realize it but he really does inspire the other guys," said Coach Savino.  "Whether they get little nicks or their wrist or ankle hurts, they get through it because they see what Cash goes through on a daily basis.  It makes us a tougher team."

Now that his most recent injury is fully healed, Cashmere has a simple goal for the remainder of his senior season.

"I really want to get to Atlanta and end my career as a Bearcat in my home state," said Wright.

Atlanta is the sight of this year's Final Four, but even if Cashmere is not able to lead UC that far in the NCAA Tournament, he's already earned the admiration of Bearcat Nation.

"When you play in Cincinnati the fans just want you to play hard," said Wright.  "Every time that you're out there, as long as you're not hurt and can walk, they just want you to play hard and give everything that you've got."

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

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

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bearcats Breakfast 1.29.13

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Finally, we can start talking about a basketball game again. As much as I love digging into random topics and hitting the mailblog, the games make us go. Not to mention they keep the fodder fresh. A scribe without fresh fodder is like a computer without an Internet connection. After a while, playing Solitare gets pretty darn boring.

No worries today, though, Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin met with the media yesterday in preparation for Wednesday's home game against Rutgers, the first following an eight-day layoff.

For those of you looking for TV coordinates, it will be on FoxSportsOhio for 7 p.m. tip. Here's a link to the FSO channel finder for your neck of the woods. You can also check it out at WatchESPN.com, which I talked about in the mailblog yesterday.

Burton.jpgAs for Wright, he's only three away from passing one of my favorite all-time Bearcats Darnell Burton for second place on the schools all-time steals list. Dude could fire it, and can we please get a throwback jersey from these days. Love these.

Time to dig in, let's eat ...

--- Quick update from Cash
on his sprained knee. He says he wasn't quite 100 percent and still isn't to the perfect triple digit mark, but obviously the long layoff helped him quite a bit.

He gave a laugh when asked what percentage his knee was against Syracuse, suggesting it was a process to get in the lineup.

"I was able to play so I had to be good enough," Wright said.

He'll be the player to watch on Wednesday to see how close he returns to the level he was playing before the injury. Watch for cutting, attacking with purpose and those diving defensive steals we've become so used to. More than shooting percentages, those are the intangibles he needs to regain along with confidence in his knee.

--- For a deeper look into Wright, his injury and what the last few weeks have been like for him, read Bill Koch's piece in today's Enqy.

--- Much of the conversation became about playing this Rutgers team for the second time and Cronin pointed out how difficult it can be and the lack of success teams in the Big East and the country have had pulling it off.

Which, of course, sparked my inner stat nerd wanting to take a deeper look at the trend. Mick mentioned Cuse losing to Nova the second time around, Creighton-Drake splitting along with Rutgers-St. John's.

I decided to take a look around the Big East and Top 25 and find the teams who have played a team twice and how the results fell:

Big East
Rutgers 58, @St. John's 56, St. John's 72, @Rutgers 60
@Syracuse 72, Villanova 61, @Villanova 75, Syracuse 71 (OT)

Top 25
Indiana 74, @Penn State 51, @Indiana 72, Penn State 49
@Florida 77, UGA 44, Florida 64, @UGA 47
Wichita State 69, @Bradley 63, @Wichita State 73, Bradley 39
Ole Miss 92, @Tennessee 74, @Ole Miss 62, Tennessee 56
@Creighton 91, Drake 61, @Drake 74, Creighton 69
@Minnesota 69, Northwestern 51, @Northwestern 55, Minnesota 48

--- Both Big East games saw a split and two of the six repeats in the Top 25 saw the score flip. And both of the score flips came after 18+ point victories.

--- Last year, in UC's regular season double-ups, two of the three saw the scores flip and both dramatically:

  • @UC 82, Villanova 78, UC 72, @Villanova 68
  • @Marquette 95, UC 78, @UC 72, Marquette 61
  • St. John's 57, @UC 55, UC 76, @St. John's 54

--- The results of the last few years and this season across upper-echelon college basketball prove there's no reason to believe UC 68, Rutgers 58 should have much if any bearing on Wednesday's game.

"We have to play Rutgers Wednesday night like it's the national championship," Cronin said.

--- All the rankings updated yesterday, wanted to give everybody a look at where UC currently falls in the major metrics:

  • AP: 24
  • Coaches: 23
  • BPI: 16
  • RPI: 24
  • KenPom: 17
  • Sagarin: 16

--- Been talking all year about the leadership of the top three players on this team and what it means, Mick's talked about it quite a bit but what he said when discussing the big three yesterday I thought reiterated a point everyone should be focusing on going forward right now:

"We've had a real chance all year because those guys care," Cronin said. "The leadership of our team these guys are on a mission to try to have a great year and make a run in March. Whether it happens or not, who knows, but it won't be for lack of effort and caring on their part."

--- Forbes ranks Mick ninth among all college basketball coaches in value. Interesting read and love for Mick.

--- Pittsburgh did a nice job hanging around last night, but was generally outclassed by Louisville. The game seemed to be a pretty good representation of where these two teams are at right now. The Panthers shooting 3 of 12 from the FT line didn't help.

As Tim Sullivan writes here, Russ Smith might have to carry short-handed Louisville down the stretch.

--- Kansas broke out their version of the single color jerseys UC has been wearing. I know it's just cranky scribe talking, but any jersey that makes names and numbers nearly indecipherable lives in my doghouse.

--- Akron was trying to wear Twitter handles on the back of their jerseys. Love the concept, but the NCAA didn't agree with me. What's wrong with adding some freedom and creativity? Allow some of these smaller schools a way to stand out, even if a small one. Now, if they were putting each players Twitter handle on the back of the jerseys, that would be one thing, but promoting the school basketball handle shouldn't step on any toes. Thought it was great when UC put #Bearcats on the court, would like to hear what the major difference is.

Of course, nobody was happier than Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson, who now has a jersey with his Twitter handle on the back so rec league teammates can tweet at him to pass the freaking ball.

--- Commish Aresco trying to add a 12th team and keep the Big East name. Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna debate the topic at ESPN.

Randomness ...

--- My guy Mo Egger is concerned about the watchability of college basketball. Great points and thorough. Despite the wide gap in execution between the NBA and college, I'll take the energy and intensity of college kids caring about wins over the six-month malaise  with the periodic two minutes of effort trotted out by the Association.

--- Coachella tickets go on sale today. Lineup is strong with Chili Peppers the major draw. I think they should hologram in eight Fleas and let them loose on stage.

--- Cakes have come a long way. I remember being happy when they would spell the name in cursive.

--- Next slate of ESPN's 30 for 30 coming in March. The topics aren't as intriguing as others they've done. Much prefer more unknown, off-the-beaten-path storylines. The '83 Draft has been discussed ad nausem over the years. That said, I'll be watching.

--- Going with The Hold Steady today. The Swish seems fitting for basketball season.

Remember, I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr with any questions, comments or your record for most games of solitaire played during a single 8-hour work shift. Have a great day.

Bearcats Mailblog 1.28.13

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The time has come again to dip into the mailblog and answer the questions all you loyal readers have been firing at me. Following a weekend where Syracuse and Louisville both lost and Villanova shoots up the charts, I may have more questions than answers, but I'll do my best to shed any light on situations possible.

Of course, no topic is off limits and for a Monday morning, I'm especially amped to attack the day. I feel a little by like Marshall Henderson after hitting two game-winning free throws for Ole Miss against Auburn and then creating a gif that almost broke the Internet thanks to Twitter and Jeff Borzello's detailed breakdown of the top comedic players.

Want to remind everyone you can shoot me an email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Shoot any questions you can think of, including why do you include so many cat videos in your blog? Spoiler alert on the answer: Because I can.

Regardless, I'm ready like the entire Miami team going WoJo against assistant coach WoJo and Duke slapping the floor. Let's do this.

From Kyle W.: Big fan here! I was wondering if or when ESPN will decide who gets the College Gameday game on February 9th? I know it was between us vs. Pitt and ND vs. UoL(I think). But that's almost two weeks away and I haven't heard anything?

Kyle, ESPN announced two days ago they will be heading to Notre Dame on Feb. 9. The UC game time has been set for 6 p.m. on Saturday against Pitt at Fifth Third Arena. Like yourself, I think everyone would have loved having Gameday at UC, but without Pitt being ranked right now and UC still at the back end of the Top 25 it was difficult to deny the Irish/Cards matchup. Louisville has been a national storyline all season and they will always side with a top 5/10 team in these situations. I thought there was a chance with Pitt rising and Notre Dame plummeting the decision could change, but the Cardinals held the day.

As for that Pitt game, should be one of the best home games of the season. My boy KenPom and his efficiency ratings have been high on Pitt all year despite a soft non-conference schedule. He ranks them as the No. 8 team in the country right now. And if you look at the ESPN BPI, UC and Pitt are right next to each other at 14 and 15. They've now won four in a row, granted, through an easier run of their schedule (Nova, UConn, Providence, DePaul). We'll know more this week as they go to Louisville tonight and host Syracuse on Saturday. Thinking Jamie Dixon should place a call to Jay Wright at Villanova on how to handle that two step.

From Kyle: The halftime adjustments by the Cats this year have really been a thing of beauty and my hat goes off to Mick for the way he handles this team. He never seems overly panicked even though you can always see his enthusiasm and desire for growth as a team with each game played. I'm intrigued by his public mention of going about "the process" and how he has learned from the best including the more than credible Nick Saban (collegiate successes as his credibility, the NFL not considered) who clearly has mastered this approach ... I feel like Cronin does a great job staying the course.

Kyle, let me say from a scribe point of view, thank goodness Mick doesn't follow the Sabanator in every way of his approach. Whether it be Saban berating the media here for too much positive coverage of Alabama or just general ability to chill a room.

You are referring to Saban's take on the "process," and the coach explained it here.

"Well, the process is really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful," he said. "We try to define the standard that we want everybody to sort of by CouponDropDown">work toward, adhere to, and do it on a consistent basis. And the things that I talked about before, being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you're trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don't try to focus as much on the outcomes as we do on being all that you can be. Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That's something that's ongoing, and it can never change."

I wasn't familiar with Mick referencing Saban's theory, but he obviously employs it. I've written about this a few times and believe it's one of the reasons Mick has done so well in rebuilding the program. He understand the roller-coaster of the Big East and knows the biggest key to improving as the season goes along is eliminate any of the outside forces influence on the locker room -- especially praise -- in keeping the team thinking about getting better every day instead of dragging after losses or pounding their chest after wins.

That's why outside of disappointment in what could have been, UC needed to focus on how well they played in having Cuse on the ropes last week rather than what occurred in the final two minutes. This team has pulled out too many games late to think that the blown lead was any kind of trend that they don't know how to put teams away. Quite the opposite when you look at some of their biggest wins this year (Marquette, Alabama, Pittsburgh) they've made big shots down the stretch to earn the win or pull away.

Point being, he does a great job of teaching perspective. He talked about how he coached like they were losing when he didn't think the team played well despite an undefeated record in December. And he talked about being happy despite defeat against ND and Syracuse. Winning is necessary, but in the long road of the Big East avoiding micro for macro view trumps it. Nobody knows that better than Mick.

From Jack M.: When you look at what has happened to Boston College, and very recently West Virginia and Missouri, I think teams (apparently not Rutgers) will think twice about committing to geographically challenged conferences.  The BEast will not survive with its current makeup - for mostly geographical/rivalry reasons.  No teams currently being speculated as going to the B1G will thrive, except in their bank accounts.
 I frankly think the BEast and ACC should have considered and marketed their basketball value years ago, but ESPN, etc., have been able to turn all of the conversation/justifiocation to football. If this doesn't happen, I think the ACC will surely lose out to the SEC, after being raided by the Big 10 or 12.  The BEast is already gone, leaving the northeast as a college sports wasteland. I'd appreciate your thoughts. 

Jack, many would argue thanks to realignment all of the country has turned into a college sports wasteland. Yet, I digress. Everyone wants to talk about conference realignment and understandably so, it's the biggest issue hovering over UC athletics and in turn the entire university right now. You talked about no teams being mentioned to the B1G will thrive, except in their bank accounts. Are there any other places anyone cares about thriving these days? Unfortunately, for those of us who care about what happens on the field instead of in the pocketbooks, that's how all success in the current situation is measured. It drives every single move and don't kid yourself if you hear any other reason. That's the landscape created.

One fact we know: Realignment is not over. Most are sitting back waiting to see what becomes of the Maryland lawsuit to avoid some/all of the $52 million exit fee. When that settles expect the next domino to fall. When/where that will be, nobody knows. And anybody who says they do hasn't followed the illogical, surprise moves we've seen every step of the realignment way.

At some point somebody will need another program for their conference, very possibly the ACC. UC will be the top free agent on the market waiting with open arms and proactive administration. I know preaching patience is about as popular as preaching the Wing-T, but it's necessary here. Let this all play out before anybody thinks they'll be taking road trips to Tulane and Tulsa every year.

From Jux: I know most of the fans are older - and then we have the student sections and the top of the arena is rarely filled.  But man, it just seems so quiet in there.. like the fans wait for something to happen first.. and then once UC starts struggling, you hear groans and it just adds to the pressure...Am I off base here? 
Possible solutions?  What about doing some sort of program with local area high schools where they set aside some tickets for the upper area and allow the kids to buy them for a couple bucks and encourage them to be loud at the games? 

Jux, thanks for the email and ideas. I've heard this thought before and actually delved into it Friday on the blog. You can read those thoughts on the rising attendance here. As far as it being quiet in there, I can only say from my spot on press row by the court I disagree with you. Is it the level of Hinkle or Cameron? No. Few are. When these games have gone down to the wire lately (I'm beginning to think there is a mandate all 5/3 games require buzzer-beater attempts) the place has been rocking the final 5-10 minutes.

Bottom line on the top levels, attendance is up 26.7 percent. They'd like that number to rise even more, but significant progress has been made there.

As far as energy goes, that falls on the student section and this has been one of the best years for the student section since I have been covering UC. The loyalty program and 179 percent rise in attendance has really upped the decibel level.

You mentioned an ideas for tickets, I can only say the marketing department at UC comes up with more creative ticket packages, particularly of the affordable variety, of any I've been around. If you swing by this site even periodically you know that. I'd like to see the lower levels more consistently filled as would the administration, but trust me they are working  on that as well and there will be details about a way to help make that happen coming very soon. I'll have that for you when it's released.

From Matt: Enjoyed reading about Shaq's background in your article. I noticed you said his sister has to follow the games on game tracker because of her location. I spent the past year working as an architect in the middle east (Doha, Qatar) and used espnplayer.com to watch all the bearcat football and basketball games. Its only available oversees. Please pass this along to Shaq so he can inform his sister.

Great info, Matt. Thanks for the tip. Also, if you don't already have it, the ESPNWatch app is a must have for UC fans. All the games on ESPN3, which is a good majority of them, can be watched live on your mobile device or tablet through that depending on your Internet provider. Also, you can go to ESPN3.com and watch replays of any game they had on their network. I love going back and rewatching the ends of these close UC games and seeing in detail what went right/wrong or checking out portions of other games that I missed during the day.

From Linda: What do we know about the recruits, there seems to be a lot of movement going on there?

I can't talk about recruits here until they officially sign a letter of intent. So, officially, no comment. However, Signing Day is only 11 days away and all your delicious, recruiting tastes can be quenced. UC is holding a Signing Day Dinner event in conjunction with the 1200 Club and UCATS. Here are all the details where you can hear all your heart desires about the next generation of Bearcats.

From Kevin: is the UC football coaching staff finalized? Kaufman now off list and still no OL or TE coaches listed?

The list of coaches can be found here and, yes, three are missing. I can assure you they are in the house, but they are grinding through some paperwork in becoming official. The NCAA makes life a joy in situations like this. No worries that they won't be on staff, just for now they haven't officially been announced until the paperwork all goes through.

Here are the current coaches officially on staff:

HC Tommy Tuberville, OC Eddie Gran, Associate HC/DEs Robert Prunty, Passing Game/QBs Darin Hinshaw, DBs John Lovett, WRs Blake Rolan, DL Fred Tate, Strength/Conditioning Joe Walker.

From Doug: Did I miss the story on the "300" carving in Rubles hair? Good bowler? Movie buff?

Doug, I can only say this is at the top of my priority list when it comes to unanswered questions. If you know anything about this blog it's that oddities in facial hair and general appearance among UC athletes is my wheelhouse. I don't know at this point, but I will have it for you soon and announce it to the world. In fact, some grander ideas are being kicked around. Stay tuned. That's all I'll say.

Thanks again to everyone for reading and engaging. Love all the emails and Tweets I receive and look forward to seeing more are the road to March draws closer. Only 48 days until Selection Sunday.

By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com

Whether catching up over dinner or a friendly hug after pregame introductions, Jamelle Elliott knows she will always have Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma as a support system. As both a former player and assistant to Auriemma, Elliott also knows what to expect when her Cincinnati Bearcats (8-11, 0-6) play his UConn Huskies. And that is a stifling defense and a high-scoring offense.

It's why she chose instead to focus on the small victories rather than the 67-31 loss to the third-ranked Huskies (18-1, 5-1) Saturday at Fifth Third Arena.

UConnWomen.jpgElliott gave her team two goals coming out of a 41-9 halftime deficit. She wanted them to limit UConn's offensive rebound total and their turnover total to four.

The team responded to the challenge by only giving up two offensive rebounds and turning the ball over exactly four times in the second half.

"You just got to try to simplify things as much as possible and allow them to go out there and still compete, play hard and achieve realistic goals," Elliott said. "They did that tonight."

Another goal was not to let the Huskies score any back-door layups. Elliott wanted her team to make their defenders shoot the ball from
the outside.

"Talking small victories, I don't think we gave up a back-door layup," she said.
Elliott was pleased with how her younger players played. She stressed the importance of getting them needed experience against an elite team like UConn.

"Jasmine (Whitefield) went out there, she hit a couple shots; Shelbi (Chandler) was able to go out there and bang with the post players a little bit," she said. "Alexi Durley was a little more aggressive and she wasn't watching the action like she's been doing the last couple days. They didn't roll over and die."

However, it's no secret the Bearcats are struggling offensively and UConn, ranked number one in field goal percentage defense in the Big East, did not help UC's offensive woes.

In the first half, they shot 3-24 from the field, going without a point for almost 11 minutes and didn't score another field goal until Hollins made a jump shot at the beginning of the second half.

When Dayeesha Hollins, undoubtedly their best player, gets in early foul trouble and doesn't score at all in the first half, their offensive production goes down dramatically. That's why it was huge when Alyesha Lovett went on a mini-offensive surge and start making some open shots. All of her team-high nine points came in the second half. Lovett's surge is one reason why Elliott's not too concerned with her team's shooting.

"We've been shooting a lot in practice and I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to bust out of this little shooting slump," she said. "The only way you're going to start making shots is if you continue to shoot them. And we're doing that."

Elliott's team may be struggling to score right now, but she has faith her team will get back on track if they keep doing the little things.
Her players remain positive about the rest of the season.

"We haven't won a game in the Big East yet, but there's still so much positivity on this team," junior guard Kayla Cook said. "There's no negative attention or emotion or anything. Everybody's on board with what we're trying to do."

Even Elliott's friend and former coach believes she can turn around the program.

"Jamelle is one of the most positive people I know," Auriemma said. "I know she will figure out a way to get them to believe as people get healthier and she continues to recruit good players. They have some really good, young players."

Bearcats Breakfast 1.25.13

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Feels almost out of place not having a game to discuss today. This is the first weekend without some type of UC game to preview since the Sept. 22 bye week. Over Christmas we had New Mexico/Belk Bowl on Thursday and Pitt on Monday, but that was so busy I lump it into the weekend.

So, it's been four months and three days since we went with a Bearcats football/men's basketball-free weekend. This is the point where the message board folks would post a little emoticon guy with tears flowing from his eyes. I'll pass on that.

Fear not! UC women's hoops hosts national power UConn on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Fifth Third. Get your Bearcats fix and see Dayeesha Hollins and company try to spring the upset on the Huskies.

Let's eat ...

--- Cool UC news came out yesterday. Apparently DE Walter Stewart has been invited to the NFL Combine, according to his father via Twitter. Stewart's been cleared to train for the NFL despite his neck condition and the hard work paid off as he'll be in Indy with the best prospects for the draft.

Still don't know about if he will be cleared to play football again, but the possibilities remain open and he's taking every step to make it happen. Not that anybody would be surprised by Stewart's effort or drive, but the concept of him overcoming being told his career is over to still reach the NFL would be one of the great stories in Bearcats history. And couldn't happen to a better guy.

--- While I'm on football and Twitter, great tweet from my ticket guy Greg Harrell yesterday, did you know UC is 25-4 at Nippert Stadium over the past five years? Season ticket renewals are on the way across the country, including here, but I can guarantee few schools can make that claim. (Disclaimer: Finding the home-road splits of every team in college football surprisingly difficult to track down. I'm disappointed in you, Internet.)

--- Bill Koch wrote a blog yesterday on the attendance increases from this point in the season to last year. I've written about this a few times here since we were given the numbers during the Marquette game, but I'll do it again.

The student sections have been phenomenal and much credit goes to Brad Wurthman and his marketing staff who have done a great job making it a place to be and giving students incentive to come early and stay late with the student loyalty program.

I wrote about the student section improvements at this link back in October, feel free to refresh your memory.

Overall, attendance figures are up and Whit Babcock attributes some of that to better non-conference schedule and some to the creative marketing. The biggest area of need for UC to take the next step attendance-wise would be keeping the lower areas filled consistently and adding layers to the loyal folks in the upper deck.

There isn't much else to ask for when it comes to a premier college basketball product, especially this season.

  • Fans begged for a more competitive non-conference schedule and we saw the likes of New Mexico and Alabama come to 5/3 this year.
  • Fans begged so long for a winner and Mick has rebuilt the program into one of the elite in the current Big East structure. Period. There is no debate, look at the win totals the last three years in conference.
  • Fans begged to find a price point. If you want to go to a game and claim there's no deal in your price range, you aren't tying or should be considering going to see CYO games instead for $3. Check CatsTix.com and you'll see all the deals you can get, and the promotions come out on a weekly basis. You can get tickets to the Big East games starting at $15. Premier Top 25 college basketball at that price just doesn't happen.
  • Fans begged for excitement. Alabama, New Mexico, St. John's, Marquette all came down to the final shot. This has been as tense/exciting of a season in Clifton as i can remember.
  • The timing worked out with three Friday/Saturday games still left on the schedule.
  • Oh, and there's fire. It nearly burns my eyebrows every pregame. I swear I'm not scared of it.

The students have come out, the incentive seems to be there for the rest of the older fan base to follow suit to an even higher degree. Those that have filled the building certainly have kept it rocking, I know the atmosphere for the Marquette game ranked up there with some of the best we've seen.

Still remember Rick Pitino calling it the best home-court advantage he's faced after losing at Fifth Third last year. That may have been the rowdiest basketball atmosphere I've seen in Cincinnati or otherwise.

--- While I'm on this topic, little-talked about event going on with alumni for a pregame indoor tailgate before Georgetown with AD Whit Babcock. Here are all the details which include a ticket to the game, Montgomery Inn dinner and Q/A with Whit.

--- Cashmere Wright was on 700WLW last night along with Darren Savino with Mick out of town recruiting. As expected the nine-day break has been great for his knee so far. Said it's getting better. Also mentioned he proposed to his girlfriend two weeks ago. Congrats, Cash. Insert bad "finding Mrs. Wright" pun here.

--- I hear people talk all the time about how the bubble is sitting there without getting used often enough. I don't think people realize sports other than football use it all the time. For instance, baseball was practicing in there yesterday getting ready for their season which is right around the corner. In fact, Pittsburgh Pirates all-utility everything Josh Harrison was there working out with the team a few weeks before he reports to spring training.

Tommy G caught up with him for an interview.

--- OK, so no UC men's hoops to watch this weekend, there are still a few worth checking out. Here's my top three games to watch:

1. Louisville at Georgetown, Saturday, noon:
What's going on with the Cards? And is there a more schizophrenic team in all college hoops than the Hoyas?

2. Michigan State at Indiana, Sunday, 1 p.m.: Still not entirely sold with Indiana as capable of winning it all. This will be big for them.

3. Syracuse at Villanova: Nova with momentum coming off Louisville win, could they pull off the unthinkable double-whammy?

Randomness ...

--- Big Foot in Oregon. They claim it's possible because strange sounds are coming from the swamp. Nothing good comes from investigating strange sounds coming from a swamp. I've never been more sure of anything.

--- Star Wars without George Lucas. #Fail #NerdOutrage

--- Our good friend Josh Katzowitz is really excited about rekindling his love affair with Led Zeppelin. You should read about it (even though he wavered and I never did). I mean, he wrote Bearcats Rising for crying out loud. This is the point where Josh would like me to point out plenty of good copies are still available.

--- This dude hit a halfcourt shot to win a car. Did his foot cross the line, though?

--- Sports Pickle collected Katie Couric's best skeptical faces in her interview with Manti Te'o. A truly versatile journalist.

--- It's the weekend. It's cold. Huddle up near your fire and play some Boyz II Men with the significant other in your life. Try to do the deep-voice guy impression. It's a great past time. Yeah, I'm going with B2M today. Feel free to judge.

Reemember, I want to hear from you so shoot me any questions, comments or your thoughts on why you do or do not attend games to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Teacher vs Student

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Don't know how many times we'll see this matchup in the future, given the game of conference musical chairs that continues to be played in college sports, but this Saturday will be another opportunity to see UConn and UC in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma, the coach who built the UConn program into the juggernaut it is today, and Jamelle Elliott, one of his players who was on the ground floor of that construction project.

For those of you who don't know her pedigree, here's a paragraph or two from her official UC bio: "Elliott, who was a four-year letterwinner, helped build the UConn dynasty as a player and finished her career ranked No. 2 among UConn's all-time rebounding leaders (1,054), No. 5 in BIG EAST career rebounding (558), and No. 11 in UConn career scoring (1,387)."

But wait, there's more: "She has been a part of six national championships, including the Huskies' 2009 undefeated championship run, and won a title as a player, helping UConn to the 1995 championship, the first in the school's history.

"Building on her success as a player for the Huskies, Elliott has helped guide UConn to a 402-36 (.918) record in her 12 years as an assistant coach, leading the team to seven NCAA Final Four berths in that span. In conference action, UConn has won the BIG EAST Conference regular season title in 10 of her 12 seasons, while also claiming a total of nine tournament crowns."

In his 27 seasons at UConn, Coach Auriemma has turned that program from only one winning season, to one that claims seven national titles, 13 Final Fours, four perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010) and 37 BIG EAST titles, all since Auriemma's arrival in 1985.

The moral? Well, Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes time to build a program. Coach Elliott is building the UC program with the knowledge and experience she gleaned from one of the best. So on Saturday night at 8 p.m., teacher and student will meet again. Come out to Fifth Third Arena and watch it. We may not see this too many times again.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.24.13

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Want to start by apologizing for no post yesterday, I know you folks get a little cranky when you don't get the morning breakfast. It was a travel day for me. The weather officially beat me down and I bolted for Florida. To be honest, this trip during the nine-day lull in UC's hoops schedule has been planned for a bit, but it couldn't have come at a better time.
Today, I come to you from 76-degree sunny skies outside Ft. Myers. Obviously, my pale/baldness reacts to this change as well as a cat to a vacuum cleaner, but I'll take it over frozen tear ducts any day. Plus my out of control sprinkler of a golf game returns from the cobwebs to likely set off a neighborhood watch around the course.

But, all of this won't keep me from bringing the goods to you and, of course, when UC returns to action Wednesday against Rutgers, I will be there for the beginning of this important stretch in the season.

It's difficult to take a picture of warmth, but I think this creeper shot from the plane on the way in about proves the point. Now that I've caused the server to crash at Expedia, let's eat ...

--- I mentioned important stretch of the season for UC, let me dive into that a little more. In case you haven't noticed, completely unpredictable anarchy is happening out there. Miami just beat Duke by 27 points last night. LaSalle over Butler. Northwestern over Minnesota. Wake over NC State. Villanova over Louisville. All this just since UC-Syracuse on Monday.

The depth in college basketball continues to grow deeper and deeper. More than ever, drawing a higher seed to avoid the quality at-larges that can tear up brackets is of utmost importance.

On top of that, again landing in the double-bye for the Big East tournament is a big deal in a league where nearly everyone it seems will end up around .500. With everyone except UConn at least six games in to BE conference play, 11 of the 15 teams are within one game of .500 or better. Every team in the league owns at least one conference win.

The final incarnation of the old BE tournament will be another battle of attrition. Avoiding one wave goes a long way toward returning to the title game.

Point being, the time is now in the schedule to make the move. Of those teams I mentioned within a game of .500 in conference play, only one of the next three opponents falls in that category and it's a Rutgers team UC already went into the RAC and beat.

Next three: Rutgers (12-6, 3-4), @Seton Hall (13-6, 2-4) and @Providence (10-9, 2-5).

The closest thing to a signature win by any of these three teams is a Hall win at middling Wake Forest (10-8) or a Seton Hall victory against bad news Mississippi State (7-10). In league where there are no easy nights, these are relatively easy nights. Running the table leaves you 7-3 and sitting pretty entering the home stretch of the conference season.

Mick Cronin talked about trying to make up for giving away games early in the conference season, the margin for error is slim against teams like this. They must take care of business and avoid what happened to Louisville at Nova on Tuesday.

--- Mick's TV show w/ TG is
on tonight at 6 p.m. on FSOhio. Assistant Larry Davis is filling in for him while he's on a recruiting trip, but Mick prerecorded his list of top 5 NBA players before taking off. Hope he finds a way to slip Jason Maxiell in there. Or at least reference he had the top play of the night earlier this season. (2:20 mark).

--- While I'm on the NBA, quick Lance Stephenson update in Indiana, his arrival season continued with probably his best game of the season on Friday. He notched 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in a narrow loss to Charlotte.

--- Interesting story from the AP on the lack of offense in college basketball right now. Scoring numbers the last two years are at the lowest since the early 80s. So, yes, Bearcats fans, struggling offense isn't only a complaint inside the I-275 belt.

Of course, I vehemently disagree with the column associated with this story from the Virginian-Pilot. College hoops is still as fun to watch as ever.

--- Notre Dame, reeling all of a sudden, and Mike Brey searching for answers. Don't think there's much doubt ND played their best game of the year at UC. Huggs struggling at WVU, Mike Decourcy wonders if he can get them back on track.

--- Wanted to give an official blog shout out to Ashley Davis, whose been interning with me here at the blog this season and doing a tremendous job. She cranked out this piece on women's star Dayeesha Hollins earlier this week. Great look inside a special athlete at UC.

All we see these days are athletes making it all about them with these elaborate ceremonies of picking their colleges (get ready, Signing Day right around the corner) or popping off about how great they are are, it's refreshing to see an athlete who made their college basketball experience not as much about the selfish spotlight, but about the family she's so close to.

Really enjoyed the opportunity I had to talk with Dayeesha this year and think what she's doing with all the opponent's defensive pressure focused on her has been nothing shy of remarkable.

--- Hated to see Travis Kelce
had to pull out of the Senior Bowl due to injury. He was widely regarded as the the top tight end prospects in the game. Shouldn't hurt Kelce's stock, but would have been fun to see how well he did this week.

--- Randomness ...

--- The "Dell Dude" wants to come back and thinks he can fix the company's problems. I'm thinking Dell should first start with a customer support system that doesn't make me have to clear an entire weekday afternoon.

--- Don't step to the Scalabrine. He will beat you mercilessly and report it to the press.

--- They are making a BayWatch movie? What else is left to say on this topic? Can you really just trot out voluptuous women in swimsuits running around over and over again and think people will flock to watch? Oh, wait, the numbers say they do every time? OK, then.

--- The Lakers brought the pole out of the crawl space for an airing of the grievances. It ended about as well as Festivus at the Constanzas.

--- If you are looking for a gift for me for President's Day, Pearl Jam is playing Wrigley Field on July 19. I'll take two, near second base, please. (Sidenote: Full PJ Fall Tour dates on the way. And all is right with the world)

Predictably, here's Eddie Vedder joining Bruce Springsteen singing Our Hometown at Wrigley Field last year. Have a great day everybody.

Want to hear from you, shoot me any questions, comments or your thoughts on the rest of the Bearcats season during this middle break. Send email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Cincinnati women's basketball star Dayeesha Hollins could have played basketball almost anywhere, and did, but none complete her dream like shining in front of her family in Cincinnati.

[DePaul (14-5, 3-2) vs. UC women (8-9, 0-4) at Fifth Third Arena, Tuesday night, 7 p.m.]

By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com

Hollins.JPGCINCINNATI -- When Dayeesha Hollins runs onto the Fifth Third Arena court tonight against DePaul, she knows exactly where to look to find her family in the stands. They're in the same spot every game. Her mom, dad, cousin, and occasionally her 19-year-old brother sit directly behind the bench. They never miss and typically witness quite a show.

Hollins enters tonight leading UC with 16.4 points per game. She saw a streak of 26 straight games scoring in double digits snapped one week ago at USF. She recently scored her 1,000th career point against Belmont on Dec. 21.

All the accomplishments on the court don't mean as much as the moments with her family off it for the girl they call Day, the undeniable best player for the Bearcats. That's why she's here. Even through rough moments Hollins and the team endured during ups and downs of the season, she always can look up to the same spot in the seats and the sight elicits her signature smile.

Originally, the Winton Woods High School product chose the bright lights and national rankings of Michigan. Hollins thrived, averaging 12 points and 3.4 rebounds a game and becoming the first Michigan player to record 100 rebounds and 100 assists as a freshman. She was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team for 2009-10. She thought the campus was beautiful and liked her coach.

For all going right, one aspect felt dead wrong. Family means the world to her and the strain of distance for her mom, dad and others to travel to every game wore on her. As the end of the season drew closer, Hollins found herself wanting to be home.

"Towards the end of the season it got a little tougher," Hollins said. "We were still winning, but when we lost games, it was hard for me because there were times when I wanted to be home at those crucial times where I wasn't just myself and happy."

Through those hard times, her mother was always the one to comfort her, even if there wasn't a game.

"She didn't like losing, so she would get really emotional and missing her family," said Sharon Hollins, Dayeesha's mother. "I would have to go up on other weekends besides games."

Even when she decided to attend Michigan, she factored in her family traveling the nearly four hours to games and how far they would have to go. Her family only missed three games during her freshman season, despite the long drive. Hollins said they would come to the games and usually stay for a weekend. And of course, bring food.

HollinsMich.jpgNo game more reminded her of how rewarding playing in Cincinnati could be than Michigan's trip to play then No. 8 Xavier at Cintas Center. Her family and friends filled an entire section and watched as she scored 22 points including the game-winning shot for a Michigan upset.

"It was loud," Hollins said. "After the game, I got to stay and hang out with family. It was cool. Then that Sunday I went back to Michigan."

She realized she wanted that opportunity to hang out with her family and friends after every game she played. She finished the 2009-10 season at Michigan and received permission to transfer.

Meanwhile, Jamelle Elliott just finished her first year at UC. She had no idea about Hollins or the type of player she was until an assistant told her Hollins was thinking about transferring from Michigan to be closer to home.

"It was almost like a Christmas present," Elliott said. "I didn't know about her, I didn't know she was looking to transfer, and I didn't know that Cincinnati was going to be the first school on her list. She just dropped right in our lap."

Elliott and her staff didn't have to watch video on her to know she was going to be a special player. They looked at her statistics from Winton Woods and Michigan and discovered more about her via word of mouth from coaches around the league and in the area.

Per NCAA rules, she sat out the first year. Regardless, she still made an instant impact. She was able to challenge other girls in practice, especially Shareese Ulis, the point guard at the time.

"She instantly became our best player," Elliott said.

This season, teams figured out Hollins is UC's best player and have stepped up the defensive pressure against her. She's responded to the challenge, but not without obstacles.

"Not only are they trying to shut her down, but they're beating her up," Elliott said. "She's getting hit. Last game it was her ribs, she's had an ankle injury, she's had a head injury. She's not the biggest player in the world, so for her to accomplish that [26 straight games with double-digit scoring] while still not only having to play against the team's best defender every game; I think that really says a lot about how not only physically tough she is, but mentally tough that she is to be able to take that and still have the mental capabilities to make the shot when we need her to step up and make a free throw or get a stop when we need it."

Hollins also finds it taxing to be pushed around, but understands it comes with the territory of being the best player.

"It gets frustrating after awhile," Hollins said. "Game comes around and I'm just always on the floor. It's tough."

Whether it's in Fifth Third Arena, at Akron or in Hawaii, her family has traveled to all her games cheering her to victory or consoling her in defeat. They are her support system and she loves every minute of it.

"With us, family is big and it's always been us four," Sharon said. "We're kind of like the four musketeers, so we're really close, we do a lot, we've always done a lot together and really supported each other. So I've always known how important it was (to Dayeesha)."

Many athletes would choose the bigger school and the spotlight. Not Hollins. She is happy she was able to trade the spotlight for family. Sure, she sometimes misses her former Michigan teammates and still maintains contact through Facebook or phone calls with some of them. But, as soon as she sees her family waiting for her when she walks out of the locker room after a game and leaves for a home-cooked meal, she knows she made the right decision.

The smile on her face says it all.

To the non-observer Syracuse 57, UC 55 will read as a win for the Orange and loss for the Bearcats. Those who focus on wins and losses in January are judging a book by an excerpt rather than reading the chapters.

The sting of knowing how a victory against No. 3 Syracuse narrowly slipped out of the Bearcats fingertips doesn't fade easily. It won't for these players and won't for a coach who would have loved that signature win topping his resume in middle March. Once the pain wears off and dissection of final possession strategy dies down, the true colors of what occurred Monday at the Carrier Dome emerge.

Nobody pushes Syracuse to the brink at the Carrier Dome. It doesn't happen. There's a reason they have now won 35 in a row in the building. They certainly don't have Jim Boeheim saying, "we were done," as he did after this one.

Of their 13 games this season at the Dome, only one was within single digits. That was a game against Detroit (72-68) where the Cuse led by 17 with less than five minutes remaining. Even dating back to last season, of their perfect home record only three games were closer than seven points at home.

Over the course of Syracuse's streak, the longest in the nation dating back to February 2011, here are the closest margins of victory:

  • Jan. 21, 2013 vs. No. 21 UC: 57-55
  • Jan. 28, 2012 vs. WVU: 63-61
  • Feb. 8, 2012 vs. No. 11 Georgetown: 64-61 (OT)
  • Feb. 19, 2011 vs. Rutgers: 84-80 (OT)
  • Dec. 2, 2011 vs. No. 9 Florida: 72-68
  • Dec. 17, 2012 vs. Detroit: 72-68
  • Dec. 6, 2011 vs. Marshall: 62-56

That's only three previous times in conference play at home over the the last two-plus years have the Orange even been challenged to within six points.

CuseSK.jpgRemember, this is the same team to go on the road two days prior and beat the then-No. 1 team in the country, Louisville. Oh, by the way, in very similar circumstances to Monday's UC loss. The Cardinals led with less than a minute left and holding the ball, they also held the lead the vast majority of the final 10 minutes.

Is anybody worried about Louisville?

Nobody should be worried about UC. This is a team that's 16-4 and 4-3 in the Big East. Their four losses have come by a combined 10 points. Only against Notre Dame did they not have a shot at the buzzer to win it. No matter the opponent, no matter the venue, they've proven capable of beating anybody.

This effort came on a day a tired Cashmere Wright, who hadn't practiced in nearly a week, played his first game off a sprained knee and struggled because of it. When your best player has a bad day, you aren't supposed to have the Orange down for the count in the Dome.

While everyone will remember the final shot from Wright falling in and rimming out, that shouldn't overshadow the huge shots made by Sean Kilpatrick from deep or great passes from Titus Rubles working from the elbow to register five assists, five points and five offensive rebounds. They should remember a team that held Syracuse off the glass to an unprecedented level this year. The Orange came in top five in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 46 percent of their misses. UC held them just six offensive boards for 22.2 percent.

A Syracuse defense in the top 15 nationally in forcing turnovers only caused nine against the Bearcats and minimal patented runouts.

This team soaked in halftime adjustments and executed them perfectly against one of the most confounding defenses around.

UC lives beyond the point of moral victories, but it shouldn't live beyond the point of reality. Enough positive developments happened Monday -- and really every time out during the four games in 10 days run -- to be encouraged about the direction of this team as it enters a stretch of the season where they improved dramatically each of the last two years.

The next five games come against teams with a combined 11-17 conference record right now and none are above .500.

A win against Syracuse would have allowed the team to bask in national headlines and earn an advantage in the race for the Big East tournament seeds or even regular season championship. As Cronin said when I asked him about what beating Marquette without Wright meant on Saturday, the same applies to losing in heartbreaking fashion at Syracuse on Monday.

"Ultimately, it is the next game on the schedule," Cronin said Saturday. "Winning builds belief in your system and the things you try to preach to your team. It builds credibility with what you are trying to preach in the locker room. But it's just one win. At the end of the day, it's one loss for Marquette and one win for us. We have 12 left and try to win as many as you can. It is a three-part season. You go to New York and try to win that thing, and hopefully you are healthy for the NCAA tournament. I hear what you guys say, that this is a big win, but it's one game."

I want to hear from you. Send me any comments, questions or what you think Monday at Syracuse meant for UC. Send me an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.21.13

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Happy Martin Luther King Day, folks. Fun one for the Bearcats as they take on the current top team in the Big East, Syracuse, in the Carrier Dome. Life in the Big East is officially brutal. From the moment the Marquette game ended the Bearcats has approximately 40 hours to sleep, regroup, travel to lovely Syracuse and prepare for one of the top teams in the nation and most confounding defenses in the game. Got to love this conference.

In case you didn't know, UC (16-3, 4-2) at Syracuse (17-1, 5-0), 3:30 p.m. today, ESPN.

Want to bridge the gap this morning between leftovers from the win against Marquette (in case you missed my postgame column, follow the link here) and preparing you for this afternoon's game. So, here's three back-to-back 3-pointers about the two tilts.


--- When Mick feels like he's gone through a press conference and is yet to give a few zingers to crack the room up, he'll always make sure to squeeze one in on his way out the door. He did that Saturday as he finished up talking about how difficult it is to win night in and night out in the Big East. There are no easy games, even against the back end of the standings. That brought out this one -- not the first time it's been used, but always effective.

"There's never an off night in our league," Cronin said."You may win but you don't just cruise to victory. I miss them days when I used to sit next to Huggs when he was 60 pounds lighter and we would cruise to victory in Conference USA."
You can't go wrong taking a shot at growing Huggs.

--- Another great atmosphere with the Ring of Red. And consequently the return of the uniforms where the names and numbers are actually visible. The place was rocking, especially from the final five minutes of the game on. The crowd of 12,812 was the largest of the year at Fifth Third and marks a rise of 26.7 percent in overall attendance from last season. The numbers aren't where UC would like them to be yet, but the fans have certainly responded and it makes a significant difference in creating a tough home-court advantage.

Sean Kilpatrick noticed.

"I love the Ring of Red games," he said. "That's when everybody in the city comes out. You can tell, at one point we was playing and we made a shot when we was running back it felt like the floor was shaking. I was like, what's going on here and seen everybody jujmping up."

--- UC's two staples this season have been defense and offensive rebounding. It's one of the biggest reasons they were able to beat Marquette. UC is crashing the boards as well as any team in the nation, they now rank eighth in offensive rebounding percentage. Sure, the Bearcats may be missing shots, but they extend possessions by crashing the boards. That's a testament to the effort of players like Titus Rubles and JaQuon Parker, who combined for nine offensive boards against Marquette.

Whose one of the eight teams better at offensive rebounding than the Bearcats (40.4 percent)? Syracuse (42.3). Segue!


--- Cashmere Wright expected to be a game time decision. My gut tells me, though, with a nine-day break after this he won't play so he'll be fully rested for the stretch run. Cronin said there was still some stiffness in his knee before the game so he decided to hold him back. If two days ago there was stiffness, doubtful that will be completely gone today. Even if it was, no sense in pushing it for a January game you aren't supposed to be able to win anyway.

"He's day to day, guys, I'm not making things up," Cronin said Saturday night. "And I got news for you, if he decides to play Monday, I'm not calling Jim Boeheim and telling him. I can tell you this, though, if he's out there and he's not 100 percent I'm not letting him play. At the end of the day, (trainer) Bob Mangine let's him get out there, he has to feel good about it, then I have to say, you know what, I feel good about it. Because I may not feel good about it. I may save him."

Syracuse will also be without one of their top offensive players as James Southerland (13.6 ppg) is expected to miss another game.

--- The Orange went into The Yum on Saturday and took down top-ranked Louisville. That's about all you need to know about the task in front of UC. Michael Carter-Williams leads the nation in assists and it shows in the way he sets up his teammates. Jay Bilas called him the second-best PG in the nation here. Oh, and he owns the biggest play of the Big East season. What a finish against Syracuse.

--- Much as was the case in the Big East semifinal last year, UC will need to fill it up from deep to beat Syracuse. That will be essential once again, but more importantly, UC needs to get to the free throw line. That's how Temple pulled off their upset of the Orange earlier in the year. They were 29 of 36 from the FT line in the 83-79 win. Combine that with sharp-shooting from deep and the Bearcats, even without Cash, would have a chance.

--- This game could be a block party with two teams that both rank fifth and sixth in the country in blocks per game. UC has now blocked 24 shots in the last two games, 12 apiece. The 12 blocks tie for the most in a game since December 2010.

Random, before we wrap this up, should tell everyone to take a peak at Groupon today, which is offering discounted Bearcats tickets.

Thanks to everyone for reading and keep sending in those emails to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com and hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. I do my best to get back to everybody and you should be seeing another mailblog coming up in the near future.

Enjoy the game everybody. As I do every year, I'll post this today. Take the 18 minutes to soak in the message.

Sean Kilpatrick's 36 points and game-winner willed a 71-69 victory against No. 25 Marquette in overtime and proved that no matter how difficult the situation this team can compete with anybody as long as No. 23 laces them up.

CINCINNATI -- Without Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick needed to take over the scoring responsibility for the Bearcats on Saturday.

Mick Cronin knew it. The UC players knew it. The 12,812 donned in red inside Fifth Third Arena knew it. And undeniably, Buzz Williams knew it.

With every breathing human inside the 513 area code aware stopping SK would be the key to a Golden Eagles victory, Kilpatrick still tossed the Bearcats on his back and handed No. 25 Marquette their first Big East loss.

He did so posting a career-high 36 points and his signature game as a Bearcat.

In college basketball, the teams who own players capable of taking over any game separate the good from great, great from elite. Because Sean Kilpatrick wears red and black, the Bearcats always have a chance.

Exhibit A: Cincinnati 71, Marquette 69.

Of course, Cronin didn't need to sit down and discuss an expanded scoring role with Kilpatrick before the game. It'd be the equivalent of discussing the need to boo refs with the student section.

"I don't ever have to say that to him," Cronin said with a laugh and smile. "You kidding me? Oh, man."

Firing seven 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes he only connected on one. Periodically, a Kilpatrick shot would carom off the backboard as if made of Flubber. Living the old adage that great shooters shoot their way out of it, Kilpatrick never stopped. His offensive method resembles that of his theory in life: head down, outwork everyone, stick to the plan.

Saturday, it led to 36 points and acrobatic, left-handed game-winner.  

"Great scorers and great shooters don't stop shooting," Kilpatrick said at the interview table after going 5 of 14 from 3-point range and 11 of 23 from the field. "That's something I have carried on since I was a freshman here. I will never stop shooting because I know that coach and my teammates got that type of confidence in me. If that's something that's going to help us win and pull us over the top then that's what I'm going to do."

Even before his final syllables echoed off the back walls of the interview room, Titus Rubles sitting next to him snapped forward and interjected his analysis.

"He better not stop shooting," Rubles said.

SeanKil.jpgAlthough, despite burying deep 3-pointers and scoring seven of UC's eight points in the decisive overtime period, his willing UC to victory cut deeper than any bucket --- even the game-winner.

This became as much about intangibles and poise as passes and shots.

When Williams decided to place a suffocating faceguard tactic on Kilpatrick during the majority of the second half and into overtime, Cronin struggled to find ways to free his top scorer to even touch the ball on most possessions. Instead of forcing the issue, Kilpatrick willingly stood to the side and allowed the four-on-four advantage to shift to his teammates.

Many players would grow frustrated or mentally unravel. Not here.

"I'm kind of happy because we have four other scorers," Kilpatrick said. "These guys are just like me, I just play a little bit more minutes than them. I know that if they got the opportunity and the ball in their hands they are going to score."

That's always the case with Kilpatrick. He drew contact, hit 9-of-10 free throws, drove the lane, played defense. When it appeared he couldn't make any more winning plays, one that didn't register on the stat sheet proved to be the biggest of the night. Somehow he chased down what assured to be a critical Rubles turnover by darting unscripted across the court, tiptoeing the sideline with a balancing act that was half-gymnast, half-amazing. It sucked valuable seconds off the clock and extended the late lead to three.

Those intangibles are instinctual and the types of plays elite players find a way to make.

"I looked at Ge'Lawn (Guyn) like, 'he's a little too short to catch this so let me at least run and try to save it at least,'" he said. "I was just happy I didn't step on that line. If I would have I would have had to hear it from the little guy."

He won't hear much from Cronin, except maybe a hard time about the postgame description. There's not much else to say about what Kilpatrick brings to this team. He's endured struggles of late and even a questioning from fans and media alike as to where the SK tabbed first-team All-Big East preseason disappeared to.

He reminded everyone Saturday he never left. No matter how intently a team face guards or strategizes on slowing him down, what occurred against Marquette is always a possibility. And talk as much as you want about a supporting cast still in need of more contribution, a team with inconsistencies on the interior or even how injuries can hinder their journey into March.

They have Sean Kilpatrick. Nobody else does. That always gives them a shot. Just ask Marquette.

I want to hear from you. Let me know any questions, comments or your own feelings about Sean Kilpatrick via email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Big Week Ahead

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Louisville UC.JPGThis was a good weekend to take in UC women's sports-on the road Friday night in Louisville, then a return trip to Cincinnati for the opener for the women's tennis team at Western Tennis and Fitness Club. We'll talk about the tennis opener in a moment, but first, to basketball, and it's getting down to the nitty-gritty in the BIG EAST for the Cats.

And that's where you come in. I got to see first-hand the atmosphere at the KFC Yum! Center when the Cardinals faced the Bearcats. The crowd of 9,752 was into the game from the beginning: They cheered the U of L players, the booed the refs and supported their team unconditionally for all 40 minutes. And the players responded. They were scrapping for every loose ball, they were disciplined in their plays, they didn't let up--because the crowd didn't.

What does that have to do with UC fans? Here's the deal: It's time to build that kind of atmosphere in Clifton. There are two big games this week at Fifth Third Arena, the first Tuesday night against DePaul, then Saturday's clash with UConn. We need to start creating the fan support that will help this team respond, just like the Cardinals did Friday night. Because it makes a difference. The louder you cheer, the harder they play. We have to show that we are behind this team, thick or thin. And I'll bet we'll see just how they respond to your cheers.

So here's my challenge to you: If you're a regular in the women's basketball crowd, bring a friend. Bring two, if they're free. If they can't make it on Tuesday night, bring them on Saturday night. If you haven't been to a women's basketball game in a while, check it out this week. Ask your neighbors if they want to go--especially if they have young girls who might be interested in sports. Let's start a grassroots effort, and bring more people to the games. Knock on doors in your neighborhood. Call the gals you have lunch with once a week and invite them to a game. Ask your soccer friends if they'd like their kids to see great college basketball.

This is a pivotal week for the UC program. The players need our support, now more than ever. Let's show the Bearcats we're behind them, one ticket at a time.


Now, for women's tennis: Make the trip out Glenway to watch the UC tennis team take on IU. The Hoosiers are nationally ranked, so it was a tough test for the tennis Bearcats. But it's nice to see tennis back and as Coach Angela Wilson noted before the match, this is the first time in a while that she's had a healthy, full roster. She's looking for big things for this squad. Check 'em out at the Western Tennis and Fitness Center for the first half of the home schedule, then on campus for the last half.


MRI Provides Good News For Wright

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If you watched Oprah Winfrey's big interview with Lance Armstrong on Thursday night, it began with a series of yes/no questions in which Armstrong finally admitted using performance enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France wins.

At the exact same time as the Oprah/Lance interview aired on TV, I was asking Mick Cronin a few yes/no questions on his radio show about Cashmere Wright's knee injury and status for the Marquette game.

Question:  Will Cashmere play on Saturday night?

Coach Cronin:  He's day-to-day.  That's my status by the way.  That's the life of a coach - day-to-day.

Question:  Did Cashmere have an MRI on Wednesday?

Coach Cronin:  Yes.

Question:  Is there any structural damage?

Coach Cronin:  No.

The fact that there is no structural damage is the key piece of information.  Let's face it, when Wright was helped off the court in agony on Tuesday after scoring 20 points and dishing out 7 assists in just 22 minutes of playing time, it was impossible not to fear the worst.

Wright in pain (298x440).jpg

"He was headed for an easy 30 (points) and 10 assists which is complete domination of a game," said Cronin.  "You don't want to see him - or any player - go down, but especially him after what he's been through.  And then factor in that he's playing the best basketball of his career.  For him, (a serious injury) would be tragic, so it was great news that his MRI was negative."

Ironically, Wright's most recent injury was to his "good knee."  He's had three surgical procedures on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, but sprained his right knee against DePaul.  Fortunately, it didn't take long for Cashmere to realize that it wasn't as serious as his previous injuries.

"He went out at the 15:20 mark, and at the next time-out, I look up and he's standing in the huddle and he's giving me the eye like he wants to go back in the game," said Cronin.  "I would say that it scared him more than anything."

To make matters worse, Wright was not the only Bearcat to suffer an injury in the game.  In the first half, Justin Jackson was taken to the locker room with an injured wrist.  X-rays were negative and Jackson returned to action with his wrist heavily taped.

Wright and Jackson did not do much at practice on Thursday and Cronin says he'll be cautious in determining if either player will be allowed to take court the court on Saturday.

"It's a long year and we have a lot of games left," said Cronin.  "Hopefully, we'll have a lot of games in March, so I can tell you that I'm not going to take a risk now for no reason.

"(Cashmere) probably wouldn't have practiced much anyway to be honest with you.  From here on out with our major minute guys, we don't need to practice a whole lot.  Full-speed practice is not much more than an hour, the rest of it would be teaching points, scouting report, shooting, and individual work.  That's something that I believe in a lot, and obviously with Cashmere, he's had some injuries.

"It's a little bit different with Justin.  He's got a sprained wrist and he's stiff.  He's another veteran guy that doesn't need a lot of practice.  So we'll see how he feels.  It's his right wrist so that's an issue for free throws, not that he's shooting a lot of jump shots.  But again, you're not going to risk March for January."

Since Jackson was able to return to the court after his wrist injury on Tuesday, it seems logical to expect him to play against Marquette.

Rambo poster.jpg

As for Wright, Coach Cronin loves to quote the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II when Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) tries to comfort John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) before Stallone's character walks off into the distance as the credits roll.

Colonel Trautman:  How will you live John?

Rambo:  Day-by-day.

Cronin told reporters that he was "Bill Belichick-ing" them - or not saying much - on all injury-related questions on Thursday, but it appears that Wright's status is truly TBA for the upcoming games against Marquette and Syracuse.

"We'll see how he feels on Friday...and Saturday...and Sunday," said Cronin.  "Seriously, I'm not trying to be funny, he is day-to-day."

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

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

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bearcats Breakfast 1.18.13

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It's Friday, three-day weekend ahead and a measuring stick one for UC as they host No. 25 Marquette at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third and then travel to the Carrier Dome for a 3:30 tilt on Monday against No. 6 Syracuse.

Limited tickets still available as I type this for Saturday's game, but I know last night's Happy Hour sale put a series dent in available tickets for the rest of the year, so you may want to move fast.

While I'm on the promotion train, you should definitely check out the Inside the Bearcats Podcast I recorded yesterday with Dan Hoard. Informative and fun, as always. Had a blast dissecting where we are at in the season as well as the specifics of making short leading Hollywood men look tall in the movies. Next time Dan comes on, though, I may have him play my James Brown open with his alto sax from his Syracuse pep band days. Stay tuned.

Also, make sure you subscribe to the pod on iTunes. Now it comes to you instead of needing to come here for it.

loganlittle.jpgFor a little Friday Rewind fun, take a look back 11 years ago when UC beat Dwyane Wade and Marquette for the Conference USA Title. Steve Logan poured in 26 while Wade only had 16. Crown 'em.

OK, let's eat ...

--- Spending some time up at practice
and around the building yesterday, the only real news to come out of the day was Cashmere Wright was held out of practice, which is no shock. Mick Cronin didn't offer more of an update on Wright's situation, calling him, "John Rambo, day by day." That's now as much a Rambo classic as it is a Cronin classic these days. One of his favorite lines to use.

Saw Cash briefly before practice. Seemed to be walking around fine, had some type of wrap around his left knee. Still unsure if he'll play Saturday or not. If he doesn't, Cronin seems likely to turn to a bigger lineup and play to those strengths. Here were his thoughts on the possible changes.

"There's minor adjustments that we'll make that are some plusses some minuses," Cronin said. "We'll probably become a bigger, physical team when he's out of the lineup. When you really evaluate the film we played a lot of quality minutes without him. Minus the last minute and the barrage of missed free throws and giving up second-chance points when the game was over, but we did good things without him on the floor and have enough veterans and talent."

You'd love to have Wright for both these two games, but keep this in mind: the Bearcats have a nine-day layoff following the Syracuse game. If there is any doubt about his injury sitting him these two would essentially give him 15 days of rest from the injury and he would have to be feeling great for the final two months of the season by that point. Just another option to weigh for Cronin.

--- I want to discuss the recent trend of winning on the road and struggling at home. The Bearcats have won 12 of 14 away from home and now lost three in a row at Fifth Third Arena. As Mick said yesterday, most of his opinions on the matter are "probably baseless and pointless."

Indeed, any opinions offered today won't mean a thing once the ball is tipped Saturday night. Then it becomes about slowing Junior Cadougan and Davante Gardner. But, because us media folks are inquisitive types I wanted to look deeper at the topic.

Consider this: Big East road wins have been more prevalent this year than in any in recent memory early in the season. Typically, during the first few weeks of conference play BE teams struggle to win on the road. Theories I've heard on this usually revolve around young teams learning how difficult it is to win away from home in this conference. It takes time to develop that skill.

Not this year.

Big East Conference record on this date home vs. away the last four years:

  • Year: Home-Away
  • 2012-13: 14-19
  • 2011-12: 31-17
  • 2010-11: 30-14
  • 2009-10: 26-15
--- That's a winning percentage of 65 percent, 68 percent and 63 percent. Then, all of a sudden, this year the home team is winning only 42 percent of the time.

Fourteen of the league's 15 teams own at least one conference road win already.

So, before we go pointing fingers at this being a UC problem, know that it's a league-wide problem this year for whatever reason. The Bearcats are hardly the only team seeing an disproportionate number of home losses.

That said, theories exists as to why UC has struggled at home with losses to New Mexico, St. John's and Notre Dame in comparison to road wins at Pitt, Rutgers and DePaul.

"That's something we've been harping on the last couple of days," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We don't know (why), a lot of teams is taking slumps and a lot of teams in this league is coming up with wins and coming up with losses that you may not think that they'd come up with."

Cronin believes the mental mindset does play into it.

"The biggest mistake teams make is thinking, well, we are at home we are going to win," he said. "We made the adjustment the last few games in taking each game separately and not looking at the totality of the schedule ... if you don't have that type of focus because you are at home it would probably be because you are relaxing mentally and your energy level and focus and alertness isn't where it needs to be."

He went on to say, much credit probably needs to be given to the opponent and while UC didn't play great against New Mexico or St. John's, Notre Dame played one of its best games all season to beat UC. Whereas, Pitt, Rutgers and DePaul are a combined 7-8 in conference play.

Moral of the story: Why is this happening? Who knows, part matchups, part energy. But one element we do know -- for whatever reason, it's happening to everybody.

--- Mr. Hoard posted this blog on the increased production from Jermaine Sanders of late. Good stuff, as always.

--- The conference power rankings at SI are topsy-turvy this year, but the Big East holds as second behind the B1G. I'd concur, but seeing the Mountain West in third made me double take, not that I disagree with that, either.

Oh, by the way that New Mexico team UC lost to is now 16-2 overall and perfect in MWC play.

--- Marquette is 4-0 in the Big East,
but it's still fair to wonder how good the Golden Eagles actually are. Remember, they won twice in OT (Pitt, UConn), beat Georgetown by one point and topped a Seton Hall team dressing only eight players by seven Wednesday.

They've beaten Wisconsin and Georgetown, but outside of that don't own any signature wins. KenPom isn't a huge fan, ranking them all the way back at 41 (UC is 16).

Loved this quote from the always comical Buzz Williams talking about his team with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

"I don't think we are great and I honestly don't know what we are good at at times," he said. "But if we can get good at winning, maybe that can be enough."

The Golden Eagles spread it around, with four players averaging at least nine points per game, but nobody averaging more than 14. They don't shoot many 3-pointers, never has been their style. Out of 345 college basketball teams, only 15 gain a lower percentage of their points from behind the 3-point line than Marquette. Of course, one of those is St. John's, who just beat UC at home, so go figure.

--- Always a trip when Buzz comes to town. Funny dude. Here he was on Wednesday reacting to what he called the first charge drawn by Vander Blue in 88 games.

--- The Eagles have been receiving great contributions from guard Todd Mayo lately, the JS writes. They haven't lost since he returned to the lineup following an academic situation.

--- Great warmup for the UC-Marquette game will be watching Syracuse at Louisville at 4 p.m. There's those two teams in the BE and everybody else right now. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are defensive nightmares. Will be fun to watch Cash and SK face up against them later this year at The Yum.

--- Randomness ...

--- Have to agree with Rolling Stone in their list 10 of most annoying concert behaviors: It's fine to take a few pictures so you can let all your Facebookers know you were there. Taking 100 is just being a jerk.

--- The thinnest watch ever made looks more like a hospital bracelet.

--- Since this has been the week of the cat video on the blog, I have to assume this guy has become a new fan of Bearcats athletics.

--- Predicting right now Chip Kelly will bomb at Philadelphia. If you are an Eagles fan you can't like hearing, "Kelly doesn't care about the salary cap, contracts or the waiver wire." Toss in Michael Vick at QB and all DCs spending an offseason plotting against the read option and you might as well call this the Steve Spurrier Reboot. Which is an excuse to cue my favorite slo-mo replay in MNF history.

--- Since I opened this reracking the UC-Marquette conference title game from 2002, why not bring back the regular season finale, otherwise known as The Donald Little Game. His game-winner comes at 3:24 mark. Have a great weekend and see you at Fifth Third.

Remember to send any questions, comments or your own memories of those great games in this series to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Sanders Providing Scoring Boost Off Bench

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At the end of one of my basketball seasons as a kid, I was presented with a trophy that read as follows:  "Most Likely To Think It Was A Good Shot."

In other words, I wasn't shy about letting it fly - despite the fact that I was a mediocre (at best) shooter.

Jermaine Sanders (440x266).jpg

UC sophomore Jermaine Sanders, on the other hand, has an excellent shooting stroke, but sometimes has to be pushed by his teammates to fire away.

"They always tell me to shoot," Jermaine told me.  "At the beginning of the season I wasn't really shooting that much and they would get on me and tell me that they needed me to shoot in order for us to win."

While the former Rice (NY) High School star hasn't exactly morphed into a gunner, Sanders is starting to provide a nice offensive lift off of the Bearcats bench.  In his last three games, Jermaine is averaging 6.3 points in roughly 16 minutes of playing time.  During that stretch, he's made 7-of-13 shots (54%), including 3-of-8 three-pointers.

"He's more comfortable on offense and you can see his confidence growing," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He has the courage to take the open shot." 

"I'm becoming more confident in what I can do," said Sanders. 

Part of that confidence stems from a more athletic physique.  Under the direction of new strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt, Sanders dropped 11 pounds over the summer and increased his no-step vertical leap by 3.5 inches.

"It makes me feel great about my game," said Sanders.  "I can move quicker on defense, jump higher to get rebounds, and run the floor well.  And I can still knock down shots at the end of the game because I'm in great condition."

"He's in better shape and he's more competitive," said Coach Cronin.  "I think his intensity level is getting better each night out and that's allowing him to be more effective."

Before closing its doors due to financial difficulties in 2011, Rice H.S. in Harlem produced a "Who's Who" list of Big East basketball talent including Felipe Lopez (St. John's), Edgar Sosa (Louisville), Kemba Walker (UConn), and former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield.  Sanders was clearly well-coached there by Moe Hicks (now part of the St. John's staff) and displays a high basketball I.Q.  He's also one of the best passers on the Bearcat roster, ranking third on the team in assists-per-minute.     

"I've always been able to pass and see the floor well," said Sanders.  "Since I'm taller (6'5"), I can see over defenders and make a good pass.  That really comes naturally to me.  I'm really not that athletic, but I see the game better than most people." 

Over the last three games, Sanders has the same number of three-pointers as assists.  So, which of the two would he rather have?

"A '3'...but I like assists too," Jermaine said with a laugh.

This former gunner can identify.

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

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

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

The Inside the Bearcats Podcast -- now officially on iTunes! -- returns this week as I sit down with the Voice of the Bearcats and GoBearcats blogging colleague, Dan Hoard.

DHphoto.jpgIt has been a while since we sat in the bleachers at Fifth Third Arena in early December and Dan made fun of my less than spectacular setup. Well, he was welcomed into the new, improved New Media Suite/Podcasting Studios (otherwise known as commandeering Tommy G's office space) on Thursday to see how far this feature has risen.

Always great to have Dan on as we chatted about what happened to the uptempo offense, the injuries to Cashmere Wright and Jeremiah Davis III, Marquette, the odd state of the Big East beyond Louisville/Syracuse and what the heck is going on with the struggles at home.

Of course, as always we struggled to stay completely on track. We veered into odd Hollywood couples, how exactly Russell Brand became famous, a statement that may force me to turn in my man card, the Syracuse meal itinerary and Dan's time in college spent playing alto sax in the pep band.

Again, to remind everyone, you can now have this podcast come directly to you on your mobile device, notebook or whatever. Just follow this link and click the button to open the podcast in your iTunes account and subscribe. Make sure you subscribe, because it will feed immediately to your subscription but not necessarily be seen on your iTunes page without subscribing. From that point forward, as soon as I post a new pod it will pop directly into your iTunes account and/or podcasting app and be waiting on you.

If anybody has any problems with it or just wants to send in reaction to what we talked about, shoot me an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. Enjoy everybody.

Direct Download

A Panther prowling the Bearcat sidelines

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Sorry for the delay on this, but this is a video I did with former UC defensive back Haruki Nakamura at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
It was between the third and fourth quarters as Nakamura was returning to the safety of his enclosed booth after braving the chilly temperatures in the 30s on the field (such a warrior).

Nakamura lives just north of Charlotte in Mooresville and moved there prior to signing with the Carolina Panthers. He came on the field with some Panther personnel and signed a few autographs for some Bearcat fans that spotted him.

I did a "Where Are They Now" story on Bearcat Lair.  In the meantime, the video covers a lot of the material.  The funniest part is when he mentions meeting UC AD "Babb Whitcock".  Easy slip, but funny nonetheless.  Be it "Babb" or Whit, the guy does a pretty good job as Nakamura confirms.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.16.13

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How is everyone breathing today? Likely better than you were at 9:45 p.m. last night when Cashmere Wright fell to the floor, writhing in what appeared to be unbearable pain.

Those five minutes as Wright worked out his injury with trainer Bob Mangine the scenarios of the season were undoubtedly running through your mind as they were mine. None looked too pretty. As I have been saying around here much of the season, Cashmere Wright is the most important player on this team mainly because there's nobody who can replace what he does. The fall off in production would be extreme and ripple to everyone. You can't say that about anyone else, not even Sean Kilpatrick -- though he would be an obvious second-worst case scenario.

From all indications given from courtside, Mick Cronin and Wright's demeanor, the belief is he'll be fine. Bill Koch filed this blog stating Wright looked fine after the game. He even wanted to go back in, according to the coach. He decided not to RG3 him, thankfully. When a guy whose battled knee problems his entire career goes down holding his right one mid-game, there is not enough caution in AllState Arena to err on.

Expectations are Wright will have an MRI today, according to Mike DeCourcy, make sure everything looks OK and move forward from there. Andy Katz reported he's day to day with a sprained knee.

Sure would be nice to have him for the Marquette-Syracuse two-step this weekend, but that question deserves the Marvin Lewis treatment: We'll see. If there is any doubt about how he's feeling, he should sit. Too important in the long run. And there is still a very long run ahead.

Let's eat ...

--- Doesn't it always happen like this?
Cash was playing the game of his life, I was literally searching for his career points-assists double-doubles when he went down.

Here's his numbers despite missing the last 15:12 of the game -- 20 points, 7 assists, 2 turnovers on 8 of 11 shooting. He looked wizardly against the DePaul perimeter pressure philosophy.

He was bound to set a career high for assists, it seemed. He'd cracked double digits twice in his career with a high of 11 against Providence as a sophomore.

On the broadcast there was some chatter about the best point guards in the conference. Through the first quarter of conference play (admittedly plenty of time to go) hard to argue against Cash among the top five. Though, I'm sure the folks at CBS are still fighting that he's even in the top 10 in the conference.

He's currently fifth in the conference among all players with 17.8 points per game.

In conference play, here are some comparisons:

  • Player: Points -- Assists -- A/TO ratio
  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: 19.0 -- 5.3 -- 4.2
  • Cashmere Wright, UC: 17.8 -- 4.0 -- 2.9
  • Eric Atkins, ND: 16.5 -- 6.0 -- 2.7
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville: 11.2 -- 5.0 -- 2.0
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: 10.8 -- 7.0 -- 3.1
  • Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh: 7.8 -- 4.8 -- 6.3
  • Junior Cadougan, Marquette: 7.3 -- 4.3 -- 2.6

--- Among these seven top point guards, Cash ranked second in points per game, seventh in assists per game and fourth in assist/TO ratio. Those numbers would, of course, look even better had he not missed the final 15 minutes last night.

--- Bottom line, this conference is packed with great point guards and Wright's numbers hold water against all of them right now.

--- Also, UC gets to see two of the best this weekend with Cadougan and Carter-Williams next up.

--- While we are on it,
limited tickets available for what should be one of the best home games of the season Saturday, 7 p.m. against Marquette. Hit the site to order, I fully expect a full house for this one.

--- Moving on, should be worth noting that gaining a win in the situation the Bearcats were placed in last night doesn't come easy -- as made obvious by the wild final 45 seconds. UC led by 13 with 15:12 left when Cash went down. The lead stayed at double figures until two minutes remained.

That's a nice job of the reserves pulling together to make enough plays to win.

"Basically, played the second half without him against a team in the Big East that presses the most on the road," Cronin said to 700WLW after the game. "It was good for our guys."

And despite a rocky final two minutes where Wright's presence was dearly missed, UC held on for the win. They have now won 12 of their last 14 games away from Fifth Third Arena.

--- If you would like to see the entire interview with Dan and Chuck, here's the link to video.

--- Cheikh Mbodj with a career high seven blocks last night and David Nyarsuk added three. As a team, UC racked up 12 which ties for the most they've compiled since 12/23/10 against St. Francis (Pa.).

--- How many times has this phrase been uttered at the end of a broadcast: "Fantastic effort from Cleveland Melvin, but DePaul falls." At the very least every time DePaul plays UC and more likely 75 percent of Big East games. He's a great player around the rim, but dying on the vine in Chicago.

--- Notre Dame lost to St. John's last night. I don't know why anybody even tries to predict this stuff. Somehow now Jack Cooley is going in the tank? This league will flip every storyline upside down in a week.

--- Matt Norlander asks,
just how good is the Big East this year?

Randomness ...

--- Brent Musburger says he did nothing wrong. Good for you, Brent. I'm pretty sure Katherine Webb, who now will be covering the Super Bowl for inside Edition would give him a hug as soon as she sees him for her career explosion. Well, maybe not a hug.

--- Bad Lip Reading in the NFL. You will laugh.

--- Southern Living is running a contest to name the tastiest town in the South. With all due to respect to the participants, nothing beats the unique New Orleans menu.

--- Blake Griffin doing Blake Griffin things.

--- Did you know "Now That's What I Call Music" is now on Volume 83?!? I'm pretty sure I bought Volume 1. This makes me sad. That's why this Flo Rida song that's on the 83rd volume has a fitting title.

It's pop song Wednesday, folks. Enjoy.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.15.13

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Today, I bring ye good news.

After a long, arduous battle that I thought might end up being my personal fiscal cliff fiasco, I finally overcome a painstaking battle to completion.

The Inside the Bearcats Podcast is now officially on iTunes. Through multiple road blocks, reformatting, feed analyzing, email explanations, category creating, applying tags and likely incorrect use of IT words far out of my pay grade, it finally happened this week. It's been the most continuous request since I started doing the pod way back, now everyone can go to iTunes, subscribe and the new episodes will show up in your iTunes account automatically as soon as I record a new one. You, of course, can listen to all of them right there without needing to stream from the web page which I know gave many of you trouble. (huge h/t to old Moeller buddy and podcaster extraordinaire Nick Seuberling, who helped make this happen when I was about to meltdown in frustration)

You can subscribe by following this link here, then just hit the open in iTunes button and subscribe there.

I'll let the readership react accordingly. That includes you, Van Der Beek.



This should hopefully make the listening process much easier for everyone and also make you immediately aware of the new posts without having to constantly check to the site and scroll. Now, the pod comes to you. Happy day. I'd like to apologize to all my family and friends who didn't see or hear much from me during this all-consuming ordeal. I can now move on with my life.

Let's eat ...

--- UC hoops at DePaul (10-6, 1-2) tonight at 8:30 p.m. The game is on FoxSports Ohio/Big East Network/ESPN3 with Lou Cannelis and hometown girl Brooke Weisbrod on the call. Then on 700WLW with Dan and Chuck.

The Blue Demons haven't played in a week and we last saw them being stomped out at UConn, 99-78.

Their only two quasi-quality wins this year against teams ranked in KenPom's top 100 were at Arizona State (84) and at Providence (66). They've also endured some bad losses, including Western Kentucky (177), Gardner-Webb (170) and Loyola Chicago (155).

This could be a chance for the UC offense to pour on some points. DePaul leads the nation in tempo, as far as possessions per game. Against the KP top 150 opponents the Blue Demons faced this year they've given up an average of 77 points per game. Much of that comes from the breakneck pace creating shootouts.

UC came into the year desiring to play that pace, so they shouldn't have a problem jumping into the style with DePaul. The Bearcats certainly shouldn't have a problem ditching halfcourt sets for transition sprints considering the inconsistency with the grinding offense. In that respect, this appears to be a good matchup for UC.

--- Stopping DePaul revolves around slowing 6-4 G Brandon Young (17.3 ppg) and 6-8 F Cleveland Melvin (16.8 ppg). Do that and the Bearcats should cruise. Those two players take 42 percent of the Demons shots. Young posted 35 points against UConn, so he can fill it up in a hurry. I'd expect Sean Kilpatrick to draw the assignment and be asked to do the same job he did on Eli Carter of Rutgers (1 of 11 shooting).

--- Great look at Cashmere Wright from Bill Koch. All season I've viewed him as the most important player on the floor for the Bearcats and documented how well he's taken care of the ball of late here yesterday.

Quote from Mick in Bill's story on Cash:

"He's playing with more strength in his game. He's learned how to use his speed and quickness where before he really struggled. He'd go to the basket at such a high rate of speed that he missed a ton of layups early in his career. We've worked on him being in control as he goes to the basket. It's helped him to become a better scorer."

--- UC dropped out of the AP Top 25 yesterday. People tend to get so caught up in rankings. And that's fine, it's the most accepted method of categorizing teams out there. Rankings at this point in the season mean so little. One hot week and UC will surge back into the teens. And even if that happens, it won't mean much.

Everybody has an opinion on ratings some are number-based, some eye-test. Here's where UC stands in the different polls: 

Take your pick and tell what difference using AP vs. RPI vs. Sagarin vs. KenPom makes come March. All of it floats around in the pot as the committee creates the S-Curve.

--- Lance McAlister spoke with Tommy Tuberville during SportsTalk last night on 700WLW. They hit on a variety of topics, including the scrutiny he's come under of late. Good to hear from the coach. Worth a listen.

--- Travis Kelce was given the trophy as top tight end in the country by the College Football Performance Awards. On top of his Senior Bowl appearance coming up and rising NFL stock it's an exciting time for UC senior.

--- Andrea Adelson thinks Greg Blair could be the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. She also called UC-Louisville the best Big East game of the year. I'd agree with both premises.

--- Some randomness ...

--- You got to have some serious Musburgers to break out another questionable line one week after the Katherine Webb incident.

--- While everyone in baseball will rejoice, I can only say I'm saddened to hear MLB will no longer allow the fake to third, throw to first pickoff move. There was nothing better during a Reds broadcast than Marty Brennaman feigning surprise and ripping on the pitcher after every time it was attempted.

--- Genius felines! I'm taking this cat to the streets. There are some shady alleys I need him to accompany me to.

--- I like the new Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy ad. More enjoy the concept of building this rivalry into something real. Of course, that means Tiger might actually have to beat Rory at some point.

--- Jason Bateman talking about Arrested Development and promising a more pathetic Michael Bluth. I can't think of a better concept.

--- Caught wind of this new song by Macklemore called Thrift Shop. Count me as a fan.

Have a great day everybody. Email me (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) any questions, comments or video of the dance you did when you learned ITBPodcast is now on iTunes. Or chat with me on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.14.13

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Bearcats back in the win column with a victory at The RAC. Not an easy place to play and no such thing as an easy conference road win in the current Big East.

Bearcats were delayed by fog getting out of New Jersey so they spend even less time back home before departing today for Chicago. UC (14-3, 2-2) at DePaul (10-6, 1-2) tomorrow night at 8:30 on ESPN3.

Interesting as the Big East saw more of a clear dilinetation between the top and bottom then we've seen this early in recent years. After this weekend's game there are not five teams with three losses and three teams still undefeated in conference play.

St. John's hasn't won a conference game outside of the win at Fifth Third. That one makes the stomach turn a bit more with every Johnnies loss.

No matter, thanks to the play of Cashmere Wright, the Bearcats pulled even in conference play. Huge game coming Saturday against Marquette (12-3, 3-0) at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third. My guy Greg Harrell in the ticket office says there are a limited number of free student seats available for the Marquette/Rutgers block. Considering how big that game looks for an early-season tilt, you'll want to run to grab those.

Let's eat ...

--- Latest update on Wright's
emergence as the gatekeeper to possessing the basketball since the schedule toughened in late December. Since the Marshall game (8-game span) Wright compiled 27 assists to 10 turnovers. He didn't commit a single turnover Saturday against Rutgers.

--- Great minutes from Jermaine Sanders on Saturday. Earns my underrated stat line of the game award: 9 points, 2 offensive rebounds, 1 block, 0 turnovers.

--- SK's shooting slump carried on into the Rutgers win (3 of 12 from field), but the job he did on Rutgers' star Eli Carter overshadowed any field goal percentage woes. He held him to six points on 1 of 11 shooting. He came in avearging 16 points per game and that was his lowest output since their season opener.

--- Surprising result of the weekend: UConn 65, Notre Dame 58. That game was in South Bend, too. As well as the Irish were playing surprised the Huskies were able to hit the road and take them down. Huskies scored the final seven points of a game that was tied with a minute to play.

Mick Cronin talked about a difficult conference schedule because of the double-ups, here's how those double-ups are doing:

  • UConn (12-3, 2-1): 2-1 in conference, w/ win against ND and only loss in OT against undefeated Marquette.
  • Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1): 2-1, a win against UConn would have given them best start in school history. Already beat UC and are humming on offense.
  • Pitt (13-4, 1-3): Struggling at 1-3 in conference play thus far, certainly proving to be more advantageous than originally thought. Of course, they just throttled Georgetown by 28 in DC. So, there's that.
  • Rutgers (11-4, 2-2): UC looked superior this weekend, but Rutgers overachieved thus far. 

--- Mick said after the game to Bill Koch the Bearcats needed to toughen up and start living up to their strength. 

--- Doc wrote a column on Tommy Tuberville and playing the delicate PR game in what can be an nearly unwinnable situation for a new coach. 

--- My guy Mo Egger also spoke with Tommy T last week on ESPN1530. 

--- Randomness ...

--- Who throws a shoe, really? 

--- Two of the best NFL games I've seen in years. Spent most of the weekend jaw-dropped. Happiest for Tony Gonzalez. Great player, always been class act.

--- Russian cat fight? Don't mind if I do.

--- Here's the list of Golden Globes winners. Think Tommy Lee Jones should have won best supporting actor for Lincoln, of course, my opinion means about as much as those fighting Russian cats.

--- It's a Pearl Jam Monday. Have a great one everybody. Remember, to shoot any comments, questions or cat fight videos to my email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

CINCINNATI -- Saturday will serve as a homecoming for Shaquille Thomas. Well, sort of. Less than an hour drive up the Garden State Parkway to Piscataway, N.J., many family and friends from his hometown of Paterson will see him play college basketball in person for the first time.

Sure, cousins and aunts will fill a pocket of the RAC for the return. Even two close high school friends will take the court against him in Rutgers' Eli Carter and Miles Mack.

Yet, to call this a homecoming almost feels like a misnomer these days for Thomas. After bouncing around three high schools in four years before eventually committing to UC, he's spent the last two seasons transforming this Midwestern town into the closest compartment of stability he's enjoyed in years.

The redshirt freshmen endured a difficult childhood growing up in a family where his father passed away before he entered first grade and mother died before he entered high school. He was raised by his grandmother with a collection of extended family pitching in but lacked a true father figure.

That's changed with the Bearcats. With father figures filling out the coaching staff and a tight-knit brotherhood share the court on a daily basis. Comfort and consistency now constitute everyday life for the 20-year-old.

"I feel stable; I feel like I have family here," Thomas said. "I've been here for two years, I know everybody now. It definitely feels like home. It's very different just for everybody, even my teammates and coaching staff and academic staff and everybody, trying to help me out and try to get the best out of me. That's what I like about it."

Thomas appears on the brink of paying back the goodwill. Midway through his first season coming off redshirting last year, Mick Cronin shows signs of confidence in the 6-foot-7, 190-pound guard/forward. Against Notre Dame, Thomas played 24 minutes, his highest total of the season. It marked the second time in the last four games he cracked 18 minutes.

Suddenly, flashesof the player who averaged 28 points and eight assists his two seasons at NIA Prep in Newark began to shine through. Thomas slashed to the lane and hit a turnaround jump shot with ease and used his length to suffocate defensively.

Thomas2.jpgThe Bearcats can use his offense. In need of a lift beyond The Three Amigos, Thomas could be that player. Some days his smallish frame can't withstand the physicality, hence why he only logged seven minutes against  Pitt. However, against Notre Dame he contributed five points, three boards, two assists, one block and zero turnovers.

"I am just going out to play," said Thomas, who contributed season highs of 11 points and seven boards against Maryland-Eastern Shore. "I'm more prepared now. Sometimes it just takes a couple games to get used to the speed and everything like that. That's the thing that affected me the most. The speed of the game, the physicality."

He may be the best pure athlete on the team but translating that to on-court success took time and enduring the growing pains of learning college basketball without letting offensive strategy inhibit instinctive scoring. Only, whether or not he stays on the floor won't involve his offensive output.

"The more he becomes a reliable defender it allows him to stay on the floor," Cronin said. "The longer he can stay on the floor his offensive talent is going to grow. He's going to become a better finisher the calmer he is out there. And he's a good passer."

More than any offensive statistic, Thomas could add proficiency on the offensive glass. If you look at offensive rebounds per minute played this season, he's second on the team only to Cheikh Mbodj. Thomas collected one offensive board for every 9.7 minutes played.

"Aside from his one-on-one ability and passing, ability to put the ball in the basket, (it's) his offensive rebounding," Cronin said. "He makes us a bigger team because he's such a big guard."

Around the parts where the Bearcats will hope to break a two-game losing streak this weekend, Thomas' skills are well known. They run in the family. His uncle is former NBA star Tim Thomas. His sister, Essence Carson, was the seventh-overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. She was named an All-Star in 2011, but plays overseas right now in the offseason. The two talk after most every game even though she's stuck watching most of them on Gametracker from Israel.

Her tips revolve around staying patient, as even she struggled during her early years at Rutgers. Most importantly, she preaches to focus on defense. Almost makes you wonder if Cronin didn't pay for an international call to Carson planting talking points.

Thomas no longer lives in the shadows of his famous family and continues to break out of his teammates' shadow over the last month. Comfort level inside his new home will be the key to making an impact in a return to his old one.

"I feel more confident," Thomas said. "I knew it was going to come sooner or later, but I just have to keep on going and playing with more confidence."

I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with any questions, comments or your family athletic achievements that pale in comparison to Shaq's.

Cronin Deserves Credit For Rebuilding Bearcats

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Last year after the Bearcats' thrilling road win at Villanova, a woman stopped Mick Cronin on his way to the team bus.  It was the mother of one of the 'Nova players and she told Mick how much she appreciated his postgame comments after the Xavier brawl.

A few weeks later, a few of us were having dinner with Coach Cronin during the NCAA tournament when a similar thing happened.  This time it was a man who identified himself as a Musketeers fan and he praised Mick for the same thing.

I bring this up now because the Bearcats have dropped three of their last four games and I haven't received a single e-mail criticizing Coach Cronin.  It's my belief that the way he handled himself after last year's Xavier game caused many people to look at Mick in a different light and reconsider what he's accomplished as Cincinnati's head coach.

"I don't know because I'm not sure how people look at me," Mick said when I asked if he agreed.  "You know me really well, and I'm concerned with being a great father, a great friend, a good brother, and a good son, but most importantly a great father.  (My daughter) Sammy's opinion of me is the one that matters most."

Mick at NCAA (440x323).jpg

Of course, the key for any coach to win over fans is to win games.  Cincinnati has increased or equaled its win total in each of the last five seasons, made it to the Big East Tournament championship game for the first time last year, and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.

Simply put, Mick Cronin has successfully rebuilt Bearcat basketball.

"We had to rebuild a winning culture," said Cronin.  "Now the expectation of winning is there and the players are willing to listen, practice appropriately, and give the required effort - I don't like to say extra effort - the required effort that it takes to win games." 

After starting this season 12-0 and climbing into the Top 10 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Bearcats have stumbled over the last two weeks in home losses to New Mexico, St. John's, and Notre Dame.  Scoring was a problem in all three defeats as Cincinnati averaged 55.3 points. 

"Offensively, we're just leaving too much on the table," said Cronin.  "We had seven second half turnovers (against Notre Dame) and they were all unforced.  We shot over 50% in the second half, but we didn't get enough shots off.  We have to get 'tighter' on offense and the guy with the ball has to slow down so he can make a play.  Whether it's a simple ball reversal, making an assist, or putting the ball in the basket - when we slow down we're fine."

It would obviously help if Cincinnati had a reliable low post scorer.

"Would it be nice to have some guy down low that's a monster that we could throw it to?  Sure, but that's an easy excuse," Mick told me.  "We just have to do a better job of moving the basketball.  The key to making shots is taking easy ones.  I need to do a better job of coaching our guys so that our passing improves.  As our passing improves, we'll make plenty of shots."

Additionally, the Bearcats need to get more offense out of their defense.  Last year in a 71-55 win over Notre Dame, the 'Cats had 11 steals.  In Monday's 66-60 loss, UC only managed two steals and 21 deflections (UC's goal is 40).

"We're constructed to play in the passing lanes, run up and down, and stay on the attack," said Cronin.  "We need to be on the attack.  The key for us is to get into transition."

At one point last year, the Bearcats lost three straight Big East games to fall to 5-4 in league play.  After that, they did not lose back-to-back games for the rest of the season. 

There are at least 16 games remaining this season, and Cronin and the 'Cats will look to get back on the winning track on Saturday at Rutgers.    

"When you're coaching basketball, it's never as bad as it seems when your team is struggling and it's never as good as it seems when your team is winning - that's why you have to watch the film and evaluate," Mick told me.

"They don't give away wins in this league.  We have to take it as a learning experience and do what we have to do to get better."

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

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

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

First Week in the BIG EAST

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At the end of the first week of competition for the women's basketball team in the BIG EAST, there are some bright spots, despite the 0-2 record. And there's certainly more than enough to build upon in the weeks to come in conference play.

First, Sunday's game against Villanova was one of the best-played games I've seen the Bearcats involved in, and I'm in my seventh year of working home games. Their defense was outstanding and they went toe to toe against a Villanova team that had height, and bench advantages. The only time they trailed was at the end of the game. As Coach Jamelle Elliott said later in the week, they need to learn how to close it out. That will come. Still, it was a win that got away.

Wednesday's game against Seton Hall, well, I think the players will admit that it wasn't the best showing from the Bearcats. A sluggish first half came back to bite them in the second, despite Dayeesha Hollins' three-point barrage that gave UC the lead midway in the second. The defense wasn't the same, but again, it's a chance for the team to learn and improve next time.

Injuries again have taken their toll--Coach Elliott has had to use eight different starters (so far) because of the injury bug. But out of injuries come opportunities. And it's an opportunity that Alexis Durley has taken complete advantage of.  As I like to say, she's like Archie Bell and the Drells--from Houston, Texas (Google it if you don't get the musical reference)--and while she may be a freshman, she doesn't play like one. The game is not too big for her and she has stepped up big, on the big stage. She's a great back court partner to Hollins.

So now, it's on the road for the Bearcats, first facing a South Florida team that just took Notre Dame to overtime this past week. They won't be back home until January 22 against DePaul, but next Friday, January 18, they'll be playing Louisville at the Yum! Center. I'm planning to travel there to cheer on the 'Cats--you should think about it too.

And just a personal note, thanks to the staff and crew at Fox Sports Ohio and to my broadcast partner, @Tommy_G, for televising the UC-Seton Hall game Wednesday. I love the fact that women's basketball gets regular television exposure from Fox Sports Ohio, and it's always fun working with Tom Gelehrter. Looking forward to our next game!   

The Inside the Bearcats Podcast returns as I head to the ESPN1530 studios to chat with UC football/basketball engineer/play-by-play/talk-show host and versatile member of the Cincinnati media, Mo Egger.

We dissect all things UC basketball right now from the comfort in being discounted nationally, what evolution of Shaq Thomas could mean, impact of Justin Jackson's benching and the never-ending topic of the effect of the schedule.

Also, we veer off into Mo's brush with Dennis Rodman, the concept of the double-dip buffet, Charlie Manuel's texting ability and the grand honor of winning the Atlantic Division.

Much thanks to Mo for his time, which ended up being more than he probably bargained for, and I'm extremely grateful. Of course, you can read his blog here or follow him on Twitter here or listen to him on ESPN1530 pretty much every day from 3-6 p.m. Enjoy.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.9.13

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For those of you who see these occasional journeys into the statistical abyss and pound the scroll button faster than pressing back-back-A while playing with Scorpion in a game of Mortal Kombat, be warned. I'm going in today.

Been thinking about the progress made with the passing game against Notre Dame and the effect a great passing attack can have on a defense, ala, the Irish offense. All of that means consistently playing with a higher assist percentage to create higher percentage shots.

I was wondering, as I often do, how much effect does assist percentage have on field goal percentage and true offensive efficiency for this year's Bearcats. So, to gauge it, I took the 10 game against who I would consider non-cupcakes and looked at the connection between assisting on a high number of baskets and what percentage of shots were made.

Here's what I came up with, UC's assists percentage against non-cupcakes:

  • Opponent: FGs/Assists -- Assist percentage -- FG percentage
  • Iowa State: 25/11 -- 44% -- 42%
  • Oregon: 24/13 -- 54% -- 38%
  • Alabama: 23/7 -- 30% -- 39%
  • Marshall: 29/14 -- 48% -- 45%
  • Xavier: 21/8 -- 38% -- 33%
  • Wright State: 26/12 -- 46% -- 38%
  • New Mexico: 20/11 -- 55% -- 31%
  • Pittsburgh: 21/7 -- 33% -- 41%
  • St. John's : 19/8 -- 42% -- 31%
  • Notre Dame: 23/18 -- 78% -- 47%
  • OVERALL: 231/109 -- 47% -- 38%
--- Here's my main takeaway from these numbers. Consider the top five of the 10 games in assist percentage: 1. ND, 2. New Mexico, 3. Oregon, 4. Marshall 5. Wright State

Four of those (ND, Marshall, Oregon, Wright State) ended up being in the top six of field goal percentage. The other one? That was New Mexico where UC missed an absurd 21 shots in the paint inside 10 feet. (Top 5 games in FG%: 1. ND, 2. Marshall, 3. Iowa State, 4. Pitt, T5. Wright State/Oregon)

--- Now, UC's proven it can hit a high percentage of its shots without a great assist rate, as seen with Pittsburgh and Alabama, but those are the only two games where the field goal percentage was higher than the assist percentage. For the majority of the time, this team isn't hitting a high efficiency of shots when creating one-on-one. In essence, all these numbers back up a basic principle of basketball, playing one-on-one off the dribble will never equal as efficient an offense as breaking down the defense and moving the ball around.

--- That appears to be a principle that UC learned on Monday against Notre Dame with their relatively astronomical assist numbers. Mick Cronin said the passing was also much better at practice on Sunday. Making the extra pass and being dedicated to finding the easiest shot instead of forcing up contested jumpers off one-on-one breakdowns seems to be the difference for this offense finding its way. All the numbers here back that up.

---  In the end many of these
percentages are within a few points of each other. They amount to about two or three baskets per game, probably. When you consider the majority of Big East games are decided by single digits, you be the judge how important this development could be.

--- Enough of the journey into a statistical wonderland, on to some randomness ...

--- Shout out to WR Kenbrell Thompkins, who said on Twitter he has been selected to The NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

--- This is why you have The Big Lead.

--- Pittsburgh pulled out of its spiral for a 28-point win at Georgetown last night. The Big East will continue to do what the Big East always does in its swan song basketball year. These teams always beat each other up and anybody who can crack 60 percent winning percentage will be sitting pretty.

--- The Wall Street Journal
weighs paid vs. unpaid internships. Wait, there were paid internships?

--- Apparently the sharks
and other fish didn't find Ray Lewis' dance disrespectful, or I assume they would have eaten this dude.

--- The concept of watching Jim Leyland attempt to figure out how to get a cell-phone signal at Comerica Park makes me support this new idea 100 percent.

--- As always, shoot me your comments, questions or disdain for statistical overkill to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

In the meantime, it's Jimmy Page's birthday and Led Zep is still doing it with this Celebration Day concert release. Better believe I would still wait in line to see these guys.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.8.13

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Every once in a while us opinionated media folks need to eat a bit of crow. Anybody believing in the Golden Domers and questioning the powers of The Saban in the days leading up to the national championship will be doing so today. They'll be easy to spot, look for the slumped shoulders and palms facing toward the sky.

That narrative won't be me today -- though, I did think Notre Dame would stay competitive into the second half.

I opened my column from last night's Notre Dame game joking about how I was called a "relentless optimist" on The Twitters by one of my followers. I was trying to paint it as a joke directed at myself, which I took as such when it was sent to me. Don't think I did a great job of portraying that I knew it was a joke and it probably came off as angry, thin-skinned or maybe just bitter. Either way, I want to officially apologize to that particular follower, who is actually one of my favorites to interact with. As anybody who reads this blog I hope knows, I can take a joke, just didn't convey that message very well.

UCND.jpgSo, there's that.

Moving on, let's eat ...

--- Occasionally, a team needs to point across the court, give the thumbs up and move forward. That's the case with UC against the Irish last night. They made almost every big play and most of them came with one second remaining in the shot clock.

After the game, Mike Brey said he believes he owns the best backcourt in America behind Jerian Wright and Eric Atkins. That's up for debate, but they looked the part.

Won't see ball movement much better than that at the college level.

"We really love moving the ball," Mike Brey said. "We like passing it and enjoy how we can get people out of position. Tonight we had some amazing possessions."

--- UC did a great job on Jack Cooley. He came in averaging 15.2 points and 11.2 boards and the UC bigs contained him to 11 points and 8 rebounds, only two offensive (he leads the nation on offensive rebounding percentage). That tied for his lowest rebound total of the year and tied for his second-lowest point output of the year.

Cheikh Mbodj with four blocks to go with his eight points.

For those who question the Bearcats bigs, thought they rose to the occasion last night defensively.

--- Justin Jackson did not play. Mick Cronin called it a "coach's decision" after the game. Jackson struggled of late and became the latest victim Cronin repeating that effort and energy will decide who plays and who doesn't. This was a message from Mick to #MeanFace, and really everyone. No spot is irreplaceable.

The previous two games Jackson totaled four points and four rebounds with six fouls in 36 minutes of play. While Mick didn't expand much on his decision, all he did when asked about it was reiterate an earlier comment that his team has two rules -- play with great effort and have a great attitude.

"You can figure it out," Cronin said. "Two rules in this program when comes to basketball."

--- Loved Mick talking about C Kelvin Gaines, who played 11 effective minutes last night.

"It's the best he's ever played: four rebounds in 11 minutes. He got a big stick back in the lane. He did a great job of trapping. He got tired. That's the only reason he came out and David went in was Kelvin was going to pass out. He was literally going to pass out. I saw him running down the floor gasping for air."

Those tied for his most minutes this season and the most in any Big East game.

"In his defense, he hasn't played those kinds of minutes," Cronin continued. "That's the challenge for him is to always get him to where he can use his athleticism and make multiple efforts in a row. He has great athleticism. It has been a three-year project with conditioning with our strength and condition coach."

--- Shaq Thomas with a career high 24 minutes. Underrated stat line of the night: 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 0 turnovers. More on him coming later this week.

--- Good to see Mike DeCourcy in the house, even though he views the Bearcats as spiraling. Of course, Mick couldn't feel more at home as critics begin to feast.

"We are used to being in this spot," Cronin said. 'I'm used to people second-guessing me as the coach of Cincinnati and I'm used to people bagging it on our team, national people thinking we are not any good. So, we are right back to where we are comfortable."

Thumbnail image for BigHeads.JPG--- Paul Daugherty writes that there is plenty of time for UC to fix their problems. As I pointed out in my column, each of the last two seasons everyone buried UC and left them for dead later in the season than this. How'd those turn out?

--- Props to the student section for a few creative big heads last night.

--- Liked UC's blacked out jerseys. Think the grey used on the name needs to be clearer, it was nearly impossible to read, but as a whole they were pretty fresh.

--- Pregame fireworks again surprised me. One of these days I'll remember the explosions are coming and not be surprised by the heat trimming my eyebrows.

--- UC Dance Team killed it at halftime with a hip-hop dance routine. Popping, locking and acrobatics. It was like 20 female Jabbawockeez. Yes, I will miss the canceled ABDC and I can admit it.

--- President Ono had his head shaved after the game as Marty Brennaman came down to emcee the event. Great stuff, greater cause. Please donate to Dragonfly and the inspirational work they do for kids with cancer.

--- Couple football notes, congrats to redshirt freshman RT Parker Ehinger, who was named Freshman All-America by the FWAA.

--- UC finished the season ranked No. 22 in the Coaches Poll.

--- Mr. Cincinnati, J.K. Schaffer signed a two-year deal with the Bengals yesterday. Great for him, have a good feeling he'll break camp with the club next year as special teamer.

--- ESPN's final power rankings place UC second behind Louisville.

--- Syracuse's Doug Marrone will be the Buffalo Bills head coach. The latest proof that going 5-2 in the Big East means you are ready for the NFL, apparently.

Some randomness ...

--- Brent Musburger did his thing last night. I think the second "whoa!" took the 70-year-old man officially into the creep category.

--- Our food tastes are ahead of the curve in Cincinnati, at least according to Wine Me, Dine Me.

--- The NY Times hits on a concerning trend I've touched upon this space a few times.

--- Remember the time you were hanging in the garage working on the car and were attacked by a bobcat? We've all been there, right?

--- Like this Drake/Rihanna song, then saw this video and want someone to explain the random bull. Was this originally a Merrill Lynch ad? Did he get loose on set and they just decided to go with it? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

Have a great day everybody and, of course, shoot me any questions, comments, bull videos to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.

The other day I was accused of being an relentless optimist on The Twitters. I took some offense to that. I personally believe I focus on truth, logic and context. Those often become lost in the knee-jerk world of college fanaticism, social media and FireMyHeadCoach.Com.

Guess I'll feed into the stereotype tonight, but so be it. The truth often shines brighter than the final numbers beaming off the scoreboard --- in this case, Notre Dame 66, Cincinnati 60.

The Bearcats lost to a Fighting Irish team who beat each of their last 11 opponents by double figures, including Kentucky, Purdue, Seton Hall and BYU. They lost as players like Jerian Grant hit hanging NBA jumpers with the clock expiring for demoralizing daggers. Notre Dame moved the ball with the precision and speed of a customized pinball machine.

Notre Dame belongs among the country's elite. Results and the eye test agree with the thought Monday.

The Bearcats, on the flip side, lost three of four, with all three coming at home. Seven second-half turnovers doomed them.

Looking beyond the score reveals a more encouraging, perhaps essential truth. This season will ultimately be defined by the evolution of an often-convoluted offense. That offense took an important step Monday.

UC dished out 18 assists on 23 baskets. They entered 251st in the country in points assisted on. Ideally, UC could move the ball with the brutal efficiency of the Irish and their mature, basketball IQ Masters students. They aren't there yet. And probably won't be, but if they share as well as they did Monday, they will win more than a fair share.

"Our passing was way better than it's been in a month," Mick Cronin said.

Despite being held to only five points, Cashmere Wright effected the game with the pass dishing out eight assists to one turnover. Shaq Thomas provided encouraging minutes with five points, two assists, one block and three rebounds in 24 minutes. Kelvin Gaines offered the best basketball he's played at UC as Justin Jackson sat out because of a coach's decision.

All 10 players scored a point because ball movement more often than not allowed the open shot to be obvious instead of a hurried indecision.

That's how you end up with 46.2 percent shooting, the highest field goal percentage since Dec. 8 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

The effort wasn't without fault, the engine hardly hummed with Corvette beauty. But it was also far from the messy confusion of the previous few weeks.

"I told the guys I've lost games before, nobody goes undefeated, it's how you play," Cronin said. "We have two rules, you give great effort and you have great attitude. Thought we had both tonight. Technically, we got to clean some things up and make some more free throws. When your team does that to me that's how I look at things. You are going to be able to build a program and win a multitude of games if you have great effort and great attitude."

The offseason and non-conference prognostications of Big East title runs and talk of trips to Atlanta officially now give way to the cold reality of surviving this conference grind. A defense that held Notre Dame to 12 points less than their season average --- despite a slew of poorly executed rotations allowing open 3-pointers --- could be enough to carry this team into the conversation. A more efficient offense could help them rise above it.

"It's the Big East now," Sean Kilpatrick said, after leading UC with 15 points. "That's something we have to really sit here and figure out now. It's not like it's December anymore, it's January."

Clearly, they aren't there yet --- Grant's NBA audition tape made sure of that. But as the critics begin to swirl like vultures, the Bearcats do find themselves in a familiar role seen on a seemingly annual basis around Fifth Third Arena.

"We are used to being in this spot," Cronin said. 'I'm used to people second-guessing me as the coach of Cincinnati and I'm used to people bagging it on our team, national people thinking we are not any good. So, we are right back to where we are comfortable."

This is the same group most left for dead after a three-game losing streak last January. Two years ago, the season obits were written on Feb. 13 after a loss to St. John's supposedly stole any NCAA tournament hope.

Both those seasons concluded with wins in The Dance and progression of a program. The story of this season wasn't written Monday night, but a chapter about fixing the offensive puzzle was - despite what the scoreboard read.

I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) with any questions, comments or analysis or call me names on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.7.12

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First off, let's open with essentials. Tonight's game against Notre Dame starts at 6:30 p.m. That time has been moved from the original time of 7 p.m. so the ND basketball game doesn't overlap the national championship game tonight.

MickBlackout.jpgAlso, tonight's game against Notre Dame is a blackout. We need everybody in black and I'm sure DJ Magnificent will be breaking out some Johnny Cash if Mick comes out like he did for the last blackout. (h/t TG on the photo)

Personally, looking forward to Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery and Sean McDonough on the call. Not officially a Big Monday tilt, but the Big Monday team will be in the house.

Here are a collection of Raftery's finest sayings from last year's Big East tournament. Latest chance to scratch off bucket list "hearing Raf make an Onions call live." I'll only be three seats down tonight, so crossing the fingers on the way in.

Let's eat ...

---  Tough home loss to St. John's on Saturday. That team continues to give UC fits. Some of the most frustrating losses of the Mick's UC revival have come at the hands of the Johnnies. The Rashad Bishop last second turnover heave came at STJ. The lane violation game, the buzzer tip in last year and the one-point loss Saturday.

Not going to rehash it, if you want to please read Ashley Davis' take from the blog this weekend. She looks at what Mick felt the team needed to work on going forward.

Also, Scott from Bearcats Blog did a nice job analyzing some of the offensive issues.

--- Bill Koch writes about Cronin's message as well: Choose to be great.

--- One element to her piece I wanted to expound on was the shooting woes of Sean Kilpatrick lately. Mick went forward talking about how the last thing he's worried about is SK's offense. I can say I live in that same boat. Of all those to worry about, he's not one. Shooting percentages fluctuate but the water typically rises to about the same level.

I took a look at his advanced stats compared to previous years and saw only a few major differences that can help explain the biggest difference, which is his dip in 3-point percentage from 37.6 last season to currently 32.7 percent.

Most of his dip came from a recent slide since the Marshall game where he's made just 11 of 47 from deep for 23.4 percent. As rare an event as we've seen since SK showed up in Cincy.

An argument I've heard is that SK needs to attack more. Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that used to be a constant topic of conversation. He's actually doing a better job of attacking the basket vs. shooting 3s this year.

Last season he shot 245 3-pointers to 187 2-pointers.

This season he's shot 104 3-pointers to 114 2-pointers. He's actually dribbling in and attacking more than last year. Also, his FT rate has jumped significantly (with much help from 16 for 16 against Iowa State). He's done a better job of drawing contact.

Outside of the fact shooting slumps happen, one of the biggest differences would probably be the Bearcats low assist rate as a team. They rank 231st in the country in percentage of points that were assisted. There's a lot of 1-on-1 and, typically, when the shot clock gets low and 1-on-1 time comes, the ball funnels to SK to make something happen. Hence, a high number of contested 3-pointers as teams now guard him much closer to force him to attack the basket.

Remember, his reputation arriving at UC was as a slasher. Since his emergence as an offensive star last year the scouting report changed, we are partially seeing a residual of that in his numbers.

--- I'd also like to point out I fully expect a hot streak to offset this cold streak and when it comes UC will be as tough to beat as any team in the country with the way they play defense. This defense now ranks third nationally in efficiency.

--- Taking a look at Notre Dame tonight, this will be UC's toughest test to date.

Consider: Since losing to St. Joe's on Nov. 16 for their sole loss of the season, the Irish beat every team they've faced (11-0) by double figures. That includes BYU, Kentucky, Purdue, Seton Hall.

They have been steamrolling folks.

--- They do a fantastic job on offense of moving the ball, working from inside-out with intimidating bigs. Jack Cooley leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and is as beastly scoring down low as any player in the conference. He's had at least 14 points and 8 rebounds in every game except for one this year.

Cheikh Mbodj, Justin Jackson and David Nyarsuk will have their hands full attempting to keep ND off the glass. Keep an eye on OR% tonight. If UC can keep ND under 35 percent that would be a big win.

"We better become a really good defensive team again and a really good rebounding team or we will be in trouble Monday night," Cronin said.

--- How about Cashmere Wright. He's become UC's most efficient offensive scorers and doing a much better job of finding the balance between assists, scoring and not turning the ball over. That's a hard transition to make to go from primarily a facilitator to primarily a scorer. His more aggressive offensive style endured some growing pains with turnovers earlier in the season, but is flowering lately.

He hasn't committed more than two turnovers in a game since Dec. 6. Also, he's 23 of 47 from 3-point range over his last seven games (49 percent).

This ESPN story called him one of the most underrated players in the country. No doubt.

--- Shout out to my #unigeek crowd. Here's a look at the special Adidas Blackout Uniforms UC will be sporting tonight against ND.

--- After tonight's game President Ono will be shaving his head to pay up on a bet when he said he would do it, ala Marty Brennaman, if the football or basketball team won 10 straight games. It's clipper time tonight. Proceeds will go to the DragonFly Foundation and you can donate while at the game or through text. All your details are here. Please think about donating to this fantastic cause.

--- Not that UC is worried about the luster of beating Pitt, but the Panthers losing at Rutgers didn't help. Of course, UC needs to go to Rutgers on Saturday. The RAC is a tough spot to play, especially against this gritty, veteran team. That will be no fun.

--- Still wondering how D'angelo Harrison's heave found net.

--- Some randomness ...

--- Few things boil the blood quite like a ketchup confrontation, apparently.

--- UC fans should keep their head up after Saturday, hey, you could be North Carolina. Yikes.

--- Not sure why Alf would be a Redskins fan, but they must have only been able to tune in to Washington from planet Melmac (kids, ask your parents).

--- Arcade Fire with a new album coming out. I'm in. 

--- Don't know if any of you took my recommendation and watched Jerry Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," but it's coming back for a second season. Watch it, you'll like it.

--- Bill Cosby and Tempsett Bledsoe reunited on Jimmy Fallon. Wonder if Cos is still mad about The Wretched concert.

--- What if the NHL lockout ended and nobody even knew. Congrats, NHL, you've managed to somehow make yourself even more irrelevant.

--- Remember, 6:30 tip tonight, wear black, rebound. See you there. Here's Johnny.


The Bearcats only scored 52 points against St. John's, but Mick Cronin's concerns going forward revolve around hustle to grab rebounds and effort on the defensive end more than an inconsistent offense.

By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com

The Bearcats started the season with 12 straight wins largely because of their hustle and ability to play with high intensity, especially on the defensive side. However, a lack of intensity hurt them in their home Big East opener on Saturday, a 53-52 loss to St. John's.

"We got outplayed [for] 35 minutes," head coach Mick Cronin said emphatically in his postgame press conference. "We had one and a half guys come to play today. When that happens, you're going to lose."

The one and a half guys Cronin referred to were Cashmere Wright and Titus Rubles. Wright led the Bearcats with 23 points, 10 rebounds and tied Oscar Robertson for fourth on the all-time career assists list. Rubles showed some life late in the game, scoring 11 of his 14 points in the second half.

Although Cash played impressively, he knows the team as a whole got outplayed in almost every aspect.

"Point blank, they just beat us to every loose ball," he said. "Every rebound that came off, that got tipped, they got it. They just outplayed us."

Cronin saw three specific areas that can use improvement for future games: defense, rebounding and turnovers.

"We gave up 34 points in the paint and only scored 18, we got out rebounded and we had 11 turnovers in the first half," he said. "That's the three things that matter."

He might be most upset about his team's ability, or lack thereof, to rebound. He obviously wasn't happy about the fact his point guard had the most offensive rebounds.

"I got Justin, Cheikh, Titus, Dave and Kelvin [with a] combined two offensive rebounds," he said. "Cashmere Wright's got three. That's the problem."

Sloppy turnovers also hurt the team. Whether it was passes out of bounds, traveling or stepping on the sideline, the Bearcats seemed careless with the ball and it came back to bite them in the form of easy transition layups by the Red Storm.

"There's no excuse to have nine turnovers at Pittsburgh and have 16 at home, other than one and a half guys came to play," Cronin said.

Cronin sees turnover mistakes, but fans might be inclined to blame Sean Kilpatrick's shooting slump for the Bearcats' lack of offense. He struggled to make shots at Pittsburgh last Monday and continued to struggle against St. John's, shooting 3-14 from the floor, including an un-Kilpatrick-like 0-5 from three-point range.

However, Cronin's not worried about SK's shooting going forward. He's more concerned about SK's defense.
"[Kilpatrick] gave no support on the best player in the Big East with the game on the line," Cronin said. "That's what I'm worried about."

The high-intensity, in-your-face defense Cincinnati is known for made an appearance late in  the second half when the Red Storm did not score for five consecutive minutes, from 7:01 to 1:59. But for the most part, it was almost non-existent.

Cronin knows the defensive intensity needs to return for the entire game against Notre Dame and he will most certainly preach that to his team between now and 6:30 on Monday night. It's just up to the players to respond.

"We better become a really good defensive team again and a really good rebounding team or we'll be in trouble Monday night," Cronin said. "Welcome to college basketball. The team that plays really hard, plays defense and rebounds is probably going to win. That's the reality."

There will be two familiar faces on the floor for those who scour recruiting message boards, including shot blocker extraordinaire Chris Obekpa, but Saturday's game will be about UC honing focus on the grind of the BIg East than any recruiting battle.

By Joe Gryniewski/Special to GoBearcats.com

When the No.14 Bearcats welcome St. John's to Fifth Third Area on Saturday at 4 p.m., they are going to be facing the best shot blocking team in the Big East. With them comes a player head coach Mick Cronin knows all too well. Freshman forward, Chris Obekpa, was a player Cronin heavily coveted during last year's recruiting season.

Obekpa has become a force defensively for the Johnnies, by suffocating shooters, and showing flashes of the shot blocking potential that caught Mick Cronin's eye. While St. Johns currently ranks last in total team defense, Obekpa has been the lone bright spot, as he leads the country in blocked shot percentage while averaging 5.2 blocks per game. Cronin isn't surprised.

"He is a great shot blocker," he said. "Is, has been and always will be."

However, Cronin isn't concerning himself with Obekpa, as he has his eyes squarely focused on the task of shutting down St. Johns on Saturday. Truth be told, coaching against a recruit who chose another school happens every game in the Big East.

The same coaches fill the same AAU gyms and drool over the same players.

"I like a lot of guys during recruiting," Cronin said. "In recruiting, you lose way more than you win."

While the pursuit of Obekpa drew headlines on many scouting boards, the UC coach said what the media didn't know was he probably recruited Obekpa's teammate Jakarr Sampson harder. Averaging 13.7 points and 6.7 rebounds for St. John's the attention was well placed.

In order to avoid a repeat of what occurred last year against this group, he'll need to be concerned about much more than a few recruiting battles. Last year, the Bearcats suffered a home defeat to St. Johns following a big win against Notre Dame. Cronin is looking to avoid having the same fate as UC comes off of a Monday night win in Pittsburgh.

"We came out flat and got caught sleeping," said Cronin. "It's important for us to stay focused on one game at a time."

Nobody realistically expects to go undefeated in the Big East. There will be peaks and valleys. Cronin knows that to avoid the drastic dips, the leaders on this basketball team will need to convey the importance of playing every game with the same level of intensity as the last. With a veteran team containing strong leadership from Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick that tends to take care of itself.

The attitude can't change, though. Cronin believes the team needs to "come out ready to play the best game of the year, each and every night."

This will be a tough task, playing against players like Obekpa, Sampson and sophomore Guard D'Angelo Harrison, whom Cronin believes to be "the best scorer in the Big East."

As far as playing against Obekpa, it doesn't register on a radar packed with larger concerns.

"No big deal," Cronin said.

The game itself has become just that -- a huge deal for the Bearcats to test their ability to avoid the normal trap games and pitfalls of a season, the game proves to be a major benchmark for the No. 14 Bearcats.

New Year, New Coach, New Conference

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Now that 2012 is our rear view mirror and we have exhaled a bit, what does the new year hold for the University of Cincinnati athletic department and more important, the cash cow aka the football team. Coach Tommy Tuberville is in place and now so is his staff; but what's not in place is a conference worthy of UC. No i'm not sounding arrogant as if UC deserves to be in a mega conference by default, but at least we know that they don't deserve to be in a souped up Conference USA. As Boise State retreats back to its original conference and the other Big East schools enjoy their swan song, UC is still on the outside looking in for now.

I agree with my good friend and colleague Dan Hoard that the dust hasn't settled but what I haven't seen, maybe because its confidential, is the full court press of some of UC's finest alums in the marketing world on board. I think for UC to land wherever they think they want to go, they have got to become attractive to other conferences in more ways than one. We are the home of P&G, the biggest advertising juggernaut in the world. Packaging firms like LPK and ad agencies like Northlich reside here and have a global respect and identity for raising the profile of some of the most powerful brands on the planet, so why not market UC athletics? Why not treat them as the brand and the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 as stores where you want product placement? Any good salesman will tell you that you have to have a product worth selling, and UC is. They will also tell you that product needs marketing and promotions and that's where the cream of the crop corporations mentioned above come in. Repackage UC, rebrand the athletic department, resurrect the successful and historic past and roll it out en masse.

I am convinced the brilliant marketing minds in this city and the UC marketing wunderkinds around the world and those who cut their teeth at DAAP can put a one of a kind athletic makeover together to make UC the most attractive team outside a major conference with an automatic BCS bid. It's the way of the world today that marketing matters even in conference courting. And I'm not naive either, money does too. The goal is to assemble the best TV markets to get the best TV packages, to get the most money possible. (Side note) But kids stay in college to get an education and don't chase money is still preached, counter to the actions of college presidents and universities in this day and time. Sadly UC has to dive in this money pit if they want the perks that come with the being one of the big boys.

UC has part of it in place with President Santa Ono in that he wants to be here; and he has a social media presence that can rally people worldwide. You may take issue with it but I don't. Kids that are looking to connect with a university knowing they can connect with the President is a plus. I just saw a retweet he gave an incoming student on twitter. How many people saw, retweeted or talked about that? I don't know but its priceless. So lets get in gear with the rebranding of our athletic department and understand many of P&G's products were reinvented that were already profitable but they did it so they could remain that way going into the future. Ahh the future...I see a new U C on the horizon but only if we market ourselves as the best university a BCS conference doesn't have. As they said about the 6 million dollar man: "We have the tools to rebuild..."

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

Dribbling with David

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If you watched the telecast of UC's game at Pitt Dec. 31, you know that "The General" Bob Knight was highly complimentary of 7-foot-1 David Nyarsuk's second-half play off the bench.

Nyarsuk had several key rebounds to help the Bearcats chew the clock down along with some key bank shots and a dunk.  In the box score, it might not have looked like much. 

In terms of timing, it was clutch.

For that and some information on the first sport Nyarsuk ever played, I stopped by Mick Cronin's laboratory Thursday afternoon to speak with the tallest Bearcat ever.  (Nyarsuk trivia: Believe it or not, David was the second-biggest player on Mountain State's roster last year.  Teammate Paul Sturgess came off the bench at 7-foot-8.)

Thumbnail image for TGbobble2.JPGThe Inside the Bearcats Podcast opens the new year by welcoming back Tom Gelehrter, UC Director of New Media and Broadcasting as we discuss the football season that was, wild Belk Bowl, Travis Kelce's future, football storylines for 2013 then jump into basketball for the second half of the program to talk about the win against Pittsburgh, the David Nyarsuk development and home games against St. John's (Saturday, 4 p.m.) and Notre Dame (Monday, 6:30 p.m.).

Also, we tangentially touch on Tommy G's bedazzled mic, the three-stimulus listening method, tweeting self-baby pics and, the latest bobblehead to grace Tommy's collection. As you can see here, TG received a bobblehead of himself and it seems I look remarkably like Travis Hafner. So, this photo is merely a dramatization of what the podcast actually looked like.

For reference, football talk goes until about the 24-minute mark and the final 14 minutes focus on basketball and other random ramblings. Enjoy.

Bearcats Mailblog 1.2.13

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New year, new set of questions to hit on the mailbag. And though technically some of these questions were submitted in 2012, we can't predict our future without first understanding our past, people!

Great to hear from all of you and keep the questions coming. I'll do my best to keep answering them, whether in emails back to you, on Twitter or here in the mailblog.

Hit me up at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or as always you can shoot me a line on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. I want to make sure I open this new year by saying how gracious I am to all of you for reading the blog, listening to the podcasts, commenting on the videos, interacting on Twitter and sending in emails. You make this blog go and I couldn't do it without you.

I try to be as accessible as anybody in the city and keep what's happening at UC a fun, transparent experience - at least within my roped off areas, anyway. I think we've done that here and spread the word to those who don't know so we can keep making this bigger and better.

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Enough gushing, let's answer some questions ...

From Tyler: Love the blog, read it every morning. (Had to say it, I would have felt strange not saying it)

I was curious if we could get any locker room footage of the guys after the game, I would have loved to have seen what their celebration was, if any, after the shootout. I know the football team gets a lot of locker room coverage with coaches pregame/halftime/postgame speeches as well as the Got the Dub song. I wasn't sure if Mick just wasn't a fan of letting cameras into the locker room or what was going on. I am a big fan, I'm not sure if everyone would like to see this so maybe I am just crazy. Thought I'd drop a line though with a tip like you suggested at the end of your blog.


I will agree, Butch Jones' spasmic dancing in the Get the Dub videos continues to be the greatest videos I've seen in the past year or two. Nothing quite lifts the lid on the inner-workings of a team like the emotional moments following a big win.

Those videos are strictly brought to you through the exclusive access Tommy G gets as New Media Director. They are great, but it's different with 15 guys in a locker room for basketball as opposed to 105 for football. Mick's current setup is to bring two or three players to the podium before he steps up there himself. Some coaches choose to open the locker room for 10 minutes after a game - I know Rick Pitino has done that - but that doesn't mean you would get the same partying videos you referenced from football. Those periods when the media come in would likely be more subdued. Basketball will always be harder to capture that type of thing, in my opinion.

And actually, a lot of their best celebrations are captured on the court. This team loves to jump in the student section and give high-5s to fans after home game wins. Mean Faces for everyone! One of the best reasons to head down to Fifth Third and jam the building.

From Sid: I completely agree with your analysis. Then taken in its totality (financial, tradition, marketing and fan experience), the case for renovating Nippert is sound indeed. As an alum, former player and 30 year season ticket holder I applaud this plan. This is a great long-term solution to modernize the grand old stadium. But what about the short-term? It is entirely unacceptable that one should miss an entire quarter of football (literally) in order to use the restroom or get a hot dog. Long time season ticket subscribers see the plan to sell out every game as a double-edged sword. Sell outs mean a successful football program. They also mean not being able to use the bathroom or eat in the stadium without missing huge chunks of the game.

Sid, I can only state that your concerns regarding the crowds at concessions stands and bathrooms have been well heard by Whit Babcock. It's the top complaint he hears and one of the biggest reasons the new Nippert plan is designed to alleviate all that congestion on that side of Nippert. The new area will have skywalks and state of the art concession/bathroom areas with more space behind the current press box spot as well. Trust me, you'll love it. As for the short term, I know the operations folks are constantly working with ways to alleviate those problems including adding port-a-johns around the exterior and vendors at other points on the outskirts of the stadium. Having seen the plans for the new facility, though, let's all hope that project receives the funding sooner than later because it will be night and day from a fan standpoint.

From Larry: I am a former athlete from the early 60's and live in Charleston WV. I have season tickets and will continue to. I missed 1 game this year. Two games I absolutely hated last year were the two at PBS. It's not home to an old guy like me. My only home is Nippert Stadium. I sit with 5 former teammates.

From Greg: We need to accelerate the renovation of Nippert. Moving downtown would be terrible.  I have been to Pittsburgh and there is absolutely no,college feel. College football needs to be on campus.  We need to think and act like, the big boys!  OSU wouldn't consider moving football off campus.
Make it extremely easy to donate electronically to the effort. Get this,done then let's go do 5/3 arena next.

Larry and Greg,

Your sentiments are among the top reasons Babcock decided to plow forward with Nippert renovations rather than look further into moving games to PBS. In surveys of fans, students, players, coaches, nearly anyone at all associated with the program responded resoundingly they'd prefer to keep playing at Nippert Stadium. The unique on-campus feel makes UC football what it is. The connection between fans, players and Nippert couldn't be clearer to those who take a minute to investigate it.

Agreed, I've been to Pittsburgh and while the allure of playing in an NFL stadium can have its perks, the intimate, college feel trumps that.

As far as making it easy to contribute, trust me, once submissions are accepted you won't have any problem knowing how to donate. It certainly won't be difficult. If you are interested in giving money to the project, finding a medium to fork it over won't be a problem.

From Vince: I am an ex BEARCAT FOOTBALL PLAYER (Letter Winner) from 1970-1971 and GRADUATE from the College of Education.  We were 7-4 . . .  (2) Years in a Row.  This TEAM makes ME PROUD to be from the University of Cincinnati.  They demonstrate CHARACTER, COMMITMENT, CLASSROOM EXCELLENCE, FORTITUDE, and obvious TALENT. (10) WINS is AWESOME. They DESERVE it.  Stand TALL . . be ONE . . & WIN . . . BROTHERS!  We BELIEVE in YOU!


I know you didn't ask a question, but I wanted to add to your comments. This team didn't receive much of the credit it deserved. The group wasn't flashy or packed with pro prospects, but the heart and grit of the group stood among their best qualities. This team was as tight as any team I've seen and Jones even referenced such in a Tweet following their Belk Bowl victory. The heart they showed in dealing with the poaching of half the coaching staff before the bowl game blew me away. Goes to show what a group of focused student-athletes can pull off when facing adversity.

Sidenote: Notice in all these bowl games how nearly all the coaching staffs stuck around for the final game even if the coach left? Anybody notice NIU coach Dave Doeren actually attended his teams Orange Bowl game in the stands? Tommy Tuberville's new OC Eddie Gran finished the job as running backs coach for FSU. Yes, the NCAA system is beyond broke, but what happened with the coordinators and position coaches leaving before the bowl game lived on the shadier side of Ugly St. But that's enough of the past, let's move forward.

From Dan: Quick question, if you don't mind. I know we're obviously playing much, much faster than last year, but I was interested to hear what you think of the defense, and how it has managed to hold up despite the quicker style. Do you attribute that to our depth, and Cronin's ability to put fresh guys out there? Or just experience in the system?

Dan, defense boils down to 15 percent understanding rotations, 15 percent speed and athleticism and 70 percent heart and hustle. Cronin's rotations keep players fresh in the second half as other teams wear down. That's been apparent in their first half, second half splits against quality opponents. The experience of this group in understanding poor defense means time on the bench keeps the machine humming. But what makes this defense great is the pride taken in it from the leadership of the team. Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker set the tone that playing defense is cool. As anybody whose been in high school knows, if the cool kids say something is cool, guess what, it's darn cool and everyone will be doing it.

From Rick: do you know if ESPN is going to replay the Belk bowl? They are re-airing some other bowl games.

I don't know ESPN's exact schedule. Typically they will play back the best games of the bowl season this week and the Belk Bowl could be among those. What I would recommend to you would be to hit up their ESPN Watch page. Here is the link to the game replays section. You can scroll down to the Belk Bowl to watch all four hours of that Belk glory whenever you so choose on your device of choice.

Jordan: Hope that doesn't mean UC picks up another FCS team like when TCU bailed?

Unfortunately, Boise State's move back to the Mountain West hits UC hard for the 2013 schedule stealing away one of its top home dates. The Broncos were slated to come to Nippert Stadium. Instead, the Bearcats will now be hunting for another home opponent as they were last year. Depending on what the league's reaction will be to the Boise bolt, there could be a new conference foe slipped in there. Of course, as we all know now in conference realignment, all that could change next week. Hopefully, a second FCS opponent won't be in the works, I know Babcock didn't want to go that route last time, but being forced to find opponents this late in the game - particularly at home - can be a difficult task.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.1.13

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Happy New Year, Bearcats fans. Quite a great way to ring in the new year yesterday with another quality Big East win. UC picks up right where it left off last year.

In fact, they opened 2012 with a win at the Peterson Events Center and closed it the same way. Not sure how many can say they won twice in at The Pete in back-to-back season. Not many.

Of course, this team has proven its worth in Big East play the last three years. While we get so caught up in tradition when ranking programs within the conference, look no further than winning games when deciding whose the true beast of the conference now.

Here's a list of those with the most conference wins since the start of the 2010-11 season:
  • Syracuse -- 29
  • Notre Dame -- 27
  • Cincinnati -- 24
  • Marquette -- 23
--- Let's eat ...

--- Should we seem surprised that UC went into Pitt and won? Not at all. That said, considering the ragged state of the offense lately, doubt very much existed. A strong Pitt defense would seem to be a bad matchup as UC searches for consistent scoring. And again through the first 20 minutes the same problems of the previous four games prior to halftime showed up.

Not enough consistency finishing around the rim, not breaking the defense down enough with patience in sets and too much 1-on-1. It led to a 34-26 deficit. But yet another second-half surge changed all of that. Thanks to great play from Titus Rubles, David Nyarsuk and, of course, Cashmere Wright stepping up and hitting big shots, the attack opened up.

Consider this: Over the past five games here's the combined scores from first half to second half:

  • First half: 125-134
  • Second half: 199-142

In my head this has officially switched from an abnormality to trend. Placing the reason why only takes looking down the Bearcats bench. The depth and rotation Mick Cronin utilizes, particularly in resting players in the first half has proven time and again to wear down opponents.

I received a tweet questioning the rotation yesterday and only need to point to the second-half numbers as a reason why Cronin's rotations are working. The fresh legs, particularly with this pressing, pressure defense style the Bearcats use forces others in fatigue every game.

Look at yesterday's box score for example. Nine UC players logged at least 10 minutes. Only JaQuon Parker (36), Cashmere Wright (32) and Sean Kilpatrick (27) played more than 20 minutes. On the flip side, six Pittsburgh players logged at least 24 minutes. Combining the waves with the pressing style certainly showed itself yesterday. Hustling for loose balls and grabbing offensive rebounds -- particularly the two-minute stretch of three possessions that shortened the game -- alter the landscape.

"You can't simulate our quickness and depth," Cronin told Dan and Chuck on 700WLW yesterday. "We got so many winners on our team. To pick up full court the way we do is not easy. You got to recruit a certain type of kid and foster a culture within your program."

--- Tweeted out with about seven minutes left and a one-possession game that these would be a critical few minutes from David Nyarsuk. Little did I know it would become a defining few minutes for Nyarsuk.

He hustled for two critical offensive rebounds, hit three shots in the lane, blocked a shot and changed the dynamic with his inside presence. With minutes like that he makes a case for more minutes in the future and more of a split rotation with Cheikh Mbodj. Both own strengths and weaknesses, but Nyarsuk's touch around the rim for a 7-footer has been the most impressive aspect of his game from my angle.

--- Nobody changes the dynamics
of the offense like Titus Rubles. When he's attacking under control and effectively penetrating to the lane, UC's offense hits another level. I really think this team can go as far as his level rises.

From the first few games of the season I wrote about the need for another offensive weapon to emerge beyond the Three Amigos. Obviously, the need for an interior offensive force is no secret. Relying too much on the 3 and outside shots will get you beat more often than not, but Rubles' three assists and five points broke down the defense in a way even the UC guards can't because of his size to finish in the lane. He's the type of player the Bearcats haven't had in recent years, the long, athletic 4-man scorer. His contribution may have been underrated because it didn't stuff the stat sheet, but he affected the game as well as anyone on the floor.

--- UC hits the boards offensively as well as almost any team in the country. They grabbed 14 of 30 missed shots yesterday (46 percent offensive rebounds). They currently are 8th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 42.6 percent of their misses.

Pitt is the only team in the Big East with a better OR% number. UC held them to 41%, below their season average.

--- Jeff Borzello at CBSSports writes that people shouldn't underestimate UC despite their lack of style points. Of course, as seems to be the case at CBS these days, it came with a detracting, backhanded compliment at the end.

--- Boise State is apparently staying in the MWC, which opens up at date on UC's 2013 schedule and serves as the latest blow to the conference. That's the news, not much more that can be said about it.

--- New Mexico lost to St. Louis by 14?

Some randomness ...

--- Tweet of the day from Dan Hoard: "In 2012, the #Bengals, #Reds, #Bearcats and #Musketeers were 169-102 (.624) and all made the postseason. We've got it REALLY good."

--- My favorite headline of the day
: "The odious tyranny of chain restaurant middle managers"

--- The creator of the Bill Cosby sweater speaks. What I would give for Jell-O to re-rack The Cos in commercials. Has Super Bowl spot written all over it.

--- Have to go into the U2 vault today. Happy New Year, everybody. Let's hope 2013 proves as prosperous for UC athletics as 2012 was.