When Sean Kilpatrick watched footage of Sunday's lopsided
loss at Notre Dame, he felt like he was watching the wrong guys in the Cincinnati
"It didn't look like us at all," Sean told me."It didn't even feel right.Honestly, it didn't even feel like I had a
Bearcat jersey on - it just felt like I had a shirt on."
The Bearcats only scored 41 points - their lowest total
in Mick Cronin's seven years as head coach - and JaQuon Parker was the only
Cincinnati player to finish in double digits with 12.Kilpatrick scored a season-low 6 points, and
Cashmere Wright failed to score for only the second time in his last 113 games.
"We've really played one bad game this year," said
Coach Cronin."Our three best players
average 41 points a game and they got 18.When that happens, you're going to be in trouble.
"We need to get our main guys healthy and playing
well because they're the answer.I get a
lot of questions about production from Cheikh Mbodj, or David Nyarsuk, or this
guy or that guy - we have to make sure that we're getting Cash, JaQuon, and SK
open and getting the ball where they can make plays for us.That's the answer.For every team in basketball - high school,
college, or pro - your best players have to play well or you're not going to
win.So that's my focus.I have to do everything that I can to help
them play well."
Kilpatrick's scoring ability is especially vital to
Cincinnati's success.Sean is averaging
19.4 points in the Bearcats' wins this year, but only 13.6 in their
losses.The junior guard is fourth in
the Big East in scoring at 17.6 per game, despite being the focal point of
every opponent's defensive scouting report.
"It can be frustrating but then again, I like it,"
said Kilpatrick."It's making me a
better player and it means that people respect me for what I do on the
court.But it's tough.It's one of the hardest things that I've ever
had to overcome because this is the highest level of basketball that I've ever
played and to have two or three guys guarding you is really difficult."
Despite the constant defensive harassment,
Kilpatrick has managed to deliver.This
week, Sean was named one of 30 candidates for the
2013 Naismith College Player of the Year award and ESPN's Jay Bilas selected
Kilpatrick among his six "most clutch players" in college basketball.
"That's a strong statement coming from someone like
him," Sean told me."I thank my team for
that because they put me in those types of situations where I have the ball at
the end of games. I just try to make the
right plays and whatever is open is open."
After dropping five of their last six games, the
Bearcats are desperately in need of a win on Saturday vs. UConn to solidify
their hold on a NCAA Tournament berth.But Kilpatrick says he is not the least bit concerned with "bubble"
"All we can control is what happens in the next game
and that's what we're focusing on," said Kilpatrick."We're not worrying about the tournament or
anything like that.
"We know exactly what we're capable of.When things aren't going right, a lot of
people aren't going to be behind us, but we have each other and that's the best
thing about this team."
Hopefully, we'll all recognize the guys in the
Cincinnati uniforms on Saturday.
So much going on Saturday at the Varsity Village will be hard to keep up. Here's all the details on the men's/women's basketball doubleheader and baseball game all happening in a span of four hours.
You can get into the baseball game for free with your basketball ticket. Baseball should be throwing out the first home pitch of the season as those leaving the men's game walk along the outfield wall. Hey, it's free, might as well stop in. Don't forget your blankies, though -- mid to high 30s.
Plenty coming tomorrow on the blog including a story on baseball, I'll be hanging with Tubs as spring practice opens and have plenty of reaction from today's basketball media availability with Mick. For today, though, the fodder bucket is a little low.
We shall see, but he's been fighting some pain lately. Of course, he looked pretty painless in OT against UC. Regardless of health, there will be plenty of attention paid to 'Bazz on Saturday considering his last two games against UC he's dropped 27 each time. As Mick said on 700WLW earlier this week, "he sees us coming."
2. Isaiah Pead in line for more opportunities in St. Louis. Talked briefly with my guy in the St. Louis media trying to figure what was going on with #BestPlayerOnTheField last year and he said that was a matter of being beat out by seventh-rounder Daryl Jackson early in the season and never could jump back ahead of him. But, expectations are for plenty more chances for Pead next year as Steven Jackson looks to be on his way out of town.
Running backs are the most difficult position to project from college to the NFL. They are so reliant on factors out of their control when it comes to success on both levels, you never know who will be a stud and who will be a dud.
The two I believed to be the most sure-fire RBs for NFL success I covered were Knowshon Moreno and Pead.
I haven't been proven completely wrong on both yet, but neither off to the start I expected. Heck, maybe it's me, which certainly isn't out of the question.
Hoping to have @iPead on the podcast some time this summer. Love to talk to him not just because his NFL experience has been fascinating to this point, but, well, I just love talking to the dude -- he's got personality oozing out his high-top fade. He's perfect for a long pod.
3. The transformation of this offense is my No. 1 storyline entering spring football. Talked to TommyT a little about this on signing day and he inferred the switch from spread to pro style won't be as drastic as one might think. Says they'll be "multiple" in what they do. And, really, when you think about it, the Bearcats were more pro style than spread by the end of last year anyway. TE Travis Kelce was always on the field and they were pounding a heavy-hitting RB behind a tough offensive line the majority of the time. Still, different personnel pieces are necessary for what OC Eddie Gran and Tuberville have in mind. Look for plenty more on that topic in the coming weeks.
--- Had a long debate about this song last night and it's been stuck in my head ever since. One of the all-time classics.
Enjoy the day everybody and shoot any questions, comments or opinions on "Let's Get It On" as one of the most beloved opening five seconds of an R&B song ever to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
It'll be a busy seven days for UC women's athletics as we wind down women's basketball and crank up women's lacrosse. In the middle, women's tennis is on a nice three out of four win streak as they take a break before they face Louisville in a BIG EAST matchup on March 9.
First, the week of goodbye as the women's basketball program as the Bearcats hold Senior Day on Saturday in a men's and women's basketball doubleheader at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats will face Rutgers having won three of their last four as well. It's the last home game of the season for the Bearcats as they say goodbye to senior Lesha Dunn. After a rough first half of the BIG EAST season, the Bearcats have found their rhythm toward the end of the regular season. Here's hoping that can carry them into the conference tournament in March. That thrilling win over Marquette at home a couple of weeks ago seems to have given this team new life.
By the way, the men's team plays UConn in the first half of Saturday's doubleheader. If you have tickets to the men's game you can stay for the women's game for free. Take a few minutes and hang around for the women's game, watch the newest member of the 900 win club, C. Vivian Stringer from Rutgers, and say thanks to Lesha Dunn.
The 'hello' in the headline refers to women's lacrosse, and new head coach Gina Oliver. She comes to Clifton with quite a pedigree, as a member of the US women's national team. The lax team is 1-1 so far this young season and will have its home opener next Tuesday, March 5. If you haven't taken in a lacrosse game, stop by for a few minutes. I think you'll really enjoy the game.
So it's goodbye to senior Lesha Dunn, hello to new head coach Gina Oliver and a deserved week's rest for the women's tennis team. Busy few days ahead so make plans to take in one (or more) games over the next few days.
The uni-geeks and sports fashion aficionados are all freaking out ready to go all Joan Rivers on the release of the new Adidas postseason jerseys. That includes UC who last year wore the infared jerseys during their postseason run along with Louisville and Baylor.
The release of these at UC are set for Thursday, the Adidas Twitter folks are releasing one small piece at a time depending on how many retweets they get.
I'm not sure how I feel about this, but my opinion could not mean less, nor should it. Do the players like it? The end. They are the only ones that have to deal with it. For instance, they love wearing the current bleed-out black jerseys because they are so light and fit well. Meanwhile, cranky scribes like myself and the eight people still without HD TV hate it because it makes it difficult to make out names/numbers from afar.
As for what these sleeve jerseys will look like, likely they'll be some variation of these Adidas McDonald's All-American Jerseys.
So, there's that. Expect for the full UC look on Thursday. Follow me on Twitter for photos from the unveiling (@pauldehnerjr).
Let's eat ...
--- Must start this post out with a warning: These numbers talk about Final Fours and national championships. I am in no way stating that UC will make it there, rather, pointing out their method of winning games is one that holds water in March.
I found some interesting stats and thought they were worth sharing and piggybacking to the next step which applies to the Bearcats and their specific style of basketball this year.
Jason Lisk at The Big Lead may love crunching basketball numbers more than I do, which is concerning for his personal life. He broke out an interesting look at predicting Final Four teams yesterday I found particularly relevant to the Bearcats.
It shows that one of the most sure-fire predictor of making the Final Four is KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings.
* 9 of 20 (45%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 5 for defensive efficiency * 16 of 20 (80%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 20 for defensive efficiency * 18 of 20 (90%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 30 for defensive efficiency
For the record, UC has ranked among the top 20 in defense all season and currently is stationed at 18th in the country.
This is not me standing on the mountaintop professing, "Book your tickets to Atlanta!" Not in the least.
Although, I will continue down this train by pointing out a conversation Ken Pomeroy himself had about what he believes to be the stat that most predicts success in the tournament and he specifically mentioned offensive rebounding percentage. Mainly because when trying to win consistently, handling poor shooting nights is imperative. Hence, defense and rebounding.
Take a look at the last five years and where the Final Four teams fell in offensive rebounding percentage:
Ohio State: 43
West Virginia: 2
Michigan State: 10
North Carolina: 21
Michigan State: 5
North Carolina: 1
The correlation in the numbers aren't as strong as defensive efficiency, particularly the last two years, but they sure aren't weak. Consider 55 percent of Final Four teams finished in the top 25 of offensive rebounding percentage. There are significant outliers, but clearly defense and rebounding is not a lost art in winning games in March.
--- Each of the last five national champs were in the Top 25 in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive efficiency. Here's the list of Final Four teams in those categories:
2012 Kentucky (nat'l champ), 2011 UConn (nat'l champ), 2010 Duke (nat'l champ), 2010 West Virginia, 2009 North Carolina (nat'l champ), 2009 Michigan State, 2009 UConn, 2008 Kansas (nat'l champ), 2008 Memphis, 2008 UCLA, 2008, 2008 North Carolina.
So, knowing what we know now, kids, let's take a look at KenPom's stats this year and find out who is in the Top 25 in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive efficiency:
If you believe what's happened over the last five years would happen again in the sixth year, there are your national championship contenders.
Want to reiterate here, I am in no way saying UC is going to win the national title or fans should be thinking along those lines right now, only pointing out that defense and rebounding are the key components to winning consecutive games in March.
--- Upon posting a few of those numbers on The Twitters yesterday, I was met back that I should look at the offensive efficiency numbers of past Final Four teams. Here are those:
Ohio State: 7
West Virginia: 11
Michigan State: 28
North Carolina: 1
Michigan State: 20
North Carolina: 1
Offensive rebounding is, obviously, a part of good offense, but yes, clearly you need to be efficient on offense to reach the Final Four.
Remarkable, however, the close connection between last year's Louisville team and this year's Bearcats. Louisville ranked 103rd in offense. The Bearcats are currently 103rd in offense. Last year's Louisville defense was the top defensive team in the nation, the Bearcats are 18th, but spent most of the season in the top 10. As I wrote earlier this week, Louisville also struggled mightily down the stretch last year, losing four of their final six before the Big East tournament.
Again, not saying UC will do what Louisville did, only the intriguing correlation between the two teams.
--- Sean Kilpatrick turning it up would also go a long way for UC to turning the negative momentum around. He's on the list of Top 30 candidates for the Naismith award for a reason, because he belongs there.
Before hurting his right knee against DePaul on
January 15th, Cashmere Wright was playing as well as any guard in
the Big East.
The senior from Savannah, Georgia had scored
20-or-more points in three of his previous four games and for the season was
averaging 15.1 points on 47% shooting - including 44% from 3-point range.
Since returning from the injury, Wright has been
mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, going 23-for-95 overall (24%)
and 12-for-60 (20%) from 3-point range, while averaging 8.0 points in nine
In Sunday's loss at Notre Dame, Wright did not
attempt a shot in the first half and finished the game 0-for-2 in 23 minutes.
"He's lost his confidence," said Mick Cronin on his weekly
radio show on Monday."If you go five,
six, seven games and shoot 20%, you would lose your confidence too.
"It's a mental thing and I have to do a good job of
making sure that his mind is in the right place.Internal pressure that players put on
themselves and external pressure that players feel from family, friends, and
fans - some let it affect them more than others.He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt
that he lost his confidence."
So how does Cronin plan to help Wright get it
back?By reminding Cashmere that he
doesn't have to make every shot to help the Bearcats win.
"I have to do a better job of making sure that his
mind is on defense and leadership," said Cronin."He's got to lose himself in the game and
give us everything that he can with his steals.He's not the all-time leading scorer at Cincinnati.Or the all-time assists leader.But he is the all-time steals leader and he
can give us that.That's what he has to
focus us because if he doesn't give us that we're in trouble.
"My goal is to get him to realize that he did have a
great game (after the injury).He was
3-for-14 from the field in that game, but he had a great game.It was the Villanova game.He had 14 deflections and his energy and
defense inspired his team to get 46 deflections and beat a NCAA Tournament team
by 18 points."
Over the next month, Wright is almost certain to set
Cincinnati's all-time record for games played.After watching his senior point guard play through knee and shoulder
pain for much of his career, Cronin wants to see Cashmere relax and finish
"He's a conscientious kid who wants to play well,"
said Cronin."He's unlike me, because I
am oblivious to other people's opinion.If I have one gift, it's that I have tunnel vision on doing my job.Whether your opinion of me is great or whether
your opinion of me is poor, it doesn't really affect me.Unfortunately, kids can be affected a lot
more than you think this day and age.He
is a very conscientious kid who is putting a lot of pressure on himself.
"He's trying as hard as he can to help his team and
I just have to make sure that he does two things:Worry about defense and stay aggressive.You can't worry about making mistakes.I have to get him in an aggressive mindset on
both ends of the floor, and whatever mistakes he may make we have to live
with.But he has to be on the attack and
he has to be aggressive or we're not going to be a very good team.
"I'd like to get us to where we're playing well, and
helping Cash get his confidence back is probably the number one thing that I
have get done as a coach."
Always a great listen to take in the Mick Cronin Radio Show with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Was again last night where we were given the fortunate telling of the story behind Chuck now being known as Tip Jar Machock.
Last night, Mick spent the first 15 minutes or so talking about Cashmere Wright and the difference in breaking the current slump. Good insight from the coach.
The moral of the story, he believes Cash lost his confidence and the coach's top priority is bringing that confidence back. I don't think anybody who watches UC basketball would dispute Cashmere Wright playing as he did in the weeks before the injury when he was the best player on the floor every time out would solve the majority of UC's problems.
"He's lost his confidence," Cronin said. "You go five, six, seven games, shoot 20 percent you would lose your confidence, too. And he's a conscientious kid who wants to play well ... Internal pressure players feel, external pressure from family, friends, fans some people let it affect more than others. He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt he lost his confidence. He's trying as hard as he can to help his team."
The best way to help Wright is to allow him to play outside of his own head and strictly on instinct. That means focusing on doing what he does better than any player in UC history -- steal the basketball, play defense. When focusing on defense, deflections and activity he can relax and let his natural skill override any mental block. (By the way, this is a big reason Mick doesn't talk about offense being the problem all the time, like so many fans wish he would)
Cronin pointed directly to the Villanova game when his 14 deflections inspired his team to an absurd 46 deflections on the night and beating the Wildcats by 18 points.
"I got to do a better job making sure his mind is on defense and leadership," Cronin said. "Lose himself in the game getting us steals."
Anybody that has followed this team and the career of Wright wants to see him regain his form down the stretch. The guy in so many ways defined the great teams of the last few years with his grit, hustle and defensive ability pacing this team. Still time left to make it happen.
Everybody remembers the guy from this highlight video. Maybe Mick showing him some of this will refresh the mojo.
The bigger point of the post, however, involved a point Mick talked about last night with Dan and Chuck. The focus shouldn't be as much about if this team is getting into the tournament or not, but rather about finding a way to make a run when they get there. Getting to The Dance makes a man feel nice, but that's been done here before and the expectations are higher than that.
Here's Mick on the topic:
"Getting in is great and I know that's what everyone wants," Cronin said. "To me, you want to be playing well or what's the point. I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies. Whether the Big East touranment, NCAA, preseason NIT, I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies to say hey we were in it. I'd like to get us to where we are playing well."
--- Jay Bilas ranked the six most clutch players in college basketball and slotted Sean Kilpatrick as third. Here's the video.
--- I went on with Lance McAlister last week and when I posted for people to listen on Twitter I came off the interview to see a bunch of angry mentions in my feed. I don't know exactly why UC fans have such a problem with Lance other than he's doing his job to keep people talking. I thoroughly enjoyed being on his show and think he cares about his job and local sports about as much as anybody in any media business around here.
If you have a year at your job that is considered among the top 25 percent or better in your business, do you expect to be fired? Should you be fired? If UC makes the tourney this year, that would mean since 2010, 7 of 9 seasons of Reds, Bengals and UC hoops would end in the postseason. Yet, all we hear about are the need to fire all three. Certainly an odd development.
--- Just when you start to jump on the Villanova bandwagon they lose in insane fashion to Seton Hall, who hadn't won in 33 days. Devastating blow for the schizophrenic Wildcats. The result was actually good for UC's chase for seeding in the BET. If they can end up tied with Nova they would own the tiebreaker head-to-head. They are currently 1 1/2 games back.
--- Really tough news out of the combine yesterday as Walter Stewart was red-flagged because of injury and not allowed to participate. He's hoping to participate in UC's pro day on March 14. A situation that has been in the air since the initial diagnosis midseason endures the latest odd turn.
--- UC Spring Practice begins Friday in the bubble. The first practice of the Tommy Tuberville era is nearly here. Keep it locked here at GoBearcats.com for all your spring ball information and storylines.
--- Big weekend for all sports on campus, actually. UC hoops home game Saturday, followed by women's game for a doubleheader. First home series for UC baseball with games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
--- BTW, the women are heating up. They earned their second-consecutive win and have taken three of four. Saturday was their first blowout of Big East play as they throttled Providence by 19.
--- Michigan State Community Coalitionis begging students not to burn couches. Somewhere, West Virginia points and laughs with gasoline in one hand and tear-stained ticket stubs from another Big 12 loss in the other.
--- I'm not sure how Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z will be on tour, but they are playing some massive arenas. I'm sure it won't be cheap, but I'd pay double if I could have been at Hova's Unplugged performance back in the day. Heart of the City is still one of my favorites since that show.
Enjoy the day everybody and remember to shoot and comments, questions or your own freestyle raps to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The latest edition of the Fox Sports Ohio Podcast welcomes pod newbie Kevin Goheen, the newest writer for FSO based out of Southwest Ohio. He joins the FSO team after 15 years spent covering sports in the area, including the Bengals beat writer for the Post from 2001-07.
He's been tracking the Bearcats all season and especially since jumping on the job a few weeks back. We talk about the travails of being a prep cross country writer, how to UC can shake the current negative momentum, the Bearcats relative to the bubble, Kevin's sights and sounds from his time spent with Bearcats at the combine, George Winn=Alfred Morris, Travis Kelce=Rob Gronkowksi and we also break down the life and times of Lil' Dawg the most famous bobblehead in Cincinnati media.
If you are looking for a specific topic, the basketball convo ends around 18 minutes and the final 18 minutes flip to the football Bearcats conversation.
All I see and hear about following this string of five losses in six games for the Bearcats is how they are NIT bound. I continue to attempt to explain to people they are not even in the bubble conversation yet. Are they trending in a bad direction? Obviously. But to contend they are already on the bubble or not going to the tournament is refusing to look around at the rest of college basketball.
Most of the respected bracketologists have them in the 8/9 seed range. Here's their rankings from the various metrics used by the committee:
ESPN BPI: 31
UC (19-9, 7-8) still owns a number of quality wins -- Oregon, at Pitt, Marquette, Iowa State, Villanova -- and next to no bad losses.
The rest of the regular season schedule includes Saturday home vs. UConn (19-7, 9-5), at Louisville (22-5, 10-4) and home against USF (10-16, 1-13) then start by playing one of the bottom four seeds on Wendesday in the Big East tournament. Assuming at the very least they win one of these games, with USF a game the Cats will be heavily favored in, they will win 20 games.
Take a look at the Big East teams the last five years with 20 wins entering Selection Sunday.
Year: Teams with 20 wins (NCAA tourney status)
2012: 9 (Seton Hall out, 15th SOS in league)
2011: 11 (All in)
2010: 9 (South Florida out, played no teams in KP Top 75 in non-conference)
2009: 7 (All in)
2008: 8 (All in)
TOTAL: 44 (Seton Hall '12, USF '10)
--- If you play any type of schedule in the Big East (Bearcats currently 32nd SOS in RPI and fifth in conference according to KPom) and win 20 games you get in the tournament. Period. Fact.
Seton Hall didn't get in because they had the second worst strength of schedule in the league. Same was the case for USF, who didn't play anybody in KenPom's top 75 in their non-conference schedule.
UC challenged themselves, won games and while people will point to their struggles down the stretch they must also point to the close losses that show a team competitively keeping up with anyone. That's all part of the scenario the committee weighs when they rank the S-curve. That's why they only use everyone's favorite RPI as one of many factors in slotting teams, because the RPI doesn't take into account individual performance in games -- only W or L. Which is crazy, losing at the buzzer to Syracuse counts the same as being throttled by 21 at Notre Dame? But I'm not about to go on an RPI rant, if you want one, just check my archives here each of the past two years at this time.
--- Even further, let's take a look at the team's that are currently on the bubble and compare their situations. Here are the eight teams that were straddling the bubble by Joe Lunardi entering this weekend.
Cal (18-9, 10-5): Oregon 2x, Arizona -- rank 44 in RPI and 52 in BPI
--- These are your bubble teams, people. Southern Miss and St. John's are in the middle of the conversation. There is quite a bit of distance between where UC stand and where the likes of Temple, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern Miss and St. John's stand. (Villanova will certainly move to the correct side of the bubble with their win over Marquette)
This chart doesn't include bad losses, where it's hard to find many, if any on the Bearcats run. You could possibly count St. John's and Providence as bad losses, but both are middle of the pack in the second-toughest conference in the country.
These SEC teams need much better records to make up for the fact they only have two/three tourney teams in the conference. The Big East will have about 8 or 9. You can make a similar statement about CUSA and to a lesser degree the A-10.
Point being, look relatively at the competition before placing UC on the bubble with them.
--- The grander point is that this team needs to start playing better. Nobody can deny that. Sean Kilpatrick said as much himself to Bill Koch after Sunday's ugly loss at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of things that have got to be changed quick because this season is going down the drain and we're letting it," Kilpatrick said.
He's right, the high hopes talked about through the preseason and into non-conference about Big East championship games and Final 4s look far off. But those that are dismissing the season as over haven't paid attention the last two years inside this conference.
Each of the last two years a team has played poorly in Big East play, particularly down the stretch, and gone on to the most successful postseason in their program's recent history.
In 2012, Louisville lost four of six to close the regular season and finished at 10-8 in the conference. They went on to win four games in NYC, take the BET title and advance to the Final 4 before succumbing to Kentucky.
In 2011, UConn went 8-10 in Big East conference play, including losing five of their final 8 before heading to NYC where Kemba Walker helped them win five games in five days and then they went on to win the national championship.
These are literally the last two examples in this conference following the exact same path as the Bearcats. Am I saying this will happen? No, and we can discuss a number of reasons why it can or can't, but for anybody to be giving up hope or considering all lost hasn't been paying attention to their surroundings.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
You probably know the basic details of the Tim
Grows up a competitive swimmer in the Virgin
Islands...eventually takes up basketball as a teenager...gets discovered by Wake
Forest...becomes one of the greatest players in history.
But here's a nugget that you might not know:The coach at Wake Forest that found Duncan
was current UC assistant Larry Davis.
"We had a kid abruptly leave that was starting at
center for us as a freshman," Davis recalled."He walked in one day and said that he was homesick and we couldn't talk
him out of it.Going into the spring, we
had no guy on our roster that was bigger than 6'8".So (head coach) Dave Odom called all of the
assistants in and told us to turn over every rock because we had to find a
center.So I started making calls.I had met a guy by the name of Holman Harley
who was working for an agent at that time, and I called him and said, 'Do you
know of any big guys anywhere?'And he
said, 'Yea, there's a 6'10" kid in the Virgin Islands.'He gave me Tim's name so I tracked him down,
got him on the phone, and asked who he was being recruited by and he said, 'I
got some letters from Delaware State and one letter from Providence.'
"About the fourth time that I called Tim on the
phone I asked him if he had ever been to the United States.He said, 'Yes, I have a brother-in-law in
Ohio and I went to Ohio State's basketball camp last summer.'I said, 'Is Ohio State recruiting you?'Tim said, 'No.'I got off the phone and immediately called
Holman Harley and said, 'Are you sure this kid can play?He's 6'10", he was at Ohio State's basketball
camp and they're not recruiting him.How
can that be?'Holman said, 'Larry, I'm
telling you - the kid can play.'
"I went in to Coach Odom and told him that I might
have found a kid and he said, 'Where is he at?'I said, 'The Virgin Islands.'It
wasn't hard to talk him into making the trip.So Dave went down to see him and I'll never forget - he calls me on the
phone and said, 'You're not going to believe this guy.He's 6'10", he can run like a deer, he's got
great hands, and we're bringing him in.' Tim ended up visiting Providence and
Wake Forest.It was 45 degrees when he
visited Providence and 80 degrees when he visited us.That's when I knew that we were getting him."
And that's how Larry Davis helped sign perhaps the
greatest under-the-radar recruit in college basketball history.
While the former head coach at Oak Hill Academy
(1983-85) and Furman University (1997-2006) hasn't landed the next Tim Duncan
at Cincinnati - at least not yet - his relentless recruiting efforts have been
instrumental in helping Mick Cronin rebuild the program.
"I've never been around a guy that loves recruiting,
evaluating, and working like he does," said Cronin."Most guys his age become the resident
veteran coach on the bench, but he loves recruiting like a 25-year-old.He can't get enough of it.He loves it."
"A lot of colleagues knock recruiting, but I like
it," the 56-year-old Davis told me."I
like meeting people, I like travel, and it's a challenge.It's competition and I like competition -
what can I say.
"It can drive you nuts because kids make decisions
based on some of the craziest things that you could ever imagine, and there are
always hidden land mines out there.You
have to figure out who is on your side and who is not on your side and
sometimes, somebody that you don't even know is in the background either
helping you or killing you.So when you
get a kid to commit and sign, it's a great feeling."
Cronin became aware of his colleague's zest for
recruiting nearly 20 years ago when Davis was an assistant coach at Ball State.
"We met when I was a high school coach at Woodward
and he was trying to outwork people for Eric Johnson," said Cronin."He ended up at Louisville, but Eric would
tell you to this day that the best job that was done in the recruiting process
was by Larry Davis.He loved Larry
Davis, but it was hard to turn down Louisville for Ball State."
Observing Coach Davis's recruiting persistence made
a strong impression on his future boss.
"My dad taught me to be smart enough to listen to
older guys and Larry helped to guide me in the business," said Cronin."I've tried to pattern myself after his
effort in recruiting."
The key word in the last sentence is effort.
"Young assistant coaches in our business need to
spend a week with him in July," said Cronin with a laugh."When you're out there in July, he's watching
games from 8 am until midnight.He's not
a guy that will watch a few games, get a workout in, and go out to dinner.He's in the gym when the first game starts
and the last game ends.He'll tell me
who I need to see and I'll say, 'Where are you going?'And he'll say, 'Well, I'm going to see a half
of this game and a half of that game and then I'm going to go check on this
kid.'If he lays eyes on 10 kids he
might find that guy that wasn't highly-rated - whether it's a Sean Kilpatrick
or a JaQuon Parker."
While Davis has inked his share of big-name recruits
over the years such as 11-year NBA veteran Bobby Jackson when Larry was an
assistant at Minnesota, his ability to find lesser-known recruits has been
invaluable at Cincinnati.
"What I've learned is to be able to rate his tone of
voice," said Cronin."He call and say, 'I
think I've found one,' and I can tell by the way he says it how good that he
thinks the guy is.I can tell by his
excitement level that we had better hurry before too many people see the
"Scouting services and ratings are great, but I've
always been taught from the first day that I got into this that you should
judge with your own eyes," said Davis."You try to see what a guy's potential is down the road.Some of it, quite honestly, is a little bit
of luck, but you have to have an eye for it too and know some of the
characteristics that you're looking for.I take pride in trying to do that and I work for a boss who could care
less about the ratings.Mick wants to
know if the guy can play or not - that's the most important thing to him."
"What Larry understands is that good players don't
have to be highly-rated," said Cronin."He believes in out-working the opponent.He doesn't just go to a city and see one
practice.He'll talk somebody into
working out at six in the morning, so that he can see another kid practice at
three, and another kid play at seven.It's sheer numbers.In sales, the
more people that you get in front of, the more sales that you're going to
have.In recruiting, the more guys that
you see means that you're eventually going to see somebody that can play.That's how you find Hasheem Thabeet in a back
gym when nobody else was recruiting him at the time."
The 7'3" Thabeet was a late signee in Coach Cronin's
first year at Cincinnati who chose UConn over UC and ultimately became the 2nd
overall pick in the NBA draft - unfortunately in recruiting, you don't always
get the guy.But Davis has won his share
of battles and landed Troy
Caupain and Jamaree
Strickland in this year's early signing period.According to Rivals.com, Caupain is a 3-star
recruit while the 6'10" Strickland received 3 stars from 247sports.com.
But before you put too much stock into the scouting
services, you should consider the Wake Forest class of 1993.
"When the recruiting rankings came out that year,"
said Davis, "we had signed three or four other guys so it listed their names
and how many stars they received and ended with, 'and Tim Duncan.'No comment, no rating, just 'and Tim
Duncan.'In the end, he was the number
one guy in the country."
Another tough loss for the Bearcats last night. The frustration could be felt in the voice of Mick Cronin in the 700WLW postgame show with Dan and Chuck. Here is the interview. Mick typically does a good job staying analytic after games and breaking down the reasons for a win or loss while the temperature of the team and it's effort.
Yet, after another game where the buckets didn't come in the final five minutes, he couldn't help but vent over the concerning trend as four games remain in the regular season.
"Right now, we just don't know how to win," he said. "There is poor decisions and
dumb plays right now that are costing us games. There's just no way
around it. It erases all the good they we're doing."
This time, it was a six-point lead with 4:21 left that wilted away to force overtime. From that point forward the Cats were 1 of 5 with two turnovers. The recurring trend is the stem of the frustration for the coach whose now seen nearly every lose come in this heartbreaking fashion.
Take a look at each of the Bearcats losses, finding a way to close out a higher percentage of the games is the biggest difference between average and upper tier in the Big East.
Vs. New Mexico (55-54): Led by 1 with 2:47 left
Vs. St. John's (53-52): Led by 1 with 56 seconds left
Vs. Notre Dame (66-60): Tie game with 8:43 left
@Syracuse (57-55): Led by 6 with 3:47 left
@Providence (54-50): Down by 1 with 3:25 left.
Vs. Pittsburgh (62-52): Led by 1 with 4:55 left
Vs. Georgetown (62-55): Led by 1 with 6:25 left
@ UConn (73-66 OT): Led by 6 with 4:21 left
Much of the conversation I hear about this concept is that the final minutes is about whose stars show up. For UC, that means Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick. Since Wright's injury in particular, production from those stars has been inconsistent.
Thursday's game served as the perfect example. The Bearcats offense looked like a completely different group in the first half and really through the first 35 minutes of the game. JaQuon Parker took over as the third weapon UConn couldn't account for and the team's passing, shot selection looked as good as it had all season.
The struggles in the final minutes to recapture that magic leaves the bitter taste in all of these defeats. Particularly from a team battling with maximum effort every step of the way.
"It's just frustrating right now because
we got to win games and we got a chance to be a good team," Cronin said. "We
continually shoot ourselves in the foot ... it erases all the good they are doing."
The good news is, there is still time to figure it out. The bad news is, that time is running out.
Let's eat ...
--- Like any team that has lost four of five as the Bearcats have, they are trending in the wrong direction when it comes to the NCAA tournament. But the contention that this team is in danger of missing the tournament right now is false.
First, all those siting RPI number (UC currently 44) need to remember it's a completely flawed metric and the committee is increasinly aware of that and only uses it as a small measure of the team's spot on the S-curve. All the advanced metrics are considered.
Take a look at UC's rankings in those:
ESPN BPI: 24
Those are not the numbers of a team on the brink of missing the tournament. Are they a lock right now? No. But in as open of a field as we've seen in recent memory, very few are. The Bearcats are not in danger of missing the dance yet, so please stop with all the NIT stuff I've seen from the knee-jerk reactionaries after these losses.
--- Speaking of, I saw people actually tweeting that late-season spirals should be Cronin's trademark? Let's not let one rough patch erase all memory. Remember, this team won four of its last five each of the last two seasons, won three games in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Big East tournament championship for the first time ever last year.
Just a daily reminder to keep some perspective amid the frustration.
--- JaQuon Parker since making a conscious effort to become the player to pick up the scoring slack continues to do just that. He's now averaging 16.3 points over the last three games. He finishes at the basket far and away better than anybody on the team.
I am flabbergasted as to how he doesn't get more calls scoring around the rim. Seems like 50 percent of his layups he's pounded to the ground without a whistle.
Past results: UC won the only game against UConn last year on a Sean Kilpatrick 3-pointer with less than three seconds remaining. UConn leads the overall series 7-3 with a 2-2 record as the home team.
Need to know: UConn finds itself in an odd predicament where they are ineligible for the postseason due to academic performance failures. They won't take part in the Big East tournament or any other postseason event. New coach Kevin Ollie has done a nice job keeping his team playing with a chip on its shoulder despite the lost season. They've won five of their last seven including a victory over Syracuse.
Game-changing stat: Connecticut struggles terribly on the glass. They rank in the bottom three of the conference in grabbing rebounds on both offense and defense. In fact, out of 350 Division I teams, they rank 331st in defensive rebounding percentage.
Take a look at the UConn losses and keep in mind the Division I average for offensive rebounding is 31.9 percent.
The Huskies have been far below the average in grabbing their own offensive rebounds in every single loss. And outside of the anomaly of the St. John's loss, they've allowed an OR% above the average in every loss. The worst came in their recent loss to Villanova where they let the Wildcats grab more than half of their misses. It results in more shots, more buckets. It's the common thread in how to beat UConn.
Even in their biggest win over Syracuse, the Orange got off 20 more shots than the Huskies due to rebounding discrepancy.
Meanwhile, the Bearcats lead the Big East in conference play in keeping opponents off the boards. UC holds a serious advantage in keeping the Huskies to one-and-done possessions. They must dominate that area as well as crush the offensive glass for putbacks.
"From my time coaching against UConn, they were always a big team," Cronin said. "Last year they had Andre Drummond, plays for the Pistons, and Alex Oriakhi, who starts at the 5 for Missouri. They have been big and strong and dominant all through Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian. Now, they are a finesse team."
Who to know: Shabazz Napier. Bearcats fans should be well aware of the Huskies star guard at this point. He dropped 27 on them last year including a slew of 3-pointers in the final minute to bring UConn back to a 67-67 tie. Then SK dropped the game-winner.
He can shoot it (38 percent from deep) and can distribute it (2.35:1 assist to turnover).
After a hot streak where he was carrying the Huskies averaging 19.4 points per game during a five-game stretch of four wins.
The last two games, however, he's combined for 12 points including 1 of 9 from 3-point range. He also had nine turnovers over the time span.
Record watch: With a win the Bearcats would have 20 wins in three consecutive seasons. That would be the first time its happened since Bob Huggins from 2004-06.
By the numbers: How good has the Bearcats defense been? Of the 19 games against major opponents this year, every single team has scored fewer points than their season average. The difference has been at least nine points in all but three games and one of those was in OT against Marquette.
The Huskies are averaging 70.6 points per game.
Defining matchup: Wright vs. Napier. The Bearcats can't allow Napier to get going. When he struggles, UConn typically follows. That's one of the biggest reasons for their letdown against Villanova last weekend where he only scored two points. Wright, now UC's career steals leader, has the ability to create turnovers and Napier can be susceptible to that. UC needs to at least break even in this battle.
"They are great players," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We sensed that last year, we have been watching them a lot lately and they make a lot of shots. You are not going to just have me and Cash having to guard them. You are going to have the whole team having to guard them because we know they can make big shots and we know they can take over a game. It's going to be a tough task, but this is a time where we need all the wins we can get."
Road trip: The Bearcats won't come home after Thursday's game against UConn. They will fly to South Bend, Ind., and stay there leading up to Sunday's game against the Irish.
Quotent Quotables: Mick Cronin on the urgency necessary with only five games remaining and 7-6 in the conference.
"Right now, hopefully our veteran guys understand this is why you practiced. This is why you played all those other games, to get to March. It's time to do what we got to do to solidify our position in March. Try to go on a run. All those other games become really irrelevant. You can erase a lot of close losses, a lot of mistakes if you can get to the Big Dance and go on a run. That is beauty of college basketball. As a coach, you have to try to make sure your players understand that. That's the key."
Looking ahead: Get used to seeing the Huskies, after Sunday's game at Notre Dame, UConn will come to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday March 2. I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or your thoughts on the Bearcats to my email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.
When I did a podcast this summer with Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, we touched on a wide range of topics. Cash's fixation for Waffle House, addictions to chicken fingers/fries and surprising loves for watching golf. But among the topics SK delved into was his favorite moment of last year and his career: the game-winner to beat UConn.
All that said, SK and the Bearcats return to Connecticut on Thursday, though this time they will play in Hartford instead of on the Storrs campus.
Still, Kilpatrick doesn't hide what going back means to him.
"That whole game it will probably still be playing in my mind," he said.
Only, this year, the game changes a bit for SK. Even as he took over as the leading scorer last year, he never really viewed himself as the depended upon leader in those situations. As a sophomore he deferred to the likes of Yancy and Dion Dixon. You can tell in the way he talks about it how much he takes the pressure on of carrying this team more than he did last season.
"Now is going to be a little different," he said. "Now I am one of the key guys that's in the situation where I need to make more plays like that this time and be able to come up big on the defensive end because we know they have great guards."
I've seen some people reacting saying he's complaining about refs limiting UC's scoring and I certainly didn't view it that way. He was speaking generally about the "epidemic" of scoring being down across college basketball. It certainly serves detrimentally to a more finesse scoring team as the Bearcats are this year, but benefits their physical style on the defensive end.
--- SK touched on the fouls topic, but more about the biggest differences as a recognized premier scorer this season. Publicity and gaudy numbers can really be a pain in the Musburgers.
Asked how the grabbing and holding he experiences this year under defensive attention compares to last year, he didn't hold back.
"It's 10 times worse," he said.
He wasn't put off by it, he said he understands it happens because both teams will do whatever they can to win. Although, a few refs "look out for you."
The change didn't come as a surprise.
"That's something I've been adjusting to all throughout this summer because coach told me those types of things are going to be happening." --- If you didn't see my story yesterday on the importance of JaQuon Parker's offense, here it is. I can't stress enough how critical this could be for UC down the stretch. Really think he could be the difference in the extra 3-5 points a game UC needs to get over the hump against elite teams. We shall see.
--- Marquette (10-3) takes sole possession of first place by beating up on Seton Hall last night. Though, it might not last long as the Cuse and GTown can tie with home wins tonight. Watching the Orange against a hot Providence team should be interesting. Look out for PC to provide some nervous moments to the Carrier Dome folks.
--- For those that didn't know, it appears Jameel Poteat is transferring. The RB fell down the depth chart and never found his drive at UC. He entered as a big name and four-star recruit. Just the latest reminder to stop drooling over signing day stars. Seriously, stop it.
In case you haven't seen the Nippert renovation video. Here you go.
--- Some randomness ...
--- It's the Ghostbusters HQ in legos. Which is awesome. By the way, if you want to a real-life replica of the outside of Ghostbusters HQ head to Covington and check the building across from Molly Malone's. All that's missing is Ecto1 out front.
--- The RPI isstill bogus. As if you needed more proof.
The Bearcats need JaQuon Parker to take over more of the offensive load for UC to make a run in the postseason and of late he's shown he could be the difference-maker needed.
CINCINNATI -- After games you won't find JaQuon Parker scouring the box score for his point totals or seeking out his highlight on SportsCenter. In an era dominated by a quest for stats and stardom, Parker represents a throwback in that respect.
Long dedicated to executing Mick Cronin's gameplan Parker will be defined by a toughness unparalleled in recent Bearcats history when honored on Senior Day in two weeks. He eschews points for small details, splash plays for gritty rebounds. It will be his legacy at UC.
Only, over the next month-plus, Parker knows he must drop the unselfish act and start worrying about his stat sheet. In many ways, fulfilling the expectations of UC's season depends up on it. The Bearcats need more points. Nobody fits the mold to supply them better than Parker.
"I got to help him with that and put him in situations to where he can be aggressive, he's thinking offense, he's thinking shot, he's thinking attack," Cronin said. "For us to win, let's just be honest, he's got to play that way. For us to be a high-level team he's got to be a double-figure guy."
Easier said than done for Parker. To flip from a mentality of attacking the offensive glass and making the extra pass to selfishly creating his own shot requires stepping out of the instinctual way he's always played basketball --- and the instinctual way he implanted his footprint on UC.
"Especially for me, I don't really care about that much (scoring) offense," he said, "but I think when I actually make a conscious effort to do it I can do it."
Such will be the key. Cronin began the latest push to force Parker to think about his offense more following a Pittsburgh game where he only took four shots where one or two buckets would have easily swung the tide to Cincinnati.
Although Parker's thought of as a third option behind Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, he's actually become the most efficient of everyone.
He leads the team in shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. During conference play, he paces the bearcats in field goal percentage, also 42 percent.
Yet, he's taken 80 fewer shots than Kilpatrick and 43 fewer than Wright in 13 conference games.
The hesitancy to find shots stems from a number of reasons in Cronin's opinion. The most notable concept Parker's desire to follow through on what coach preaches in practice, much of which centered around making the extra pass. Also, a constant desire to pull down offensive rebounds often pulls him out of positions where he could spot up for a kickout from a teammate's offensive board. The coach showed Parker film of those situations specifically in an effort to create more looks. Of course, to tell Parker not to grind after every rebound would be like telling Cronin not to coach. It's what they do. It's who they are.
"I got to make sure I don't allow him to slip into a mode where he's just trying to go to offensive rebound; where he's looking to be an integral part of our offense," he said. "That's big for us as we go forward. It's going to have to continue to be that for him."
Somewhere along the course of the season, the aggression faded. During the toughest portions of the non-conference schedule Parker stayed involved offensively. Looking at the seven non-cupcake games prior to the Big East slate (Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Marshall, Xavier, Wright State, New Mexico), he took significantly more shots than during conference play.
Time period: FG-FGA per game // Avg Points
Legit non-conference: 4.4-11.7 // 12.1
Big East play: 3.2-7.5 // 10.3
Prior to playing Villanova, Cronin placed a renewed effort to keep Parker thinking about attacking the basket. The difference has been noticeable. The last two games he's 10 of 19 from the floor, averaging 17 points. He earned a spot on the Big East Honor Roll for the first time this season.
It didn't come without a friendly reminder at halftime against Georgetown when he'd only taken two shots during another sluggish offensive half for UC.
"I don't know who they think is going to check in and get 20," Cronin said after the game. "I had to yell at him at halftime, he won't look at the rim. I love him but he's got the ball over his head. Sometimes it's everything I can do to get him to look at the rim."
The response showed exactly the type of impact Parker can have. He reeled off 11 consecutive points, the last of which closed a double-digit deficit to a 51-50 UC lead. Unfortunately, he would only be able to get off one more shot over the final 6:53 where the Bearcats went without a field goal until the game was already decided. This came one game after he poured in 19 points against Villanvoa, his highest point total since Dec. 22 against Wright State.
"I was coming into the game thinking I'm going to actually take more shots and try to get better shots and try to drive the ball more and get myself shots in the lane and get my teammates kickouts," Parker said.
Parker understands the importance of adding attack to toughness as his defining characteristic. As UC heads down the critical final five games of the regular season and into postseason play, he plans on continuing his crusade as difference-maker for a team only two baskets per game away from ranking among the elite in the Big East.
"I know my game is basically driving," he said. "On the 3-point if I'm set I can definitely hit that shot and so I just try to drive more and get more pull-ups. I definitely think I can (add more scoring) and from here on, I'm going to try to do that. Get the offense rolling and get it started."
I want to hear from you. Send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with any comments or questions.
You know how Monday morning really sets the tone for the week? Well, I'm currently experiencing a tone-setting much like Johnny Cueto hurting his back eight pitches into the playoffs. Only, gloomier.
Went to write this blog today and my computer didn't turn on. Just won't. Anyway, much thanks to the folks at Best Buy who were able to figure out the problem and stop all the nightmare scenarios from running through my head.
--- Time to take stock of the Big East landscape as we enter the final few weeks of the regular season. With five games remaining, the Bearcats are 2.5 games out of first place, two games back of Louisville for the fourth spot (and final double-bye in Big East tournament) and one win shy win No. 20.
As far as seeding and the NCAA tournament goes, most places have UC currently sitting around a 7 seed. As far as the Big East Tournament goes, they only need to avoid being caught by Providence, who is one game back, or they could end up playing on Tuesday with the different tournament breakdown this year.
There will be two games on Tuesday in New York, the 14 vs. 11 and 13 vs. 12. With UConn ineligible for postseason play, there are only 14 teams in the tournament.
More than likely, it appears UC will be somewhere in the Wednesday mix of teams seeded between 5 and 10. And games between all of those teams have been a crapshoot all season.
--- UC plays at UConn on Thursday at 7 p.m. Two of the next three games will be against the Huskies (17-7, 7-5) who surprisingly lost at home to Villanova this weekend.
The road has been a comfortable place for UC and perhaps what they need after losing two of three at Fifth Third last week.
At 5-2 in true road games, they lead the Big East in road winning percentage. Throw in the perfect 3-0 record in neutral site games and the lead grows even more.
A successful road trip, which has been at the core of the rebuild of this program the last few years, feels like a great remedy for the sting of Pittsburgh and Georgetown. --- People need to stop suggesting to me UC change the offensive style at this point in the season. Stop it. You can't learn an entirely new system with five games to go before the postseason. Find a way to get better at what you are doing and create more shots.
--- Mick Cronin Show tonight at 8:05 from the Montgomery Inn and on 700WLW. Should be a good listen. You've obviously got questions, Mick always allows thoughtful answers.
--- Tough weekend for the baseball team. They were swept in their opening series by Florida Atlantic, Sunday's finale being of the extra-inning walk-off variety. Justin Glass made his presence known though with a home run and RBI double to start off his anticipated junior season.
It's become blatantly obvious to me that the
Bearcats really miss one of the
seniors from last year's team.
No, not Yancy Gates.
I'm talking about Dion Dixon.
You haven't thought about him in a while have you?
Oh sure, they miss Yancy too, but Cincinnati's
recent offensive woes have made me appreciate how difficult it has been to
replace Dixon's production.
Dion was UC's second-leading scorer last year at
13.0 points per game and got to the free throw line a team-high 166 times
(Gates ranked 2nd with 106 FTA).Furthermore, Dion was a key barometer in Cincinnati's wins and losses as
Dixon averaged 14.7 points in UC's 26 victories and only 9.0 points in the
'Cats 11 losses.
When the Bearcats thrived in a 4-guard "spread"
offense last year, it was because all four guards could score.UC does not have a consistent fourth
perimeter threat this year.
So what's the fix?
Obviously, an end to Cashmere Wright's shooting
slump would be a godsend, but Mick Cronin knows his personnel better than
anyone and that's why he keeps talking about defense when his team is
struggling on offense.
"Obviously I'm concerned about putting the ball in
the basket, but when you play great defense and have high deflection totals,
you're going to create easy baskets in transition and you're going to score
points off of turnovers," said Cronin.
Let's face it:Cheikh Mbodj and David Nyarsuk are not suddenly going to morph into
dominant low-post scorers and Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson are not magically
going to start burying three pointers.But they can block shots and help create turnovers.
Here is a look at Cincinnati's top five wins (by RPI
rating) and how many points the Bearcats scored off of turnovers:
Marquette (#15 RPI) - 19 points
at Pitt (#32 RPI) - 8 points
Oregon (#38 RPI) - 24 points
Iowa St (#51) - 26 points
Villanova (#57) - 21 points
In those five quality wins, the 'Cats averaged 19.6
points off turnovers.In their seven
losses this season, that number drops to 9.1.
"Our steals have to go up and our turnovers have to
go down," said Cronin."That was
something that we were really good at last year - we were one of the best teams
in America at getting more shots than our opponent.We have to get back to that."
That doesn't mean that Cronin is ignoring the
Bearcats struggles on offense.He's
trying to find a way to get a guard-oriented attack as many easy shots as
"You want to get layups, free throws, and wide-open
three point shots," said Cronin."You
don't want to take contested shots.I
would also say that you have to get more shots.We need to get more steals and generate more offense from our
defense.That's the number one thing
that we're capable of and need to do a better job of."
Cronin also believes that focusing on aggressive defense
will lead to stress-free shooting.
"When you have great hustle and intensity for loose
balls, rebounds, and steals, it translates into offense," Mick told me."You have to get lost in the game with your
hustle.I tell the guys that they have
to play so hard that they don't think about missing shots.Basketball is a marathon and you go through
hot streaks and cold streaks.Your
constants have to be togetherness, hustle, rebounding, and defense.Those are the things that will carry you through
"We can't try any harder to make shots.When you try too hard - that's the
problem.You have to be aggressive as an
offensive player and you can't worry about missing.No good offensive player in the history of
the game would argue that point."
All seven of Cincinnati's losses are to teams that
are in the RPI Top 100 and four of the losses were by four-or-fewer
points.All the Bearcats need are a few
more baskets a game...who says they need to come from their half-court
"Here's our defensive philosophy." said Cronin."When they have the ball, we're trying to get
it.Don't just try to be solid and make
them shoot over us - get the ball.If a
guy drives anywhere near you, take it from him."
Cincinnati struggled from the free-throw line and 3-point arc Friday night and it cost them a quality win. Against the top teams which grace the schedule the rest of the way MIck Cronin acknowledges effort won't be enough, shots will need to fall.
CINCINNATI --- Often when analyzing a difficult loss, coaches and players point to a lack of intensity or a lull in the team's focus that allowed the opposing team to rip off a critical run.
That wouldn't be the case Friday night in the 62-55 loss to Georgetown. A charged atmosphere of a season high 12,842 mirrored the intensity of the home team as they blocked shots, created steals, dove on the floor and broke out all the signature hustle plays necessary to pull off a victory against a team ranked No. 15 in the country.
Only, on this night the Bearcats would need more than effort. They would need more than hustle. In fact, barrelling down a brutal stretch the rest of the season they will need more than try hard. At some point against a team that has now won seven in a row and stand alone atop the conference like Georgetown, a shot will need to fall from 3-point range and free throws will need to drop.
Friday night, they didn't. Thus, the Bearcats are left digesting a signature win that slipped away.
"We tried with maximum effort to do it but we didn't make enough shots and we didn't make enough free throws," Mick Cronin said. "Effort can only get you so far."
Most times problems made complicated in the minds of many can be simple in the bottom line. Particularly in a first half filled with open looks and a parade of free throws, the Bearcats witnessed shot after shot fall in and out or carom off the mark.
Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combined to make 3 of 15 shots from deep and the team hit 17 of 30 free throws.
In a game that was within one possession until fouls in the final minute, figure if UC only would have shot 25 percent from 3-point range - still five percentage points below their conference play average - the storyline instead would have been of the latest emergence of a Bearcats group again circling the wagons for a late-season surge.
If Justin Jackson connects at the 63 percent he's shot from the line in conference play or Titus Rubles the 73 percent he's done since the Big East began, UC's comeback would have been complete and stories about the remarkable 11-point run by JaQuon Parker to pull UC ahead would fill the Internet.
Instead, the shots didn't fall. And the Bearcats are dealing with a third loss in four games and frustrating 7-6 record in conference.
Such will be the axiom for this team. Due to their makeup of perimeter scorers, the offensive swings will come and go and be enough to add wrinkles to the face of the head coach or loyal supporters. They will ultimately decide if this team wins or loses against the elite teams in the country. Their level of superb defense has been established and rarely wavers. When 12 of 25 from deep against Villanova happens, turn out the lights. When 4 of 24 from 3-point land happens against Georgetown, the dark nights will drench the basketball offices.
The margin for error on the superb defense is forced into nearly impossible situation otherwise.
"Got to be great on defense when you were struggling on offense," Cronin said. "We were good, we weren't great."
Complaining about free throw shooting will get you about as far as complaining about the weather. No amount of worrying about it or researching will change the fact some days it will rain. Some day the sun will shine. It's all about how you deal with it. Friday it rained.
"It happens to everybody," Cronin said. "You got to make sure your team doesn't let it affect them and focus on defense."
Now, the focus turns toward a game Thursday at Connecticut and five more games before the Big East tournament to catch the type of roll that can carry them back to the Sweet Sixteen. Taking the next step won't be a matter of try-hard, it will be a matter seeing enough shots fall down and critical mistakes avoided. Concerns over the current position in the league and overall are being shelved by the players in exchange for perspective.
"We are disappointed, but as an older team we realize all you got to do is get to the tournament," Wright said. "We just got to get there. All that will take core of itself and get rolling when the time comes."
When the time comes, they'll need to make shots. It's the undeniable truth with many teams, but rarely more so than with this particular group. I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email (email@example.com) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with your questions, comments or whatever else you come up with in the aftermath of the Georgetown loss.
Since graduating the University of Cincinnati with the record for most steals in a career in 1981, David "Puffy" Kennedy didn't spend much time keeping up with his alma mater. For the last 32 years his 189 steals stood untouched atop the record books and Puffy stopped even tracking contenders after Darnell Burton fell five steals short in 1997.
He'd certainly been unaware Monday when three steals by Cashmere Wright tied him with Kennedy, needing but one more to steal the all-time mark.
When this reporter attempted to track down the number for Puffy, the conduit ended up being his son, former St. John's point guard D.J. Kennedy, now playing in the NBADL. D.J. caught wind of the reason and provided the assist with a phone number. Only, D.J. wanted to be the first to call.
"Guess what," D.J said to open the conversation with his father. "I've got bad news."
From there, the news broke of a record destined to fall Friday night against Georgetown at 9 p.m. It'd be hard to imagine another scenario considering Wright's gone only three games this season without a steal for the Bearcats (19-6, 7-5).
"I said, well, it's about time," Puffy said. "I had it for three decades, what can I say? Sooner or later somebody was going to get it."
Barring disaster, that somebody will be Wright, who coincidentally arrives at this point in a similar mold. They both rely on their quickness from the point guard position and base the art of the steal on anticipation. Puffy held Marquette's Butch Lee, one of the nation's top point guards on an eventual national championship team, to just four points in Kennedy's freshman season. By his sophomore season he found himself guarding Magic Johnson in the Pontiac Silverdome and even added a few steals to his total at Earvin's expense.
"I was a defensive point guard," said Puffy, who also scored 1,002 points in his career, including 14.5 a game his senior season. "I was real quick, played for Ed Badger, we basically played man to man most of the games. I used to bring my man up and watch the ball and when guys would pass it I would just shoot in front of them."
Sounds familiar to any current fan of UC basketball whose watched Wright swat at passing lanes and dive at bobbled passes for four years. The closest Bearcats fans got to seeing the two styles go head to head was when Wright played against D.J., in 2009 and 2010. In three games, Wright managed but one steal. Son did his part protecting dad's record.
Unfortunately for Puffy, he couldn't stave off Wright, who fully understands the enormity of breaking a record three decades standing. Make no mistake, this record matters.
"That means a lot," Wright said. "Means you came here, you actually accomplished a goal. You did something people are going to remember you for maybe five or 10 years down the line. You put yourself in the top with those Van Exels and all the other point guards that were here."
That, of course, includes Puffy, who promises he'll be watching Friday and wants Cash to know his message.
"Tell him congratulations, best of luck," Kennedy said. "If I would have known I would have tried to get down there. That would have been something; that's a heck of an achievement. He'll probably have it for the next three decades."
That sounds like a plan for Wright, though, like anybody who accepts the passing of a torch, he'd love to advance the story.
"Hopefully it can stand up as long as the previous record, 32 years," he said. "Maybe double that to 64. It will always stick with me."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with any comments, questions or Puffy memories from my older generation of readers.
Outfielder Justin Glass emerged as the Bearcats premier player last season without ever truly being at full strength, feeling as healthy as any point in his career expectations are through the roof for the junior as UC baseball opens the season today.
CINCINNATI -- With the return of baseball season today for the University of Cincinnati with the opening game at Florida Atlantic comes the return of the Bearcats brightest young star, Justin Glass. Yet for the young outfielder the start of the season isn't just about the beginning of baseball, it's a chance for personal redemption.
An odd thought for anyone whose followed UC baseball the last two years. What could there be to redeem? After all, Glass led the team in runs, hits, RBIs, batting average and stolen bases last season while being named first team All-Big East.
Well, he earned all those accolades without playing at full strength. In fact, despite turning in two of the better freshman and sophomore seasons in recent memory around Marge Schott Stadium, Glass is yet to do so with a clean bill of health.
That is, until now.
"My expectations are really high," Glass said, promptly repeating it for emphasis. "Really high."
The redemption theme that has been building for Glass since 2010 when he graduated Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. Glass came off a season in which he shattered many of the school's all-time records, named a Louisville Slugger All-American and accepted a scholarship to UC. With his arrival on campus came lofty expectations. This is where luck began to unravel a bit for Glass, as injuries derailed the perfect start many hoped for Glass' career.
In an average college baseball season you can expect to play about 60 games, and when you consider the players are taking the field three to four times a week, it is easy to see the game can quickly become a war of attrition. Glass knows this all too well, spending the last two seasons battling through those injuries, while trying to live up to the tremendous expectations.
In his freshman year, Glass was able to start all 57 games for the Bearcats despite being hampered by a torn labrum. While he hit .326 with 45 RBI, 14 doubles and was named to the All-Big East Second Team, he knew production was far under what it could have been.
Coming off the labrum injury, and with high hopes for his sophomore season, Glass suffered from preseason appendicitis and consequently missed the entirety of the offseason. While the injury didn't physically hinder his play like the torn labrum of his first year, it did cause him to mentally lose his edge.
"I had no timing or anything," explained Glass.
Timing or no, Glass was a reliable force in the Bearcats line up, and despite missing the entire offseason; he started all 56 games in the outfield. He hit .366 with 21 doubles, 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
Glass' ability to perform at a high level while dealing with injuries thrust him into the national spotlight, and all eyes are on the Bearcats outfielder now that he will finally be playing in full force. Having been held back from his potential for two years, Glass is finally ready to get the monkey off of his back.
"I'm pumped," says Glass, "It's the first time I have been healthy in my entire career, so I'm more than happy to finally show everyone what I'm worth."
He's already proven to be a consistent force in the middle of the lineup. To play every game in his college career in spite of injury is one thing, but playing to the level he has is what makes Glass an centerpiece of the team.
"He's the type of player that can anchor your line up," Clearly said. "There aren't many guys that can hit third and he's one of them. When healthy, he can change the course of a game with his power and speed."
The team shares their coach's high regards of Glass, electing him their first team captain since the 2010 season.
"He has the overwhelming support of his teammates, and he takes the position very seriously," said Cleary, "This team means a lot to him."
Yet all the praise hasn't gotten to Glass' head, as he still feels he has a chip on his shoulder, and much more to accomplish. Going into this season, Glass has been named the sixth best pro prospect in the Great Lakes League by Baseball America and eighth best by Perfect Game. There is a growing sense that if Glass can stay healthy, and continue his tremendous performance on the field, he could be getting big league offers come draft time.
"It's kept driving me everyday," Glass said. "My family and friends are excited about the possibility, but I have to focus one day at a time and hopefully it will come. I just want to bring us the Big East championship, all the personal stuff that comes with winning is just icing on the cake."
While the young outfielder is focused on the upcoming season, he does have the occasional daydream of playing in the majors.
"It would be a dream come true if my name gets called this June," he said. "I'd be happy as heck."
The personal accolades and MLB possibilities shine in the distance, but what brightens this Friday under the Florida sun is for the first time in his collegiate career, he's been unshackled from injuries that plagued him.
"I feel great," he said. "It's the strongest and fastest I've been, mentally and physically, since high school."
Let's eat ... --- Yesterday, the football team was honored at the Ohio Statehouse for the shared Big East championship. Cool moment for the players and a proud one for the program.
--- Also, in case you missed it yesterday,Tommy G and I sat down for the latest podcast discussing a number of UC-related items. Our first seven minutes focused primarily on the Harlem Shake. The potential for a great Shake video at UC is limitless. Keep your eye out for that and give a listen to the podcast. --- The women's basketball team earned their first conference win last night against Marquette. Betsy Ross documents a game that had it all, including a game-winning inside swerve for a bucket at the buzzer by Tiffany Turner. Great assist by Dayeesha Hollins to make it happen as well.
--- The Big East is wide open folks. For anybody who thinks UC is out of the running for a double bye or to a lesser extent the regular season title, they have not been paying attention. UConn took down Syracuse last night and as Andy Katz wrote for ESPN, they have their eyes set on a regular season title since they are ineligible for all postseason play. Actually makes for a tough draw on UC, who will have to play UConn two times in their final six games. The Huskies will be battling like its the Final Four because for them it will be.
Another reason this Georgetown game is massive. Could play out for major tiebreaker implications come BE Tourney time and be the difference between double bye and having to take on the likes of St. John's in their first game.
Remember, the Hoyas still have two games left with Syracuse, so the leaders will continue to fall back to the pack. --- Otto Porter is a beast. He'll be a load to handle. The 6-8, 205-pound sophomore does it all on the court. My guess is we'll see a lot of Justin Jackson on him, but we'll talk more with Mick today about how to handle the guy.
Over the last nine games, where Georgetown lost but once, he's been phenomenal. He's averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds all while shooting 16 of 33 from long range (48.4 percent). He's dangerous everywhere on the court.
--- A call to arms of sorts was brought to my attention from marketing maven Brad Wurthman yesterday. He mentioned the lack of new big heads showing up in the student section this year and the high expectations he has for that to change Friday night. ESPN, sole Friday night stage, this needs to be a breakout game for originality down there.
I bring this up because I was on the ground floor of the big head movement here and hate to see it fade away as it has. Remember, all you have to do is take your picture to any copy spot and they'll make your head for about $9. Happy heading.
--- A fact I didn't know I also found out yesterday is that the UC Dance Team will be representing the United States in the world games. They finished second in hip hop at the nationals (amid controversy, I hear) but were chosen as the US team. Awesome. The halftime angry hip hop routine always makes me want to dance. Thankfully, I don't.
--- Here's hoping I don't get stuck with this dog behind me at a light. Seems more disciplined than Toonces the Driving Cat, though. I imagine a scenario where I lean out the window and yell back to him, "Easy on the horn, big dog," and crack myself up.
To borrow a line from Frankie Valli, Oh what a night.
Wednesday night's Bearcat game against Marquette was something special, for a lot of reasons. Let's start with the glitterati in attendance, beginning with Hall of Fame Coach Pat Summitt, behind the Marquette bench to watch her son, Tyler, an assistant with the Golden Eagles. Then we had former UC coach Laurie Pirtle on the front row, watching the Bearcats.
Then there was the game itself. The stats will tell you that Tiffany Turner hit a layup with less than a second to go to win it for UC, but the game was much more than that. It was a battle of changes made and chances lost, of a team that fought back when it could have folded in the second half, and players who were bloodied, in the case of Alexis Durley, but unbowed at the end to get the first BIG EAST win of the season for Coach Jamelle Elliott.
The Bearcats had come oh, so close to getting a conference win a number of times, most recently at Rutgers where they lost by a bucket. This one, though, felt different, in that this team continued to fight back, even when they were down by four with a hanful of minutes to go.
Whatever the final count of the 2012-2013 season record may be, remember one thing: This team never quits. Kayla Cook plays defense as well as anybody on the floor, and she contributes in ways that don't always show up in the box score. Dayeesha Hollins every game is the target of the other team's best defender, and she takes a beating but comes back for more. And at the end of the game you could see the relief on the UC coaching staff's faces to get this "W" in the books and see the players' hard work pay off.
They'll be back home next Saturday-put it on your calendar to come cheer them on.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast. Today I welcome back Tom Gelerhter, our resident New Media and Broadcasting director as myself and Tommy G talk about the behind the scenes of the basketball team's big win against Villanova, the resiliency of a battered group, the addition of a baseball game at GABP, Signing Day extras with Tommy Tuberville and, most importantly, the Harlem Shake.
For those who don't know what the Harlem Shake is, it's taking over The Interwebbings. Here are some examples. We spend about the first seven minutes discussing what will be a forthcoming UC edition and what makes a great Harlem Shake.
Amazing Mike was able to churn out such greatness all while being absurdly MF'ed on The Twitters. He posted a tweet about Wildcats players having problems standing up during the game. He had clearly been tweeting from UC-Nova all night, but some UK people got a hold of it, and the tweet spread with people thinking he was ripping on Nerlens Noel, who injured his knee in a game against Florida going on at the same time.
Without anybody bothering to look at what Mike was actually talking about or paying attention to instant stream of clarifications after, the ire of an angry Kentucky fan base knows no logic. Oh, social media. You are a blessing and a curse. Purple heart of the night goes to Mike for cranking out a great piece as his mentions exploded in four-letter shrapnel in front of him.
Wanted to hit on three points we couldn't get to in last night's column.
1) Make no mistake, the pressure was beginning to mount on UC. Sean Kilpatrick said the moment he walked into the locker room Tuesday, he could only comment on the weight lifted off his shoulders coming off the two-game losing streak.
"Yes, (it was a relief), as soon as I walked in the locker room I was like it's good to have that monkey off our back. We've been scrapping and clawing. The last two games it wasn't pretty especially knowing we are capable of playing better than what we did the last two games. It's all a grind."
Mick often talks about how much he's learned over the last few years about the need to keep the distractions from creeping in the locker room. He believes it's been a big reason for the team's success, particularly late in the year as attention and pressure mounts. But, as he explains, you just can't keep everyone out. Not in this day and age.
"I'm sure they were (relieved)," Cronin said. "It's hard to insulate your team from external pressures. That is the biggest change in coaching from the 90s."
2) Lost in the shuffle of Sean Kilpatrick's 3-point bombs and Cashmere Wright's true grit was the re-emergence of JaQuon Parker's aggressiveness on offense. The 19 points where the most he scored since December against Wright State. In fact, he hadn't topped 12 points once in conference play.
When we all talk about looking for more offense from somewhere, Parker could be that guy if he asserts himself.
If you take a look, he's actually been the most efficient player on offense, he just picks his spots more carefully. The two likely go hand in hand, but as Cronin pointed out, taking only four shots as he did against Pitt "can't happen. We can't win that way."
He now leads the Bearcats in 3-point percentage (42 percent) and his splits in aggressiveness on offense between non-conference play (particularly against the tougher non-con teams) and conference play is significant. More on that later this week.
"He has to be aggressive on the offensive end," Cronin said. "Sometimes that's my fault because I talk about making the extra pass, getting each other shots, and he's so into doing what I ask him to do that I can't take his aggressiveness away."
Sidenote, is there anything more fun to watch on this team than 6-foot-4 Parker grabbing rebounds from opposing centers? Happens every game and has for years.
3) A highlight of Wright's legacy is likely to come Friday where
with his first steal will make him the school's all-time leader in that
category. He's currently tied with David "Puffy" Kennedy at 189. Kennedy played in early 80s and is actually the father of former St. John's star and current D-Leaguer for the Erie BayHawks, DJ Kennedy. If
anybody can help me track down Puffy, let me know. I'm on a mission.
Pretty funny, actually, as SK decided to open the postgame presser last night with a statement of his own in regards to Cash not breaking the record last night. Here's the video.
"Personally, I think they should have gave Cash one more to be the
all-time leader in steals and whoever didn't make that calculation is
going to have to deal with us. This guy over here worked his butt of
today and I think he deserves to have at least one more steal because he
set a record for the team today with 14 deflections. So I don't see why
he didn't get one of those steals."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email with questions, comments or your favorite Puffy memories to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
According to the fall academic data recently released, the University of Cincinnati had 60% of its athletes sporting a 3.0 or better and more impressive was the fact that 18 student athletes had a 4.0 GPA. While this won't lead the headlines at ESPN or make an imprint on your daily paper it does deserve a spotlight somewhere, thus I write about here.
While everyone argues and whines about what conference UC should sell out to, and what coach spurned them for greener pastures we lose sight of the fact that this is an institution of higher learning. The term student-athlete is such a shallow term based on how the NCAA allows conferences and schools to just chase broadcast dollars without any governance while telling students not to focus on money but education. Kids only mirror what they see and they clearly see the grown folks chasing paper.
Sadly lost in all of this are the kids that are true student athletes. Going to class everyday, studying, practicing, excelling at test time and in the competitive arena. They quietly go unnoticed for the student part until graduation and the real world beckons. Their work ethic, ability to multi-task and achieve make them very employable and vital to the future growth of an organization. I know some of them are being honored at the UC-Villanova game but in reality why aren't they given some kind of superstar status? Free parking spots or a week off early at the end of school? There is never a tangible reward that I'm aware that rewards the high achieving student athlete that makes it cool to be in the 4.0 arena, which is rare air indeed.
It would be nice one day if the NCAA would stop chasing dollars and start chasing student athletes to find out what drives them, what makes them tick and bottle it up for the incoming freshman. Retire their textbooks and ink pens or just give them lifetime complimentary tickets to the sport they played in between going to class while they were being a true student athlete. It would be nice to hear a kid say I'm going to college and i'm going to get a 4.0 and make an impact on the field. You have to admit it sounds absolutely perfect. Kind of like the grades of the 18 student athletes at UC sporting a 4.0. Job well done student athletes, job well done.
CINCINNATI -- Only minutes into the game, Cashmere Wright wasted little time proving a point --- to his teammates, to his coach, to his fans, to his critics, to Villanova, to himself.
Diving and sliding across the floor after a loose ball at the feet of a Wildcats ball-handler, he cast aside concerns of an ailing knee and bum shoulder. Only the heart would matter on Tuesday.
The early dive wouldn't be the last time he'd chestbump the logos in the 68-50 win against the Wildcats. He wiped out villages of dust mites and set up shop in their former living rooms. On a night defense and determination returned to the dialect of the Bearcats, the man teammates are supposed to be helping through frustrating injuries set the standard for intensity necessary to capture a critical conference victory.
"Our captain right here, he led us through everything," said Sean Kilpatrick glancing to his good friend seated next to him at the postgame podium. "We attacked the ball today on defense. We did a lot of trapping and made a lot of rotations. Everyone was active. We came into this game not even thinking about offense. Everyone just came in with a defensive mindset."
For Wright, this meant returning to the scrambling, diving demeanor which served as the cornerstone of late-season surges the last two seasons. He illustrated the point to perfection racking up 14 deflections, a number Mick Cronin says he can't remember another player reaching. The team totaled 46, near a season-high.
After being forced to watch every dribble of the Pittsburgh game in a meeting Cronin called "not very pleasant," he told his team they hadn't dove on the floor for a ball in the last four games. The coach admitted he might have exaggerated a bit, but the message clearly resonated.
"If we are not the hungrier team how are we supposed to win?" Wright said of Cronin's message. "That's our staple, that's what we are known by, playing hard defense and being the first one to the ground to come up with the ball. I feel like personally, me, (Kilpatrick) and JaQuon (Parker), the guards, we got to set an example. We got to be the first ones to show the people on the bench if you come in the game nothing should change. If we are on the floor, you should be on the floor."
Over the course of the last week week critics bemoaned each time Cronin referenced defense, rather than the struggling offense, to be the difference in the sumo wrestling matches the last few games devolved into. Yet, over the last two years nobody would classify the UC offense as a work of art. Around Fifth Third Arena, the calculation worked like a proven algorithm: shoot more shots, score more points. Defense equals offense.
Tough to argue with a 21-7 advantage in points off turnovers, 19 turnovers created, six more shots attempted and the widest margin of victory since Maryland-Eastern Shore. Tuesday night, UC blew dust off the old thesis for a throwback win it sorely needed if it wants to throw back to the postseason success of the last two seasons.
"Defense is the answer, deflections are the answer, loose balls are the answer and playing for your teammates with some heart and some pride is the answer," Cronin said. "Fortunately, I have some winners in the locker room playing hurt and diving all over the floor."
This result came in a three-pronged solution, part UC hustle, part Villanova's continued vulnerability to turnovers and part Cronin's calculated scheme change.
Seeking to focus a team tied for last in steal percentage in Big East play, he changed philosophy deciding to trap every pick and roll. He accustomed the philosophy to placing blinkers on an unfocused horse, forces him up in the bridle and fixated forward. For UC, trapping the pick and roll forced aggression and attacking of the basketball.
"Makes you play harder," Cronin said. "That was an adjustment we tried to make to force our guys to get up and be more aggressive instead of just worrying about playing sound defense and scouting report defense. It really helped us. They bought into it, though. It doesn't work if the kids don't play as hard as they played. They played unbelievably hard."
Enter Wright, who finished the game tied with David "Puffy" Kennedy for the all-time school steals record at 189. He finished with 11 points, four assists, three steals, two rebounds and zero turnovers. The shot continues to be a work in progress after a 3 for 14 night, but he says he's close to fully healthy from his knee sprain and the shot is beginning to feel right again.
To be fair, optimism flows better when 12 of 25 triples find the bottom of the net. The truth for this team all year will be if the deep ball drops along with defensive players to the floor, the Bearcats belong among the Big East elite. They looked like that team against the Wildcats. The challenge for Cronin entering a brutal stretch of five consecutive games against the top teams in the conference will be sustaining.
Yet, combining health with heart on the floor, coupling belief with relief were understandable inside the home locker room.
"We lost that mental aspect of being the one that's going to get everybody," Wright said. "We fell back and people started chasing us. Then we started realizing people started giving us their best shot. When you are ranked higher than other teams they come out and give you they best shot. And we were just taking it. Instead of giving it back to them we were just taking it and hoping we come up with a win at the end of the game."
No question, UC delivered the blow Tuesday. The 178-pound kid from Georgia with a bad shoulder and two bad knees led the way, one dive at a time.
"That's what people don't understand," Cronin said. "His value to our team cannot be measured on the stat sheet."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email with questions, comments or game reaction to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Important gameday for the Bearcats (18-6, 6-5) tonight (8 p.m., FSOhio/700WLW). They host Villanova (15-9, 6-5) for the second of three tough home games in six days. The Big East picture gradually begins to take shape and UC currently sits tied for 9th with Villanova. That sure sounds like bad news on paper, but consider this: the Bearcats are one game in the loss column out of fourth place. And of the teams tied or in front of them on the schedule, they play six games against them down the stretch.
So many of the season goals are still right in front of them. That said, the time to make the move is here and it won't be easy.
Let's eat ...
--- As for Villanova, an interesting matchup for UC here. Nova found some mojo in recent weeks. They ripped off the best week of the Big East season with wins against Louisville and Syracuse back-to-back.
They're coming off consecutive wins by at least 23 points, though it was over DePaul and USF.
By the numbers, Villanova is third in defensive efficiency and second in FG percentage defense in the Big East during conference play. They lead the conference in two-point percentage defense. With a giant, HOWEVER, though is the fact they rank 12th in 3-point percentage defense. The only hole in their defense seems to be allowing 3s. And, as we know, these Bearcats aren't shy firing up from deep.
For those who like to yell and scream at my Twitter account about shooting too many 3s, please unfollow me tonight. --- In case you missed it, I wrote about the Cashmere Wright situation yesterday after we talked about it at length with Mick. You can read that here.
My analysis before talking to Mick was the same after hearing what the coach had to say: Cashmere Wright is too good and won too many games for this team to not dance with who brought you the rest of this season. You have to believe he will figure this out, he's figured things out through slumps before and this team is too good when he's great to try another strategy.
"He's all heart and he's giving everything he's got," Cronin said on 700WLW. "I feel terribly because he was having an All-Big East year."
--- By the way, always a great listen on the Mick Cronin Show with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Monday's was no different. Between Chuck's story about Chess Pie and Mick's marital advice to UC Chris, it doesn't miss. Here's the podcast.
--- Another topic Mick discussed was the need for defense to create more offense. He's correct. It's been one of the most interesting developments of the season.
Despite how well the Bearcats have played defensively this year, they've struggled to create turnovers in conference play. The irony is that has been a staple of this defense the last few years.
Mick even pointed out with Dan and Chuck nobody dove on the floor during the last game.
What does that amount to? About three to four steals per game. At their current points per possession that equals about three points a game. Think that matters in a year when most every game has come down to the final play? Better believe it.
Tonight will be the perfect time to return to the roots of turning people over. Villanova ranks dead last in conference play in turnover percentage on offense. They're averaging almost 15 turnovers in each of the last three games. They are certainly vulnerable there. --- Scott over at Bearcats Blog decided tobreak down the crunchtime shooting over the last seven games, which most have come down to the wire. Some very interesting, revealing analysis and worth a read.
--- Georgetown might be the best team in the Big East right now. They took it to Marquette last night. Otto Porter is so versatile, he becomes almost impossible to guard at times. But we have the rest of the week to talk about Friday's game.
Still, when's the last time anybody actually watched wrestling in the Olympics? Oh, and understood what was going on?
Sitting in front of your TV, on the edge of your seat, yelling out, "Nearfall!" Yeah, I didn't think so. --- Just when you thought allzombie alerts come from Florida. Good work bored Montana hackers. --- This is what happenson Tuesday nights in Key West. And was probably not even noticed by passersby. Part of the reason I had to move away from there six years ago.
--- The Harlem Shake is happening. And I don't know that we can stop it now. I'm honestly not sure what it is, only that I'm probably too old to do it. Although, I wouldn't mind being an extra in this T-Pain rendition.
As always, I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email with questions, comments or your Harlem Shake video to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
As expected Monday, the topic turned to Cashmere Wright and his offensive struggles since returning from the knee sprain suffered against DePaul.
Wright was 1 of 11 from 3-point land in a loss to Pittsburgh and 6 of 35 since in the first games since returning. He's scored 39 points in the five games (7.5 ppg), that's less than half his season average entering the game against the Blue Demons. The five-game run is his lowest such stretch of the season.
Mick Cronin admitted after Saturday's game the senior from Savannah, Ga., is playing through some pain and it's affecting his game. His toughness is undeniable and the fact he's able to push through what's ailing him a testament to the gritty type of player he's become.
At that concept a conversation emerged as to what should be done, if anything, to help Wright return to his pre-injury form which was arguably the best basketball he's played in his UC career.
Should he rest whatever is ailing him and take a break? Should they work on the technical aspect of his shot? Should more minutes filter to Ge'Lawn Guyn? Or should he be left alone because he's earned the right during one of the best careers of the Cronin era to work out of his slump on his own.
Cronin assured any issues with Wright are not mechanical, rather a result of the extended period of time he was shut down during his injury.
"There's no question he lost his rhythm," Cronin said. "When he was injured he wasn't even shooting around. We had to totally shut him down, the only thing he did was get in the pool a little bit. There's no way you can do that in the middle of the season and have it not affect you. So, he keeps giving us as much as he can give us. Hopefully he's able to get back in some sort of comfort zone down the stretch."
History suggests sticking with Wright would be the correct move. Take a look at this time last year. On this date last year he was
entering the tail end of a five-game stretch where he struggled at 3 for
14 from long range (21 percent). What happened next? He hit 10 of his next 19
sparking a UC run to five wins in six games and double-bye in the Big East tournament.
At the suggestion he should rest a few games to be sure he returns to shape for the postseason would be among the worst case scenarios in the mind of the head coach, who again assured the senior guard is healthy or he wouldn't be playing.
"What happens is when you lose your condiitioning because you are not practicing and you miss so many games maybe you lose your confidence a little bit as well as your rhythm," he said. "He just has to try to get his confidence back in practice. The problem is he hasn't been playing. When you don't play you have no rhythm in basketball."
As for the concept of more minutes for sophomore backup PG Ge'Lawn Guyn, his inconsistencies shooting the ball in games has limited his minutes. He's averaged five minutes the past three games, though contributed a critical three-point play in the second half Saturday. He's 5 of 17 from the field in conference play for 5.45 points per every 40 minutes on the floor.
"He struggles at times defensively off the ball but his on the ball intensity and his on-the-ball defense is really good," Cronin said. "He hasn't been able to knock down a high percentage of open shots. Although, he works really hard on it. In all of our practices and all of our drills he's a high percentage shooter. So, it's been frustrating to see him not be able to get it going from the perimeter as a perimeter shooter because he's a guy that makes them in practice and makes them in drills.
"It's hard to get any kind of rhythm when you are a guy that's not getting a majority of consecutive minutes."
Moral of the story, sure, Cash may be struggling but you dance with who brought you. And this senior has brought Cronin and the Bearcats a plethora of wins over the course of his career. He earned the right for as much as he's carried this team to work his way out of the current slump.
Frustrating for Wright? Yes. Then again, this guy made a career of bouncing back from tough situations and dealing with injuries. If anybody knows how to slough off frustration, it's No. 1. I want to hear from you. Send me your questions, comments and hop in line with theories on how you would help Cashmere Wright by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or hitting me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
An event allowing the Bearcats baseball team to follow the Reds at Great American Ball Park represents a perfect fit not only for both organizations, but for a collection of players enjoying a dream scenario.
Bearcats junior outfielder Justin Glass happened to catch wind UC would play a game following the Reds at Great American Ball Park this season much before Reds COO Phil Castellini took to the podium at the Riverfront Club on Friday night to make the formal announcement of the Reds Collegiate Invitational between UC and Louisville.
Glass couldn't tell anyone. With news of this magnitude, keeping a secret proved harder than hitting a curveball.
"It was tough holding it from my teammates," Glass said. "I think we all dream of playing on a major-league field at some point. To do that in front of this community and we have to do it against Louisville, our rival, too, makes it even better."
The game will take place Sunday, April 6, 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Reds 1:15 p.m game against the Washington Nationals. An idea which originated inside the Bearcats licensing department and caught momentum once Castellini and the Reds took hold of it will be the first collegiate game held at GABP.
When ideas with this many benefits come along, the initial response from nearly everyone connected with its inception sounded like a small variation of the same question: Why has this not happened before?
Two teams who wear the name Cincinnati across their chest serve as a perfect match. A Reds organization that invests as much in the community as any sports team in the country relishes an opportunity to cultivate baseball inside the city. When the Castellini family took over six years ago, they funded nine youth baseball teams. Today they fund nearly 500. In the same respect, the Reds Community Fund grew from $500k to $2 million over the time span.
To continue to connect with the city while drawing more attention to their own elite product only ices the cake.
Having lived in Cincinnati only 16 months, it didn't take long for UC AD Whit Babcock to understand the dynamics of this area. This is a Reds town. They're as beloved and engrained in the fabric as chili on spaghetti. Babcock's been searching for as many ways as possible to forge a partnership.
"Obviously the Reds are so well established," he said. "I really like the energy, I like everything about coming down to the ball park so we want to align ourselves with them. And the big buzz word these days is branding, I want our brand to align with the Reds brand and hopefully they can get some mileage out of it, too, because it's another way for them to give back to Greater Cincinnati."
Babcock even briefly explored the concept of playing a football game at GABP, possibly around Thanksgiving, before the logistics became impossible.
"That would work as long as the field is 85 yards long," he said. "Then we could do it."
In an era of forced events for publicity like shoving the corner of an end zone against the ivy at Wrigley Field or condensation on the basketball court of an aircraft carrier, this combination fits snug. The list goes on: feasibility, beneficial for both sides, promotes baseball, connects the city, grows the brand, helps recruiting and draws national attention to Cincinnati.
Oh, and too often forgotten in the business landscape of college athletics, this event makes for one heck of an experience for a collection of young baseball players.
"You pick up a glove, you want to play in the big leagues," said baseball coach Brian Cleary, the Bearcats all time wins leader with 412. "Most of our guys won't get a chance to do that but they will now have a chance to play in a big-league stadium, same place the big-league guys do, like the big-league guys do."
Of course, that may come with the task of calming down players dreaming of hitting a home run at GABP instead of focusing on the job of beating a Louisville team ranked No. 4 nationally preseason by Baseball America. A great problem to have thanks to an idea Babcock hopes will continue for years to come.
"We try to turn our focus back to the student-athlete experience," Babcock said. "For them to get a chance to play out there will be a great experience. If we can beat Louisville, even better."
I want to hear from you. Shoot me any questions, comments or exaggerated stories of your glory days of youth baseball to email@example.com or on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
In the aftermath of a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh, Mick Cronin and the Bearcats focused on toughness rather than a struggling offense in attempting to dig out of a recent funk.
CINCINNATI -- As the Bearcats worked the ball inside and outside the Pittsburgh zone defense, it eventually kicked out to Sean Kilpatrick standing in his favorite spot in the corner, the defender out of position.
From a spot where he's buried countless 3s during his career at a higher percentage than any spot on the floor hit the rim and bounced into a mob of Panthers.
A possession later, movement inside created a kick out to Cashmere Wright standing at the top of the key, a spot where he's been most comfortable shooting during a season where he knocking down 40 percent from deep.
It slipped in and out.
More triples would follow, some contested, most not. Most were of the high percentage variety into the wheelhouse of this team's best players in positions where they've made a career burying during NCAA tournament runs.
Following the 62-52 loss to Pittsburgh during which UC didn't manage a field goal in the final 9:21 of regulation, walking out of Fifth Third Arena in a frustrated fury muddling about how the offense stinks would be a cop out and lack a deeper introspection.
The Bearcats offense created open shots, maybe as many as they have in weeks. On this night, in the second half, they didn't fall. That happens. Nobody wants it to happen and certainly not in the final minutes of a critical conference game leaving UC (18-6, 6-5) at a crossroads one month from Selection Sunday. Yet, an offense under scrutiny will take undue criticism in the aftermath of Saturday night.
Clearly, Mick Cronin wouldn't buy bad offense theories during a press conference that amounted to the most frustrated eight minutes and 25 seconds we've seen of him this season.
"You can sit there and say, boy Cash and SK had some wide open looks when they went zone," Cronin said. "Yeah, they did. But where I come from you have to win when you don't make shots. Right now we are not tough enough to beat a good team."
Winning without making shots comes as easy as not sticking out in a red shirt among the whiteout crowd. Yet, going the first 15 minutes of the second half without an offensive rebound while so many were available sent Cronin into a speech on his team's need to find a way to finish the job.
Kelvin Gaines, David Nyarsuk and Chiekh Mbodj combined for one offensive rebound among 36 missed shots.
"You got to be tough enough to beat a good team, do whatever it takes," Cronin said. "There's a difference between giving effort and giving the effort required to win the game. Tonight when we weren't making shots the effort required to win the game was for our five man to get a rebound. The effort required was to be perfect on defense. Our effort wasn't good enough to win. That's all I'm interested in."
Certainly, the devil's advocate will shrug at toughness and point to the numbers. And rest assured they are disappointing for UC.
The Bearcats finished Saturday 4 of 25 from 3-point range. They missed their final 14 shots. Kilpatrick went 0 for 7 after halftime following one his most efficient halves of the season to open the game.
Cashmere Wright continues to struggle with his shot since the injury. After weeks spent as the best player on the court every time he took the floor, he's hit just 6 of 35 from 3-point range (17 percent) since coming back. This from a player who was knocking them down at a 46 percent clip.
"Let's just be honest, guys, the kid is giving everything he's got," Cronin said. "He's playing hurt, it's obviously affecting his game."
His struggles filter down to the rest of the team and UC certainly must find a way to convert under the current circumstances. A common misunderstanding would be toughness revolving only around defense. Quite the contrary. A significant part of developing toughness means finishing around the rim and fighting for rebounds, which Cronin focused on after the game.
To contend the offense is a broken mess would mean only looking at the box score and not the film.
"I think our offense was fine today, we just had a lot of defensive breakdowns," Kilpatrick said. "We are sharing the ball, that is all that matters."
February may be the shortest month, but means the most in terms of momentum. Over the past two seasons, the Bearcats found a way to fight out of a funk as the outside tossed dirt on them. Even sitting on a podium five feet removed from the UC backdrop Saturday night, Kilpatrick sounded like a player with his back pressed against directly against the wall.
"There's a lot of teams around the country that tends to fold ... that can't be the case at all," Kilpatrick said. "We got to want it more than the other team and today that didn't happen. We know what we are capable of and we know if we continue to keep playing the way we played the last two games it won't be good. We will get out the trench."
Little time exists for digging. Villanova (15-9, 6-5) and Georgetown (17-4, 7-3) arrive in Clifton for two games in five days and the relentlessness of the Big East shows up like a bullying post move from Steven Adams.
As Cronin referenced before making his final statement of the night and leaving, worrying about wide open misses would be a waste of time. The law of averages will center themselves. Worrying about converting the difficult buckets around the basket and finding ways to claw out victories remain a better use of time.
"You go to find a way to win," Cronin said. "And the answer is to toughen up and get the job done. So, obviously, I got work to do." I want to hear from you. Shoot me your comments, questions and any theories you'd like to offer up to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Going to keep this to three primary points this Friday and let you all get on with your day. Reminder for the weekend: UC hosts Pittsburgh at 6 p.m. on Saturday, it's a white out for those of you concerned with color coordination.
Let's eat ...
Point 1 -- Met with Mick Cronin yesterday and, not shockingly, the conversation of offense came up. There no secret that the offensive efficiency of the Bearcats will decide how far they go. Of late, the concern has been an over-reliance on Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. In the process, Wright has struggled since returning from his sprained knee.
The last four games, he's topped six points only once (17 vs. Seton Hall) and had nine turnovers with nine assists. Far from the same Cash we saw in the two weeks leading up to his injury where he essentially carried the team on his back. Wright is one tough amigo and is obviously playing through some issues right now, likely both physical and mental.
He needs to play better, sure, but he's far from alone. UC just doens't shoot a good enough percentage from the field right now. They've topped 37.5 percent from the field only once in the last seven games. For Cronin, he believes that problem stems from passing.
In the last five games the Bearcats have notched more assists than turnovers only one time.
"Shooting percentage to me is a direct reflection of passing," Cronin said. "That's been a struggle for us all year. The last five games our leading assist total guys are Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and then JaQuon Parker. We have got to do a better job of doing things to get each other open. Whether it is the screen or the pass and understanding the importance of that and not relying on guys to save the day. That really reared its head on us (Wednesday) and has really been our Achilles heel."
The latest talking point revolved around SK and Cash trusting their teammates and not trying to be heroes. That was most evident in the final play Wednesday with Kilpatrick attempting to draw a foul against a double team instead of passing off for a teammate. It's a matter of believing that other players can score and setting them up more often to do so with the pass.
"You got two guys on you, if you are being pressured 20 feet from the rim and there is a guy open tbree feet from the rim, we got to get that guy the ball," Cronin said. "We've all struggled with that. No doubt about it. Too much dribbling -- sideways, too. Too much screening not enough passing."
Point 2 -- Teams lose. It happens. While addressing concerns is necessary and a bigger picture must involve improving offensive efficiency, take a look around college basketball.
Kansas falls against TCU. Florida lost at Arkansas. Indiana beaten at previously struggling Illinois. That's just in the last few days.
Lose a game, particularly in the fashion UC did and the national types love to bail. It's happened before and is happening again. Just take a look at the ESPN Power Rankings with UC all way down at No. 8. Surviving the attrition of the season will tell the ultimate story.
"At the end of the day if could call Bill Self and we could figure out how to make sure our teams don't have a bad night (it would) be a magic formula," Cronin said. "I could just be a coaching consultant. And then I'd be able to sleep. So, you never know. As a coach you are kidding yourself if you think you can win every game and always play well."
All that said, the Bearcats could certainly use a strong showing and victory against a quality PIttsburgh team on Saturday. The Panthers have won seven of their last nine and the only losses came against Marquette in OT and at Louisville. Plus, considering UC went into their building and ran away with a second-half surge for the victory to open Big East play, expectations are they will be coming in hot. "They feel they should have won the game and we outrebounded them in the second half of that game," Cronin said. "I'm sure they are going to come in here ready to play. In fact, I would bet my career on it."
Point 3 -- James White will be in the NBA Dunk contest next weekend. This is awesome on so many levels. White's been dominating dunk contests since he was in high school and even with his team overseas. Watching White sky was one of the greatest aspects of Bearcats basketball in the early 2000s.
With Gerald Green back, the competition will be tough, but once the patented free-throw line, through the legs dunk breaks out it should be goodnight. Funny thing is Green and White actually squared off in a dunk contest before -- Russia 2010 (last video below). You know, where all great dunk contests take place.
Of course, that only means we have to break out the White dunk highlight package. And there's a few of them.
As I watched an angry and frustrated Mick Cronin
barely touch his postgame meal after Wednesday's loss at Providence, I was reminded
of the advice he used to get from his mother.As the wife of a long-time basketball coach, the late Peggy Cronin
didn't necessarily want her son to follow in his father's footsteps.
"My sister has multiple degrees and is highly
educated and my mom - God rest her soul - told me to do better in school," Mick
told me recently."I should have gone to
law school and then I would be able to eat and sleep at night."
But as a huge fan of the Godfather movies (the theme song is the current ringtone on Mick's
cell phone) he is also quick to quote the fictional mobster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II by saying, "This
is the business that we've chosen."
Business has mostly been good for Cronin and the 17th-ranked
Bearcats, but they came up short against a Providence team that is no
pushover.The Friars are in the Top 100
of the RPI rankings and were coming off of a road win at Villanova on Sunday.
"People get the schedule at the beginning of the
year and they go through it and say, 'There's a win,'" said Coach Cronin."My brother loves to do that.I always tell him, 'I don't want to hear it,
and I guarantee that it won't be close to what you think.'You can't think about March right now and you
can't think back to November and December.You've got to try to get better each and every day and know that the
minute you let up, you're going to lose in this league.
"That's how we clawed and scraped our way to
rebuilding Cincinnati basketball.It's
not because we have five NBA draft picks running around.We did it by staying focused on just winning
the next game.My job is to make sure
that the guys are focused on that and nothing else because if you go into a
game thinking you're supposed to win, you will lose."
The Bearcats scored a season-low 50 points in
Wednesday's defeat and have averaged just 54 points in their five losses this
season.While UC has limitations on
offense, ESPN's Jay Bilas says that the Bearcats are deserving of their
"I think that Cincinnati is one of the Top 20 teams
in the country and they grade out that way from an efficiency standpoint,"
Bilas recently told Mo Egger on ESPN 1530."Defense is primarily carrying it for them.Cincinnati is an excellent defensive team and
a really good rebounding team.Where the
Bearcats can get into trouble is when they turn the ball over."
Bilas made those comments one day before the
Providence loss and proved to be prophetic when Cincinnati committed 15
turnovers against the Friars.
"That really hurts us in a lot of ways," said Coach
Cronin."You can't score if you turn it
over, and you might get an offensive rebound if you get a shot off.The turnover also fuels the other team's fast
break and eliminates our defense.Just don't
throw it to them and we might score.We
have some guys that can play."
"Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are their two
best offensive players, but JaQuon Parker does a terrific job when he gets the
ball in the right spots," Bilas told Egger."A lot of basketball comes down to ball movement and player movement.We can sit and talk about running this play
or that play but it's not plays - it's players.I know that Mick Cronin tells his guys, 'Be a player, don't just run the
play.'The plays that he runs are all
For the Bearcats to operate at peak efficiency on
offense, they need Wright to play as well as he had before spraining his knee
against DePaul.In four games since the
injury, the senior point guard is 9-for-41 overall (22%), 5-for-24 from three
point range (21%), and has as many turnovers as assists (9-9).
"He's been banged up and just can't catch a break,"
said Cronin."He may not look as tough
as (former Bearcat) Bobby Brannen, but he's every bit as tough.He's every bit as tough as any guy that I've
ever been around as a coach.
"For him, it's just a matter of staying healthy and
getting his rhythm back.The more he practices
and plays games; he'll get back to being his normal self.If he can stay healthy, he's going to play
Wright and his teammates certainly don't have time
to rest and recover.They begin a
critical stretch of three tough home games in seven days on Saturday night
"The longer you're in this business - and this is my
10th year as a head coach - you come to realize that this is a game
of survival," said Cronin.
On the latest edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast we go national as I welcome back Rob Dauster, senior college basketball writer for NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk. Many of you will remember Rob and his partner in college basketball crime Troy Machir from last year when they ran the college hoops blog Ballin' Is A Habit and made an 18-day trek across the country to take in the best games/locations in the middle of January.
During that trek they sat down with me and while we recording a podcast talking basketball and eating lunch at Montgomery Inn Ribs. Without the draw of offering their first foray into the beauty that is Montgomery Inn, I was still able to bring Rob back today as we talked about his move from BIAH to NBC Sports, late-night West Coast tweeting, the national view of UC, ranking the Big East conference teams, why people need to stop talking about college basketball being "a" shambles and how watching six basketball games at once can place a strain on your relationship.
The Bearcats were caught in the ultimate trap game Wednesday night. A team that's played well on the road all year concluding a stretch of three winnable games in which they found a way to grind out the first two. A Saturday game against Pittsburgh becoming a bigger tilt by the day. Facing a team coming off a big win and looking to show off at home.
The culprit continues to be an offense that has struggled to find consistency. As March begins to draw closer, the urgency to find an answer grows.
Of course, everyone will forget about this loss and be back on the bandwagon should UC take down Pitt Saturday at 6 p.m. at Fifth Third. That's life in the rough and tumble Big East.
Let's eat ...
--- Cronin said before the game Wednesday he thought his team needed to score 70 points to win the game. In actuality, as consistent as the defense has been this season, the line of demarcation between win and loss stands at 60. If they can find a way to top 60 points, they will rarely lose. Easier said than done, obviously, as UC has only topped 60 points six of the 10 conference games.
Scored 61+: 6-0
Scored 60 or less: 0-4
No secret there, right? Score more points you win. It only goes to show how close UC is from winning almost every game it's played in. The defense has done the job most every night no matter the style or opponent. Improving offensive efficiency even minimally would seem to be enough to take the Cats to the next level.
Should there be any reason to expect that happening? Well, yeah, actually. It happened last year. Take a look at the average point totals dividing conference play in half last season.
First 9 games: 65.3
Last 9 games: 68.9
Much of the 3.5-point differential came from the offensive ascension of Yancy Gates down the stretch. The challenge will be to find who will be this year's Gates that puts a run together to lift the scoring. The year before that, the Bearcats found something defensively in the second half of the conference season. Here were their defensive points allowed for the conference season in 2010-11.
First 10 games: 62.8
Last 8 games: 59.3
Yet another 3.5-point swing, this time on the defensive end. Think about it, UC has lost five games this year by a total of 14 points. Only Notre Dame kept them from a shot in the final seconds. For this team to reach its lofty goals, some improvement needs to happen down the stretch. The good news being, the last two years it has done exactly that.
--- On the bright side last night, more quality minutes from Shaq Thomas. He'll probably remember the layup he missed that would have tied the game in the final minute, but he played well and kept UC within striking distance. He finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds (2 offensive), one block and one steal in 16 minutes.
The steal was a critical pick-pocket under the basket for a layup in the final minutes.
Many nights Thomas can't stay on the court, but when he does he always leaves you wanting more. And you have to love his aggression in taking a big shot driving to the bucket at the end of the game. The Bearcats have to hope the miss doesn't suppress any of the confidence he played with.
On Twitter after the game last night a follower was talking about how this loss could hurt in March. Yeah, maybe in seeding, but really it doesn't. This tournament will be as wide open as any in recent memory with no great teams. The more the season goes on the more we realize seeds will be less and less important. Whoever gets hot will be very capable of beating the team across from them whether a 2 seed or an 11 seed and everything in-between.
Many years you can't say that.
--- Rob Dauster at NBC Sports writes about how Providence is no longer a pushover. Remember that name, by the way, I'll be having Rob on the podcast which should be up later today. You should remember him from the Ballin' Is A Habit Tour last year where we recorded a podcast as he and his partner in basketball crime Troy Machir downed Montgomery Inn ribs for the first time.
--- Luke Winn's Power Rankings in the Florida section include an excellent look at 3-point reliance on offense and success in the NCAA tournament. UC isn't quite shooting 41 percent of their shots from deep on the season, but they are actually shooting 42.1 percent of their shots from 3-point range in conference play. It leads the league. Winning six games in March shooting that many shots from deep has proven to be a difficult proposition over the last five years.
He also breaks out Cheikh Mbodj Twitter trivia with UC at No. 16.
--- The NFL Combine invitee list was officially released with four Bearcats headed to Indy: DE Walter Stewart,TE Travis Kelce, RB George Winn and WR Kenbrell Thompkins.
I have a hunch KT could be this year's Adrien Robinson who comes from off the radar to a draft pick.
--- Toledo hit a 3-pointerat the buzzer to beat Miami by one. Cool enough, then consider the shot was made by a freshman center for his first triple of the year. Sidenote: Only thing missing from the analyst reaction was a Boom Goes the Dynamite.
With a full day of high school coverage on my day gig, I was unable to make Coach Tommy Tuberville's 3 p.m. press conference for National Signing Day Feb. 6.
However, a crafty veteran always finds another way. I knew the 1200 Club would be entertained later in the evening at the Kingsgate Marriott, so after my day of high school press conferences, videos and getting a kid to his pitching lesson, I made my way to the Bearcat gathering.
It was a great event, with Coach Tuberville introducing his staff and many loyal Bearcats (such as UC's all-time leading tackler Karl Woods) on hand to meet the football crew.
Later there was a rundown of each recruit for those attending dinner in the ballroom. As always, the Kingsgate staff was at the top of their game.
While I was just there for a couple interviews, I was able to meet Tyson Helton (special teams/tight ends) who just came here from UAB. My son is a trainer for the Blazers, so it was nice to meet someone who had worked for him.
OK, personal gibberish aside, this staff includes two guys that I remember from Coach Tim Murphy's Bearcat staff from the early 90s. I got to know Coach Murphy then and covered the team when they honestly were overmatched and underfunded. Things have changed drastically.
Eddie Gran and John Lovett are now back. Gran is the new offensive coordinator and Lovett is coaching defensive backs.
I spoke to both, but I'll give you the "Gran Plan" first. For those I saw at the event that remembered me from my involvement with the football program, I appreciate your kindness. .
A unique month-plus of recruiting essentially came to a close Wednesday and new coach Tommy Tuberville could finally relax after weeks spent sifting through the transition from Butch Jones.
CINCINNATI -- During a week of bowl practices in December, Tommy Tuberville stood along the sidelines inside the bubble. Coaches, administrators and even the occasional media type would come and go, but for the most part he stood by himself.
He watched and evaluated. Alone.
"Normally I've got 10 or 12 sets of eyes and knowing this is exactly what we need going into this recruiting class," Tuberville said. "It was me. I was really the only one here."
As the opening weeks of recruiting began he opened the process of seeking out who verbally committed to UC and who could be available as moving parts everywhere chaotically dispersed like fifth graders at recess. With much of his staff still assembling and finishing up bowl games, he took on the majority of the load.
The events of the last month and a half came to a calming conclusion Wednesday set to the ancient sound of the fax machine. All the typical National Signing Day buzz words laced Tuberville's press conference. He recruited speed, character, upside.
Nobody will know for a few years how many will flourish and how many will flounder.
All that is known about the class of 2013 was the collection took interesting roads to get here. For some, their heads are still spinning from the process. Certainly, Tuberville's would be among them.
"We were probably looking at about 10-12 players this time last week we
had no clue where they were going," he said. "We had to put a hard drive on the
last few weeks."
As far as filling the desires of class, the Tuberville administration made the most of their short time span.
"Usually when you have six or seven guys on the fence the last couple of
days you hope to get 50 percent," Tuberville said. "We got more than that this year."
No need to break down the hip swivel, pad level or quick twitch of all 22 new members of UC football. One trip through Signing Day Central will tell you all about the blur of WR Johnny Holton's top-end speed or special athleticism of TE Chris Burton. For Tuberville, this class would be about more than tangible 40-yard dash splits or vertical leap heights.
This winter whirlwind has been about filling needs and recruiting to a profile. Switching from a spread system to multiple pro style requires different fits and switching from the relentless personality of Butch Jones to calculated managerial methods of this man of the South bares different parameters.
Amid a slew of controversies far from unique to UC, the uneasy process of finding players and coaches that fit each other didn't come easy. Tuberville never expected it to. He never wanted it to. He's learned to trust nothing but his own eyes during decades spent unearthing talent such as finding Ray Lewis for Miami when nobody else offered him or tracking down RB Rudi Johnson for Auburn when they needed a running back.
The mentality of building a football program wasn't about to change now.
"I am not going to let other people pick players for me," he said. "The evaluation part of recruiting is the most important part. You can go
out and sign all these big-time high school athletes and they might not
be able to play. You make less mistakes when you go out and do your own evaluation, don't
take anybody's word for it, work with the coaches, work with the
counselers, work with the principals, everybody involved and try to get
the best person, the best athlete to come to your university."
The results of the evaluations?
UC needed more height in the secondary. Tuberville landed five DBs, three listed at 5-foot-11 and two more at 6-2.
He wavered over how many quarterbacks to sign with Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux set to graduate after next season and a cast of unproven players behind them. He eventually stayed with only one QB recruit, Brent Stockstill of Murfreesboro, Tenn. Instead, he viewed junior college running backs with experience taking big hits as a more pressing need.
A defensive line without much disruptive height on the outside concerned the coach as well, so he sought out versatile linemen who can add weight later but have height now. Jerrell Jordan, Mark Wilson and Terrell Hartsfield all list at 6-3.
Searching for holes to plug so next year's team doesn't end up strapped at key positions, he added seven junior college players instead of a more standard four to five for immediate impact.
Instead of over-signing, the new coach
opted for the opposite leaving three scholarships open to reward
In the end, a few players Tuberville
desired to keep ended up at Tennessee. A few players Texas Tech
wanted to keep ended up in the C-paw. And a number of players nobody
knew who would keep, decided on Cincinnati. The musical chairs
continued for more than a month and the Bearcats feel they emerged
with the right types of athletes sitting in the red and black seats.
That's all that mattered to Tuberville.
Believing anything but his own eyes wasn't going to cut it, even if
that meant for a hectic first few months on the job.
doesn't take great players to win championships," he said. "It
takes a lot of good players that work together as a team.
Expectations of where we were at compared to what I thought we would
do a month ago is a lot better."
Not too many teams, especially outside of the BIG EAST, have had as challenging a schedule as the UC women's basketball team has faced in the last few weeks. Take #2 Notre Dame, #3 UConn, #11 Louisville, #22 Syracuse and throw in Villanova in Others Receiving Votes, and you have a string of opponents you wouldn't want to face at any time, much less in a 30-day period.
Best thing about it, that stretch is over, after Tuesday night's home game with Syracuse. (Thanks, Dana Rieger, for the photo)
But of course, there are more conference games to be played, starting Saturday, on the road at Rutgers. You can say the season starts all over again this weekend. Now that the murder's row of BIG EAST opponents is behind them, the Bearcats can concentrate on conference wins, and getting ready for the conference tournament at the end of the season.
The most promising part of these tough games is that this team has not given up, either on themselves or on their coach. Jamelle Elliott fought hard for her players in Tuesday night's Syracuse game, and they responded with a terrific effort. While turnovers got the best of the Bearcats, it's a good teaching moment for them to know that they can battle with the best of the BIG EAST and walk off the court with their heads held high.
Other notes: The UC Bearcat Tennis Team goes on the road this weekend, first to Toledo on Saturday, then Bowling Green on Sunday before they enter BIG EAST play. Follow them this weekend at www.gobearcats.com.
Every year the obsession over rankings, stars and grainy YouTube videos takes over the Internettings. I'm always here to tell you to slow down. So often the most stars turn out to have as much a chance at success as the fewest stars. Don't believe me, check out the research by the Post and Courier unearthing a 42 percent "bust rate" among even the top 100 recruits in the nation each year.
With so many teams, systems, coaches, players and more the variables on spotting a true predictor of success in high school are so many it becomes very difficult truly know who will succeed. For the Bearcats, finding the underrated diamond in the rough and developing them have been the key to five 10-win seasons in six years.
Here's my list of the top six underrated Bearcats National Signing Day steals of those last six years. Developing these players and extracting their potential more than any star acquisition produced four Big East championships. And look no further than the 2008 class, which should be looked back upon as one of the great diamond in the rough classes in college football the last five years.
6) Deven Drane Class: 2010 Stars: Rivals 2, ESPN Not Rated, Scout 2 Current Status: At UC, Senior Hometown: Plantation, Fla. Impact: 5 INTS last two years, tied for lead on 2012 team in passes defensed/break-ups, 76-yard fumble return for TD, two-year starter returning in 2013. Why he's here: Glossed over by most when running down that Class of 2010, he broke onto the scene midway through the 2011 season with key interceptions to secure wins, most notably late against South Florida. He's developed into one of the top corners on the team and should be the No. 1 CB on the depth chart come spring. Future: Drane has NFL potential and is among a group of of the returning players drawing some eyes from the league.
5) Ralph David Abernathy IV Class: 2011 Stars: Rivals 3, ESPN 3, Scout 2 Current Status: At UC, junior starting RB Hometown: Atlanta, Ga. Impact:
Last season compiled 69 rushes for 366 yards, 28 receptions for 341 yards, 25-yard average kickoff return, 7 TDs. This came after a freshman year where he broke onto the scene as a kickoff returner and had a memorable go-ahead TD in the Liberty Bowl. Why he's here: The potential. He averaged 7.3 yards per touch and established himself as the most explosive player on the team. On Signing Day in 2011 he was a distant third mentioned among the RB commits, but proven to be one of the steals of the day out of Atlanta and also one of the biggest keys to the next two seasons in Cincinnati. Future: Returns in what should be the primary RB role in 2013. After two seasons seeing touches limited by Isaiah Pead and George Winn his times seems to have come and the sample size of his results say they should be memorable.
4) Isaiah Pead Class: 2008 Stars: Rivals 3, ESPN 2, Scout 3 Current Status: RB/PR, St. Louis Rams Hometown: Columbus, Ohio Impact: Arguably the greatest RB in UC history. An impact player on the undefeated Sugar Bowl team and enjoyed one of the great senior years of all-time where he rushed for 1,259 yards, had 319 receiving and led the team in punt return average in limited attempts. Why he's here: He may have not been underrated in the Bearcats class of 2008, but he was underrated as a whole. To jump from a three-star prospect out of high school to the 45th selection in the NFL Draft and the type of career he churned out at UC, he can't be left off an underrated list. Future: Played in a surprisingly limited role with the Rams his rookie year, but he'll receive more opportunities as he picks up the NFL speed and Steven Jackson's career fades.
3) Armon Binns Class: 2007 Stars: Rivals 2, ESPN 2, Scout 2 Current Status: WR Miami Dolphins Hometown: Pasadena, Calif. Impact:Caught the pass in the greatest play in UC football history. It could end there, if necessary. It doesn't. Compiled 1,909 receiving yards his final two seasons at UC with 21 touchdowns. Why he's here: Only two stars and a relative unknown kid out of California, Binns developed into an NFL wide receiver and a central figure on one of the great offenses in schools history and undefeated Sugar Bowl season. Future: Officially broke into the active NFL players last year rising to a starter with the Bengals. He eventually was picked up by the Miami Dolphins late in the year and takes on a wide open receiver position next season.
2) Derek Wolfe Class: 2008 Stars: Rivals 2, ESPN Not Rated, Scout 3 Current Status: Starting DL Denver Broncos Hometown: Lisbon, Ohio Impact:
His senior season he rose up NFL Draft boards thanks to a college football high among DTs, 21.5 tackles for loss. That went with 9.5 sacks and as disruptive as a DT could be. Why he's here: Wolfe came in as an Ohio-recruit afterthought with just two stars and minimal fanfare. For much of his first few seasons he was just that, but turns out he developed into a game-changing defensive lineman and the first pick of the Denver Broncos and No. 35 overall in the 2012 draft. Future: Bright. He broke onto the scene with six sacks and 40 tackles as a rookie for Denver and stalwart on a stingy Broncos defense.
1) JK Schaffer Class: 2008 Stars: Rivals 2, ESPN 2, Scout 2 Current Status: Practice squad Cincinnati Bengals Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio Impact: Three-year starter at linebacker and recorded 100-plus tackles to lead the team for each of those three seasons. Undeniable team leader, heart and soul of the 2011 shared Big East championship. Why he's here: Schaffer hasn't had the biggest impact in the NFL or been a high-profile star, rather, he was the epitome of the under-the-radar player on NSD. He received a scholarship at the last minute and was not highly recruited in the least out of LaSalle. Yet, upon arriving at UC he made an instant impact. While a guy like Wolfe could be placed No.1, he didn't have the long-term impact on the program as Schaffer did with his three years manning the linebacker spot and becoming an engine in the defense. Future: Should be in the mix to make the Bengals next year, likely in a special teams capacity.
Honorable Mention (Rivals rank): 2011 -- Parker Ehinger (2), 2010 -- Eric Lefeld (2), Arryn Chenault (2), Adrian Witty (2); 2009 -- Patrick O'Donnell (2), Maalik Bomar (3); 2008 -- Dan Giordano (2), Travis Kelce (2), Cam Cheatham (2); Walter Stewart (3); 2007 -- Drew Frey (2).
I want to hear from you. Send any comments, questions or tell me why I was dead wrong in my rankings to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Entertaining, informative media session with Mick Cronin yesterday, as always. The more of these I enjoy the more I think Cronin may have a future in standup comedy when he decides to retire. Of course, we learned Monday that may not be as far off as you would think for a 41-year-old coach who just earned win No. 200.
After researching the comparisons and looking at the big picture of win 200 here yesterday (you can read that here), I was asking Cronin a bit more about that. He couldn't help but continue to laugh at the concept of being mentioned in the same comparison breath as those like Coach K or any of those among the active leaders in career wins. Most of those surpassed, 700, 800 and 900 wins. Cronin doesn't expect to see those types of numbers, mainly because he doesn't plan on coaching that long.
"I started young which means I'll be able to retire young," he said. "That's the
goal at least, I hope you guys understand that. People start comparing
me to guys that coach in their 60s, they are barking up the wrong tree."
He went on to point out his father, Hep, retired from coaching hoops at age 50 and became a successful baseball scout. Cronin's followed in his dad's footsteps thus far, it would be hard to imagine it stopping now.
Mick lives, eats, breathes basketball and raising his daughter. But he also sees a bigger picture in the long run.
"There are other things to do," Cronin said. "I got a period and a window where whatever I am going to get done, I am going to get it done."
This wasn't exactly the Pitino-style announcement of a future retirement date, but also not the first time we've heard Mick talk like this. He's mentioned other time he wants to coach at UC for 20-25 years. He's been here for seven. Placing him at 25 years here would place him at 59 years old. Obviously, he's not planning on coaching into his 60s, so there you go.
Having conversations about when Mick might retire or even speculating to what his feelings could be in the year 2031 are beyond laughable at this point, but found it to be an interesting concept he brought up.
I don't know who will be the Bearcats basketball coach in 2031, but I do know there better be a Back to the Future hoverboard by that point in time. We've waited long enough.
Let's eat ...
--- Mick had a great exchange as Bill Koch brought up the joking suggestion made by Mick to Hep after Saturday's game, that he should receive $200 for his 200th career win.
Cronin could only laugh about the concept he would ever receive that cash. (To be fair, Hep did show up at the radio show last night at Montgomery Inn with a cake for him) "You know what happens nowadays, they say the relationship comes full circle in parenting," Mick said. "They take care of you, you grow up, then you take care of them. Let's just say we're in the latter stages of that relationship."
All joking aside, Hep never misses a practice and is there with Mick every step of the way. Add that to the reasons Mick feels this is the perfect setup and why he never would want to leave UC.
--- More expounding on the 200-win comparisons I made yesterday, was curious what Mick felt most legitimized a coach. The truly great ones do it year in and year out, not just a few fluke tournament runs. The elite are cloaked in consistency.
Not surprisingly, Cronin could have cared less about any of those types of comparisons.
"I don't think about that stuff," Cronin said. "I don't think about where you would rank
as coaches; all that stuff is very, very hollow to me. I really don't
think twice about where people view me in the rankings of college
coaches. I view coaching as the minute you are a head coach every year
they tie you to the railroad tracks. By the time the train rolls around
in April, you better have gotten off. That means you get to keep your job
another year. You survive March and April with your job, just remember,
come March and April, they tie you to the tracks again."
Love that analogy. I think most of us who work(ed) in the newspaper business know what it feels like when the train starts tooting the horn.
--- Sean Kilpatrick was named to the Big East honor roll again this week. This is his sixth appearance as either a Player of the Week or spot on the honor roll. He's now tied for second in the league in points in conference games. He's averaging 18.1 points per game.
Only person averaging more points against him will be his matchup Wednesday, Providence's Bryce Cotton (20.7).
"I seen him play the other night, he's a great player," Kilpatrick said. "He can make big shots. That's how it is all around the Big East, though. You have palyers like that that can make big shots and any play, but he's pretty good."
He plays quite a bit like SK, actually. He loves to fire up the 3 and will do it often. Only once in conference play has he not shot at least seven triples in a game.
Here's the leaders in 3-pointers made during conference play thus far:
1. Bryce Cotton 35
2. Sean Kilpatrick 27
3. Shabazz Napier 22
4. D'Angelo Harrison 20
Both SK and Cotton stand in the top 15 of the nation in 3-point attempts per game. Just don't expect for Kilpatrick to be tracking the individual battle.
"I'm always one of the guys that's able to take on anybody," he said. "That's just what my mentality is. I don't care who it is and I don't care who I play. As long as we win by one that's all that matters to me."
--- There are seven Big East teams ranked in this week's Top 25. Seven.
--- Don't expect Mick to pay much attention to the rankings and he does his best to keep his players from doing so, as well. He believes rankings and hype are a big reason for the lull which occurred in last December/early January.
"When we were Top 10 we got ahead of ourselves a little bit and started
thinking about what could happen. And what we are capable of, our
standing on the national scene, and we learned real quick that will get
you beat. Not that we weren't playing hard I just think that our
attention to detail cost us 10 points which cost us being 22-0. We all
have the same problem with kids. With any sport, pros or college, it's
just trying to stay game by game, day by day. It's such a long season
it's almost impossible for the guys at points not to start looking ahead
to when it gets really exciting in March." --- For those that don't know, the baseball team is holding its First Pitch Reception at Great American Ballpark on Friday. It will be extra special this year as Whit Babcock, Reds CEO Phil Castellini and coach Brian Clearly will be announcing a partnership between UC baseball and the Reds. You'll want to hear about this. Here's your details on event, though, unfortunately it is sold out. I'll be bring you more information as it goes down this weekend.
--- Tomorrow is National Signing Day. Tommy G and the crew will be churning out all the details for you right here at GoBearcats.com. This officially includes the return of Fax Cam, aka, the Bruce Springsteen channel.
Interview with coach Tuberville and both coordinators will be up in the morning. Indications are there are huge numbers for the Signing Day Dinner Event later tomorrow night. Here's the details.
--- Today is Bobby Brown's birthday. Don't live like Bobby, but feel free to dance like him.
I want to hear from you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with any questions, comments or whatever else your heart desires. Except videos of you dancing to My Prerogative, you can save those.
Having just recorded his 200th win as a college head coach, UC's Mick Cronin has worn a collection of outfits while pacing the sidelines.
He doesn't have a trademark sweater or pullover like a couple of famous "Bobs" have sported. Instead, he goes with the flow of the game. With many games having different "themes", I decided to do some hard-hitting journalism and ask La Salle High School's finest what he most enjoys on the "Catwalk".
(Surely this will lead to an Oscar gig with Joan Rivers and her daughter.)
Nobody came here in search of Super Bowl analysis, so I won't bore you with any. I will say that may have been one of the most entertaining, memorable Super Bowls of a recent run of entertaining and memorable Super Bowls. Only a more dramatic finish would have placed it at the top.
Oh, and CBS didn't exactly enjoy their finest hour amid the chaos. Many will remember this game as Ray Lewis' grand moment or Joe Flacco's official arrival. I'll remember it as the night Steve Tasker led millions through the darkness.
Great weekend for UC, of course. Bearcats beat Seton Hall, 65-59, after building a 20-point lead early in the second half. Also, received good news for the future off the court as well, which I am not allowed to delve into here.
I'll only say this generally about recruiting. It's an inexact science, to be sure, but Mick Cronin likes to talk about recruiting as being like the cafeteria in high school, you are constantly trying to set closer and closer to the cool kids table. Where he started seven years ago was outside of the building. He's gradually moved closer and closer with every year. He took one step closer to the popular table this weekend.
Let's eat ...
--- Big weekend for Cronin all around as the victory against Seton Hall was his 200th as a head coach. He went 69-24 in three years at Murray State and is now 131-92 in seven years at UC. To average 20 wins per year in your first 10 as a head coach doesn't come easy, to be sure.
To earn 200 wins as a head coach by the age of 41 stands even more difficult. Take into consideration he did so at a program left with no scholarships and requiring a complete rebuild and it sounds near impossible.
Researching the list of notable coaches and their career progression places Cronin in the same arc. Such is not to say the arc will conclude in the same fashion as this list of the game's great coaches. That would be more than unfair to Mick, only pointing out the reference point of how well he's done at this point in his career.
Coach (age earned 200th win): First 10 yearsin total
Mick Cronin (41): 200-116
Mike Krzyzewski (39): 158-124
Jim Boeheim (41): 230-77
Bob Knight: (35): 195-70
Jim Calhoun (42):160-103
Bob Huggins (38): 206-98
Roy Williams (45): 282-62
Rick Pitino (39): 230-105
Those are how some of the greats have done, but many of those endured slower starts as well. Here's a list of the fastest coaches to 200 wins as of the start of this season (according to NCAA Division I records book): I'll only list the coaches who have accomplished the feat since 1980:
Coach: record at 200 wins
Mark Few: 200-47
Roy Williams: 200-52
Denny Crum: 200-54
Thad Matta: 200-61
Jim Boeheim: 200-66
Many times fans can lose perspective as to how difficult it can be to win in college basketball. Plenty of you reading this blog likely at one point or another did give Cronin a chance to make it to the 200-win milestone. Yet, here he is, not only winning 200 games but off to UC's best start in conference since joining the Big East (6-3), a half game out of a tie for first place.
Indeed, life is good today for Mick and Bearcats basketball.
Of course, don't expect Mick to be doing somersaults in the hallways of the Lindner Center over 200. As he told the AP:
"All I care about is 18 (wins)," he said. "We have 18 and nine to play."
--- Schedule this week is UC playing at Providence on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. then back hosting Pittsburgh Saturday night at 6 p.m.
Now NINE teams are within one game of first place in the conference. Nine.
The Panthers host Seton Hall this week then should come to UC with
another win and setting up the best game of the weekend slate in
--- Of note: according to Bill Koch, Cronin said Jeremiah Davis III will redshirt this year. Mick said that would be the case, "barring a disaster." Essentially meaning if two or more players go hurt, the situation might change. This has been the suspected path most of the season. Tough to endure this type of year for JD3, but probably will be best for him in the long run.
Brief randomness ...
--- Keeping it quick today, we will have a media availability with players and coach this afternoon so expect more coming out of that. As always you can send me emails with any questions, comments or whatever at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter for updates on all that's going on @pauldehnerjr.
--- Community is almost back.Here's a new promo. --- A buddy of mine told me he thought Mystikal was the best rapper ever this weekend. The end. --- There was Beyonce and the Destiny's Child reunion at halftime. Can't believe they didn't sing Bills, Bills, Bills.
Watching UC's offense change dramatically the after halftime the last two games, I was curious about the trend of UC
struggling offensively in the first halves then exploding after the
break. Plus, I never miss an opportunity to break out an unnecessarily analytical math post. So here we go.
"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
This makes sense and holds water, personally I'm on board with the theory, but that has been a trend
both at home and on the road in Big East play. And it's more than just
foul shots at the ends of games, there is a dramatic difference in
efficiency from one half to the next.
Consider this, in Big East play here are the Bearcats first half/second half average points splits:
First Half: 26.5
Second Half: 36.6
Pretty remarkable. Some notable turnarounds, too.
Opponent: First half/Second half
St. John's: 21/31
sees the difference as not as much a UC problem, rather a college
basketball problem. He called it "an epidemic." He had some theories on
it I hadn't thought of before. They most definitely make sense.
would say it's a common thread in college basketball," Cronin said.
"The way the games are officiated has something to do with it. The way
the benches are configured where we can call out the other team's plays.
We are on defense in front of me so we can hold teams down. We held
them to 15 last time and Marquette to 13. It goes both ways. They are
calling out every play we run on their bench. Scouting report has a lot
to do with it, size, strength, physicality. There are no secrets."
UC may be a part of a trend, but in the Big East they are also leading the charge of it. By taking a
look at the breakdowns, it shows that in Big East conference play only
this year they are tied with Marquette for the largest differential
between first-half and second-half scoring at +10.1.
Here is the entire list:
Team: First half average/Second half average -- difference
Cincinnati: 26.5/36.6 -- +10.1
UConn: 32.1/37.6 -- +5.5
DePaul: 33.5/36.2 -- +2.7
Georgetown: 30.6/29.6 -- -1.0
Louisville: 33.3/33.8 -- +0.5
Marquette: 27.1/37.2 -- +10.1
Notre Dame: 31.8/35.0 -- +3.2
Pittsburgh: 32.9/34.0 -- +1.1
Providence: 29.3/37.9 -- +8.6
Rutgers: 25.9/34.1 -- +8.2
Seton Hall: 29.0/33.0 -- +4.0
St. John's: 31.3/34.6 -- +3.3
Syracuse: 30.3/36.1 -- +5.8
USF: 24.0/29.1 -- +5.1
Villanova: 31.6/31.9 -- +0.3
Average: 29.9/34.4 -- +4.5
Only four teams own a margin greater than six and UC has more than double the league average.
the Bearcats average the third fewest points in the first half and
third most points in the second half among all Big East teams.
The 4.5 is about the typical difference you would expect to account for free throws late in games. The other 5.6 points per game difference for UC comes from other factors. Part of that could be any number of the theories Cronin mentioned above. I would place halftime adjustments in there as well. That's been particularly obvious in games against Syracuse and Rutgers lately.
Despite his team's disparity, Cronin calling the problem an epidemic also holds water when you look at the overall numbers in college basketball the last few years. Looking across Division I, the median average first-half score gradually declined, and done some significantly when you date back a decade.
Year: Median First Half Points
the last four years alone, the median team in Division I has seen the
first-half points decrease every single season. Look back 10 years and
the first-half points have decreased by nearly a point and a half from
the median team. That's reflective of the decrease in scoring generally
in college basketball, but obviously there's something to the fact the
numbers have steadily declined in recent years.
So, to answer the question in the headline, is UC's second-half surge part of a national trend? Yes and no. Clearly, the scoring before halftime has gone down, but few teams are seeing as wide a difference as UC this year when comparing an even Big East playing field. The best part about that is, no matter what happens before halftime, there's always a feeling the Bearcats are never out of it. Of course, if you haven't learned that during a season where only one game have they not won or had a shot to win at the buzzer, you just aren't paying close enough attention anyway and likely gave up on this post after the first set of bullet points.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr with any questions, comments or your theory on the difference between first half and second half. Or just a long email about your disdain for unnecessarily analytical math posts.