Allow me to point out that McClung held on to the
ball for a 29-yard gain with a 15-yard penalty tacked on.
I have no idea if UC's new head coach Tommy
Tuberville has seen video of either of those receptions, but he's watched
enough of McClung at practice to know that the Bearcats wide receiver doesn't
"He'll catch the ball across the middle," said
Tuberville."That's what really
separates a good receiver."
"When the ball is in the air, I feel that it's
mine," said McClung."I can't control
what happens after that.All I try to do
is look the ball in and make the catch for my team."
Unlike Tuberville, McClung has definitely seen the video of his gutsy catches after some gruesome
"Sometimes you get goose bumps and say, 'Wow that
really happened,' " McClung told me."But during the game, you have so much adrenaline going that you don't
really feel it."
After having 49 catches for 683 yards and 6
touchdowns as a sophomore, McClung battled a series of injuries last season and
saw his numbers drop to 34 catches for 539 yards and 2 TDs.To his credit, Anthony played with pain and
appeared in 12 of 13 games.
"I pulled my quad, hurt my groin, my knee - there
were a lot of different things," said McClung."But I'm a tough guy.I always
want to play for my team."
Now the senior-to-be is healthy again and it
shows.In Cincinnati's first scrimmage
this spring, McClung finished with 4 catches for 151 yards and 3 touchdowns,
and in Saturday's second scrimmage held at Paul Brown Stadium, Anthony led all
receivers with 7 grabs for 92 yards.
"He's deceptive," said Tuberville."He's one of those guys that doesn't show up,
doesn't show up, and then all of a sudden makes big plays.
"I've been very impressed with him.He works hard and never says anything."
McClung might not say much to his new head coach,
but he's very talkative to the less-experienced receivers that Cincinnati will
be counting on this season.
"He's been a great leader in the room," said
receivers coach Blake Rolan."The kids
listen to him and that makes my job easier.They've been trained well in the past and won a lot of games and he
understands what it takes."
"They ask me a lot of questions," said McClung."When I was younger I used to look up to
great receivers like Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Vidal Hazelton, and Kenbrell
Thompkins.They were leaders to me and
now I have to fill that role and be the leader to the younger guys."
"He's a quick learner," said Rolan."He studies the game and it means a lot to
Following the departures of Thompkins and tight end
Travis Kelce, McClung appears likely to be Cincinnati's number one receiver in
"I trust him to get open, and he trusts me to get
him the ball," said quarterback Brendon Kay."The more reps we get together, the better we'll be as a duo."
"I have a great opportunity with two great
quarterbacks," said McClung."Hopefully
we'll win a lot of games.But even if
I'm not the number one guy, I want to play a role and make plays when my number
is called.The bottom line is that we
want to win the league title outright this year."
Well-stated from a guy who will go over the middle
to get to the top.
Instead of Mayhem, the character that seemingly turns everything into disarray during the Allstate commercials, perhaps the insurance company could take a look at UC's No. 82, Max Morrison.
At several practices and scrimmages this spring, he has caught everything around him. An early spring injury to Alex Chisum opened the door for Morrison to get more reps and the lean "hands machine" from Kenton, Ohio has answered the bell.
The Kenton, Ohio reference should be a hint.
He played for Mike Mauk, father of Ben. Ben Mauk had some pretty gawdy passing statistics as a Bearcat under Brian Kelly, and then went on to be a valuable grad assistant once his eligibility was up. He now coaches with his father.
Ben's brother, Maty, was also a highly-touted quarterback who often found Morrison open in high school. The 6-foot-1, 179-pound wideout led the nation in receptions with 142 in his senior year and had 98 grabs as a junior.
Watching him, it's evident that he has good hands. Following the DNA tree a little more helps you understand why.
His father, Rick, was a college receiver at Ball State. Rick's father was Joe Morrison who had all sorts of records as a Bearcat and later played in the NFL and was a college coach.
His uncle, Gary Moeller, is the former Michigan coach and he also had a stint here coaching linebackers with the Cincinnati Bengals.
So, before you write-off what looks like a slight-built receiver compared to some that have NFL bodies, look at the "body of work". It's there.
Plus, the eyes don't lie. Many have seen it in practice and you can also tell a lot about a person in conversation.
When the black and red game jerseys were slipped over top of the shoulder pads of the Bearcats players at Paul Brown Stadium, an explosion of ooohhhs filled the locker room.
This may have been a spring afternoon about six months from the first real football game of the season. This may have technically been listed as practice No. 11 on the schedule. However, make no mistake, this Saturday scrimmage at PBS felt as close to gameday as possible without 35,000 fans awaiting outside the tunnel.
"I had a couple jitters coming out here before the scrimmage," defensive end Silverberry Mouhon said.
Want to learn who responds to bright lights? Want to witness who rises to the occasion in a charged environment? Saturday's change of venue allowed a glimpse inside the gameday reactions of Tommy Tuberville's new team.
"We practice every single day we have the same atmosphere," cornerback Deven Drane said. "I know I got real hyped when we came out to the Bengals stadium and saw people like Marvin Lewis was out there. I know a lot of people had a lot of fire."
Both sides let the emotions out during an hour and a half of football under ideal 61-degree conditions in downtown. Mouhon stomped around the backfield with his arms flailing following a tackle in the backfield. Two goal-line touchdowns by RB Anthony King prompted celebrations with all the excitement a fourth-quarter score against Louisville. With a fresh staff evaluating every position battle with a new set of eyes and zero preconceived notions, a day like this made for one of the most important moment to date of the Tuberville era. Or at least it felt that way to the players.
"As far as the speed and consistency to be able to run your plays consistently it was the same as a game atmosphere," Mouhon said. "Just missing the fans yelling and screaming, but other than that, it was the same thing everywhere."
As for those who rose to the gameday atmosphere, Mouhon and Drane led the way on a day where the defense left their stamp on PBS. Drane hauled in an acrobatic interception in the end zone along with four more pass break-ups. He looked every bit the shutdown corner Tuberville needs him to be next year.
Mouhon, fighting for playing time at a defensive end position wide open to replace Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills, pulled down a twisting interception of Munchie Legaux as well as one and a half sacks.
The running game didn't produce much for UC, but the potent weapon of Brendon Kay's deep ball showed its face again. Kay connected on a 44-yard bomb to WR Chris Moore for a touchdown. The sixth-year senior showed more consistency with the deep ball than any QB through the end of last season and thus far through spring practice.
Despite the highlight to Moore, the day was also filled with a bevy of dropped passes and missed assignments for the offense. Tuberville didn't sound discouraged in the aftermath. In fact, after a first scrimmage where the offense played better than the defense, Saturday's switcheroo felt like normalcy.
"It was obvious that our defense was ahead of our offense today," Tuberville said. "You better be ahead on defense in the spring, I'll tell you that. If your defense is not ahead of your offense than you are going to have problems in the Fall."
The coach can attest to that and after this injection of energy Saturday, he owns a better feel for how this team will react come Fall.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions or comments to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Whatever it is, the 2013 edition of Bearcat Lacrosse is something to experience. It's a fun, fast version of the game that's producing results. After Friday's 16-6 win over Detroit in their new home at the Sheakley Athletics Center, the team is now 4-0 at home this season, 5-4 overall heading into the meat of the conference schedule.
First, the new digs: As I mentioned, Sheakley (home of the now-deflated bubble) will be the home of the lacrosse team the rest of the season, and it's a great place to watch the game, a cozy stadium that makes the crowd and band seem even louder.
Now, the new coach: Gina Oliver comes into Clifton with quite the resume: United States Women's National Team member, she played undergraduate at Ohio State and coached defense as Duquesne, where she produced a 2012 Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
And, the new attitude: You can tell this team respects Coach Oliver--and likes her. They sang "Happy Birthday" to her after Friday's game. They feed off her enthusiasm for the game, and they are playing with a purpose. Even a novice lacrosse fan (like myself) can see that this year, they are more patient in developing plays and take their time executing the best shot. In goal, freshman Meg Gulmi makes the job look easy--she flicks away shots like she was shooing away a fly. She makes it look effortless--although you know it's not.
Now that class is back in session after the Easter break, it's a great time to catch this lacrosse team in action against some of the best in the BIG EAST. Especially for some of the high school teams in the area, both girls and boys, it's an opporunity to see how the game is played at the collegiate level.
With the Sheakley Athletics Center bubble down, the Bearcats got in a spring practice with some actual sunshine mixed in. UC's at Paul Brown Stadium on March 30, and Coach Tommy Tuberville evaluated the troops after a week of spring break in the Bearcats second outdoor gathering of 2013.
With the bubble top lifted off the Sheakley Athletic Complex on Friday and sun drenching the turf, a fresh feel came over the latest session of spring practice.
That feel will dramatically change again Saturday when UC takes to Paul Brown Stadium for a full-uniform, full-contact scrimmage. And nobody will taste the difference more than the quarterbacks.
"Big day for the quarterbacks (Saturday)," Tommy Tuberville said. "We are going to do a lot of different things on defense and get in their face and try to make them make mistakes. We'll see how they handle it. I've been impressed with the quarterbacks. Mentally they have handled it pretty well."
In the first scrimmage, Brendon Kay went 7 of 11 for 115 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. Munchie Legaux was 8 of 15 for 150 yards with one TD and an interception. They've both been asked to handle quite a lot during this run of spring practices. On top of soaking in a new offense along with the rest of the team, demands have been placed upon them to know the job of every position on every play.
With the two weeks of practice time away due to spring break and cold weather, Tuberville and his staff installed 20 percent more of the offense and defense.
That means 20 percent more audibles, hot routes and protections slides to call off at the line. All this under duress unseen thus far in the Tuberville practice era. He wants to learn what his QBs are made of and he wants to know learn as soon as possible. No rush exists to officially name a starter in the battle between Kay and Legaux, but the two must both be pushed to begin peeling the layers.
"It's as much of a gameplan as we've had entering the scrimmage," Kay said. "We can see what we are able to do and see what this offense is made of. He's challenging the quarterbacks, but on offense everyone has to be on the same page."
Tuberville didn't discount the possibility a starting quarterback could be named at the end of camp, but didn't seem concerned about the designation, either.
"We just have to wait and see," Tuberville said. "There might be a distinguishable difference at the end of spring between Munchie and Kay. We just have to wait and see. Really not concerned about it they are all taking the same number of reps."
Certainly, there would be advantages and disadvantages to knowing the starting quarterback before fall practice. Tuberville says in the past he's done it both ways, where the starter was known or a battle brewed through camp. Regardless, with so many practices before Aug. 31 against Purdue, any starting position comes with an asterisk: *Subject to change.
For Kay, who didn't find out if he was playing days, hours or even minutes before games last year, being prepared for all scenarios comes with the territory. He doesn't know another way.
"I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity," Kay said. "It's there."
The next step comes Saturday.
I want to hear from you. Shoot any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Basically, UC will play at The Big House on Sept. 9, 2017 and the basketball teams will play a home-and-home series sometime between the '15 and '18 seasons.
What does all this mean? Well, there are a number of interesting trends to result as a fallout to this significant deal.
1) While most people will discuss the football impact, I believe a greater development to come out of this is the home-and-home basketball series to go along with it. For years, Mick Cronin has chased down relevant home-and-home series with powers or like teams. Too often as the program rebuilt he was met with a thanks, but no thanks by major programs.
As part of the development of UC's rebuild the prospect of a major opponent coming to Fifth Third didn't contain the payoff they desired. Coming into the arena and winning was much more difficult than the national folks would give a on opponent credit for, so they would rather pass and either play in a large neutral court game host the Dukes, North Carolinas or Kansas types of the world.
This home-and-home signifies UC turning the corner in perception and beginning to win over the major programs to match up for games that will excite the fan base and establish significant non-conference matchups. As Cronin has often said when critics challenged his schedule, he'd love to schedule a home-and-home against Duke (or insert major program here) but the Blue Devils don't want to come here. Didn't make sense for them.
Playing series against Cincinnati is beginning to make sense for those seeking national respect now. That's a sign the Bearcats have officially garnered theirs.
2) That check will be for $1.2 million. Make that out to University of Cincinnati. They'll be sure to deposit it immediately.
3) The Bearcats have found a match with the B1G. Over the next six years UC will play six B1G opponents. Over the previous six years, they played none. That last UC games against the Big 10 came in 2006 when they traveled to Ohio State, in 2005 they traveled to Penn State, losing both games.
Here's the schedule going forward:
2013: Purdue, @Illinois
2014: @Ohio St.
2018: @Ohio State
The B1G provides a unique setup to allow fans a short drive while at the same time keeping quality opponents on the non-conference schedule. I heard from a number of people on Twitter yesterday talking about how they love traveling to these games and will certainly be making the trek to Ann Arbor in 2017.
"The 1.2 million guarantee to play at Michigan is nice, it certainly helps our budget," Whit Babcock said to Lance McAlister last night on 700WLW. "What I really like is it's a four-hour drive or so, something our fans can travel to, that has some appeal. We certainly don't do it just for money."
Those comments from Whit echo similarly for all the B1G games on the slate and it's clear the program has latched on to the concept of this conference being a great one to be associated with for games.
4) Drawing the home-and-home for football didn't materialize. Getting Michigan to come to the city to play never came into the discussion, according to Whit.
This administration isn't a huge fan of one-game road trips, but throwing the basketball package in there along with the money made it a deal worth doing. Don't expect this to open up a run of one-game road payouts, the Michigan name, proximity and basketball connection made this a unique situation.
5) Thanks to Twitter follower @dcweisbrot for the idea that the UC-Michigan games will serve as a perfect opportunity to bring back the 1992 unis as throwbacks. Remember, the last time these two teams played in hoops was the 1992 Final Four game.
Those '92 jerseys and shorts were pretty spectacular and along with the 2001 Jordan line jerseys rank atop my list of throwbacks I'd love to see happen. No better chance than this, which could come at the 25th anniversary of that Final Four matchup.
Moving on, let's eat ...
--- Some discussion of next year's basketball schedule has come up since the end of the season. Although, UC will be in the Currently Unnamed Conference, they will still have Louisville (1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament), Memphis (6 seed), Temple (9 seed) and UConn (ineligible) on the slate next year. The top will still be no joke.
It makes for a delicate dance, but expect the non-conference schedule to be beefed up to compensate for the weaker bottom half of the league anchoring the strength of schedule numbers.
For now, we know San Diego State (7 seed) and NC State (8 seed) will both be coming to Fifth Third Arena with a trip to New Mexico (3 seed) and The Pit also on the itinerary. There are others in the works yet to be finalized, but it will be far from a cakewalk. For now, with a likely rotating schedule, you're looking AT LEAST 9 games against NCAA tournament teams on the schedule with probably 3-5 more on the list by the time all is said and done.
This is his dream job, he references that repeatedly, he finally built it up into what he wants it to be and is able to be around his family every day. The UC administration is dedicated to keeping him here and is willing to make sure his loyalty is rewarded.
I was lucky enough to catch a great stand-up act at GoBananas this past weekend when Nick Vatterott just killed it. That's part of what I like about GoBananas, some of the headliners aren't as well known, but you can catch a really incredible under-the-radar comedian there most of the time.
--- In honor of the Michigan deal, here's some Bob Seger (he's from Ann Arbor, I know because the Internet said so). Have a great day everybody and shoot me any comments or questions to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Mick Cronin mentioned on Monday that Titus Rubles, despite his struggles and criticism, enjoyed "a really good year for a first-year guy." The expectations for JuCo transfers adjusting to the major college game to instantly make an impact would be rare.
Rubles finished the season averaging 5.9 points, 5.9 rebounds (team-high), 2.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game. The biggest problem became his lack of consistent outside shooting. He was 4 of 43 from 3-point range. Cronin pointed out a major concern in his shot (thumb on side of the ball) that he didn't want to mess with during the year but will be fixed this offseason.
More importantly, when talking about the success of junior college players the first year they transfer it's important to keep in perspective the associated learning curve. Seeing Rubles potential likely skewed the view of expectations the Bearcats fans and staff have for Rubles, but looking around at a typical performance it's clear he fell in line with the standard.
Here are Titus Rubles statistics per 40 minutes played this year (he averaged 21.8 minutes per game):
I tracked down the top six JuCo recruits who attended major conferences that have completed their time there in order to find like profiles to Titus Rubles. Here are the results with averages per 40 minutes of play.
Player, School, Position: Junior year points per 40 min/Assists per 40 min --- Senior year points per 40/Assist per 40
Pierre Jackson, Baylor, PG: 17.8/7.6* --- 22.9/7.8*
Faisel Aden, Washington St., SF: 20.0/5.0 --- 24.1/5.1
Bernard James, Florida St., PF: 15.4/11.6 --- 16.3/11.2
Adrien Forbes, Auburn, PF: 9.1/6.8 --- 6.7/8.4
Lazeric Jones, UCLA, G: 12.8/5.1* --- 16.2/4.9*
AVERAGE: 12.9/8.9 --- 14.8/8.9
--- The biggest thing about these numbers to remember is that this is based on points per 40 minutes, this strictly measures efficiency. This doesn't even take into account the extra minutes the majority of these JuCo transfers earned in their senior seasons. For their efficiency to rise by two points per 40 minutes is a significant leap.
--- With Rubles averaging 21.8 minutes per game this year, depending on his improvement and progress of incoming players he could see a spike in his minutes to around the 25-minute area. The junior struggled with his shot and turning the ball over. If Cronin can reclaim the confidence of Rubles from Vegas and tweak his technique to be more consistent his game could open up as teams begin to respect his outside shot more.
This is not to say he will magically become Ricardo Ratliffe or Faisel Aden --- there is no precedent to expect more than a 25 percent jump in production -- but he could become a legitimate offensive option enduring fewer of the miscues that littered his junior year.
--- The grander point is to expect Rubles to enter UC and instantly be a dominant force would be hoping for a rare occurrence. There are but one or two a year that make an overwhelming impact. Would both parties have liked better? Sure. But keep perspective.
In fact, this year, of those in the JuCo Top 15 (jucorecruiting.com) that played, only Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss averaged better than 14 points per game and only five players averaged double figures. Without going through the entire list of JuCos, I can tell you there aren't likely any more in the entire class who notched double figures. Plus, his 5.9 rebounds ranks among the best in the group.
The final Mick Cronin Radio show took place last night at The Montgomery Inn on 700WLW. Dan Hoard and Mick took stock in the season and spent some time looking forward. It was, as you would expect, a fantastic listen.
You can do so right here.
For today's Breakfast, I wanted to touch on a few of the comments Mick made while chatting with Dan. Again, you'll want to listen to this, especially the first segment where Mick gives a state of the program address.
--- I mentioned last week in my story on SK and Cash chasing one final run, that we may never know the true extent of Cashmere Wright's injuries this season but without another scouting report to worry about Cronin offered deeper insight into the injury that altered the season.
He pointed out that the injury to his good knee specifically took away his ability to not just drive, but more importantly, jump stop in the lane. This was a major point of emphasis in Cash's offseason in an effort to be more consistent finishing around the rim. So often early in his career he would miss layups by flying toward the basket off one foot instead of going in under more control off two.
Well, when he sprained his knee, the dramatically improved aspect of his game went out the window.
"He really worked hard at it and what was making him much more of an effective offensive player," Cronin said. "Now it was 'I have to get through the year, I can't explode, I can't land with force on that knee.' That hurt him, that hurt us."
Obviously, that allowed defenses who noticed his lack of explosion to swarm Sean Kilpatrick among other consequences. Going back and bemoaning the injury does no good now, but that's all part of why it's so difficult to win year in and year out in college basketball. One twist of the knee can dramatically alter the shape of a season. That turned out to be the case here.
Here is the comparison of his 2-point and 3-point shot percentages before and after the injury:
No groundbreaking stats here, but it continues to put into perspective how the season changed. Even when Cash began making 3-pointers late in the year he looked much more like the old Cash, but the lack of penetration in the lane was the major difference.
Before the injury, he took an average of 4.8 shots inside the arc and 5.5 shots outside it per game. After the injury, he took an average of 4.1 shots inside the arc and 6.5 shots outside it. That's one less shot driving and one more shot settling from 3 per game. It all adds up.
--- The question of SK and a decision about his senior year came up. Mick seemed to feel that won't be much of an option for Kilpatrick. What will happen is the league submits a list of prospective early entries to the NBA people and they shoot back the reality for being drafted.
Obviously, Cronin knows a long list of connected folks and talks with them often about his players.
"I'm friends with a lot of NBA people and it really hasn't been presented," Cronin said. "All I would do is submit paperwork for any good underclassmen you have. I love SK and I would advise him on what I think is best. Any player would be his decision and I would support his decision."
He went on to mention supporting Lance Stephenson's decision, whether he agreed with it or not. He's all about backing his players and trying to help them make the most informed decision as possible.
"It's his life," Cronin said. "At the end of the day all you can do is advise people and go from there. I don't want to say he would have no chance at doing it but I think it will be a stretch for him."
For what it is worth, here is a sample of some who have ranked draft prospects for this season. None have him within shouting distance of the top 60.
--- Mick talked about moving forward the need for Justin Jackson to gain weight and strength. His future won't be as an athletic wing player. He has too many ball-handling limitations for that. He'll need him to bulk up and be able to bang inside in addition to his athleticism blocking shots.
"His energy is great and we all know we need it," Cronin said. "He's got to average more points and more rebounds and he's got to get stronger. He's got to put weight on ... To play after college he'll have to be more of a physical presence, not just energizing presence. Hard to do that when guy matching up against has 20 pounds on you."
The biggest area where Jackson showed improvement this year was in his defensive rebounding.
Here's his defensive rebounding percentage over his first three years. This season he ranked in the top 200 in the country in pulling down the other team's misses:
On the flip side, his offensive rebounding percentage has stayed essentially the same:
Cronin is looking for more offensively from his sparkplug. That will most likely come on the offensive glass and be more efficient finishing. Size and power will help that. He took a dramatic drop in his field goal percentage despite being targeted more on offense this past year. His freshman and sophomore seasons he hit 52 percent of his shots. This year it dropped to 41 percent. That's a significant dip.
He'll certainly be needed for more than his 3.8 points per game given this year.
I think he was the most affected by the loss of Yancy Gates, not seeing as many open looks the big man helped create through his passing and attention paid.
--- For those clamoring for interior scoring, help is on the way. While we can't comment here on committed, but unsigned recruits, we can talk about Jamaree Strickland (6-9, 240 pounds). Mick did so last night and said this:
"He has great hands," he said. "He's a guy that can score. Defensively he'll be more of a position guy. He's like, 'Coach I got to get there right away I got to block shots like rest of guys.' I told him, don't worry about that, you are coming here to score."
With the conclusion of UC's season coming at the hands of Creighton and Doug McDermott (who, of course, couldn't make a shot against Duke) here at the Bearcats Beat I want to hand out my awards for the season that was.
The year didn't end as anybody inside UC would have like or hoped when it opened five months ago. And certainly not as well as when UC sat at No. 8 in the country in December. But that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of incredible plays, players, moments, games and performances worth chronicling.
Here we go (Reminder: These awards are mine and mine only, not discussed with coaches, players, staff):
Team MVP: Sean Kilpatrick
When determining the MVP, there was a need to assess true value. Should the dramatic change in the team without a healthy Cashmere Wright display his true value to the team? Of course, imagine what this team would have looked like without Sean Kilpatrick. In a closer battle than some would think, Kilpatrick takes this nod.
If the team needed a big shot or push toward the end of a game, it relied on SK. He finished the season averaging 17.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while earning Second Team All-Big East honors for the second consecutive season. His 36 points against Marquette marked the biggest win of the year and all his achievements came with a constant clawing, scratching, double-teaming and use of any other tactic imaginable by opposing defenses. His 3-point percentage dropped this season primarily because of so many times given the ball with five seconds left on the shot clock and nowhere else to go. The defensive attention made it more difficult for Kilpatrick but did open more one-on-one opportunities for other players.
A big decision awaits him this offseason, but nobody meant more to the Bearcats this year.Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker.
Most Improved Player: Shaquille Thomas
This award would have been up for serious debate only two weeks ago, that was before redshirt freshman Thomas left no doubt through an emergent postseason. Given an opportunity for more playing time by Mick Cronin with a switch to a more athletic lineup, Thomas took full advantage. Over the three postseason games Thomas averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in an average of 20 minutes. Prior to that in regular season conference play he averaged 1.8 points in 1.5 rebounds in 9.0 minutes per game.
His confidence looked apparent on the biggest stage of the season when he piled in a season high 12 points using a variety of pull-up jumpers, layups and athletic plays. Oh, and he did this.
After a rocky first year, Thomas appears to have found himself while entering his second year of play in the program. With the departure of JaQuon Parker, his services will certainly be needed. Honorable Mention: Cheikh Mbodj.
Toughest Player: Cashmere Wright
We may never know the severe extent of Cashmere Wright's injuries this season. We know he had to have his shoulder popped back into place about six times, according to Cronin. We know he sprained his knee bad enough that he was supposed feel pain for about a month, but played through it midseason. We know the injuries severely limited his explosion and shooting stroke during the homestretch. Yet, there was Wright, playing hurt -- as he has his whole career -- racking up the most games played of any basketball student-athlete in UC history.
An argument in this category could be made for JaQuon Parker, but that probably means redefining toughness. Parker epitomizes toughness on the court as far as never quitting and finding a way against all odds. As far as leaving any personal pain or discomfort behind in a charge to lead the team, everyone this season takes a back seat to Wright. Honorable Mention: JaQuon Parker.
People forget, Wright struggled mightily that game. He couldn't find a rhtyhm and only had six points. Yet, when he took the ball and dribbled toward the bucket only to find 7-foot center Moussa Gueye in his face. To fade away, manage to get the floater over his outstretched block attempt, slide into the first row of seats and bury the game-winner is one of the great moments in Fifth Third Arena history.
The most amazing part was Cash couldn't even see the rim and didn't know it went in until he heard the crowd reaction and saw his teammates charging toward him.
"I just shot the ball hoping," he said.
Best Play: Jackson dunk off deep pass vs. MVSU
In a non-conference game against Mississippi Valley State, the highlight play of the season occurred when JaQuon Parker attempted a steal near midcourt. As he grabbed the ball he was nearly falling out of bounds, but instead of safely tossing it into play behind him he launched a rainbow pass to Cashmere Wright down the floor. Wright didn't just track down the pass, he immediately flipped into a behind-the-back bounce for a trailing Justin Jackson, who put the exclamation point slam on the end. Phenomenal plays all around. Honorable mention: Wright buzzer-beater vs. Alabama, SK over Marquette.
Best Game: UC 71, Marquette 69 (OT)
Best Individual Performance: Sean Kilpatrick
No Cashmere Wright. A Top 25 team in the house. Allowing 50 points in the second half to the Golden Eagles. Heading to overtime. Sean Kilpatrick dropping 36, including the game-winner on a rival. Yeah, this game had it all. Epic swings in both directions and ended up with heroics from the team's MVP. Was an incredible game and the best night to be in Fifth Third Arena all year.
Kilpatrick always can be counted on for offense, but beyond his 36 points this night illustrated the intangibles that make him a special player. He withstood the mental grind of being denied the ball with a 94-foot faceguard the majority of the second half and overtime that limited his touches. He happily allowed his teammates to take advantage of the space. He then made one of the most athletic, instinctual plays of the year tracking down an overthrown pass near the sideline to save valuable seconds from running off the clock in OT. And after the game he jokingly referred to Cronin as "the little guy." He did it all. Here was the full game story from that night, all about his Kilpatrick's signature game at UC.
Honorable Mention Game of Year: Creighton, @Syracuse, Alabama.
Honorable Mention Best Individual Performance: SK vs. Iowa State (32 pts, 5 rebounds, 5 steals), Cashmere Wright vs. DePaul (20 points, 7 assists in 22 minutes before injury)
Best Storyline: Cheikh Mbodj Senior Day
Certainly my favorite gameday story to write this basketball season. The parents of Cheikh Mbodj flew in from Senegal for the week of his Senior Day game against South Florida. They hadn't seen him play basketball live in six years and hadn't seen him at all for two years. What happened next? Mbodj churned out the best 25 minutes (second half/OT) of his UC career, including a crazy block to help save the game.
This came after his parents walked out to mid-court with him before the game, all dressed in native garb. Mbodj was smiling ear-to-ear in the postgame press conference when he talked about it and one of the true good kids in college basketball finally had his great moment. And it couldn't have come at a bigger time considering how important the win against USF would prove to be toward UC's postseason aspirations. Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright steals record #FindPuffy
Best Quote: Justin Jackson
In a win against Rutgers Jackson showed off his game-changing energy with 7 points, 6 blocks and 7 rebounds and a new career high for number of #JustinJacksonMeanFace's. I wanted to get to the bottom of what type of energy goes through him when he makes a big block like the one that landed on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night.
After a few attempts to elicit the answer where he said he couldn't explain it, I fired one more attempt asking him if he could try and do his best. He then snapped off this gem to me and it fit perfectly:
"It's like getting a new pair of shoes," he said.
Best Atmosphere: The Crosstown
Concerns were abound regarding the move of The Crosstown downtown following the 2011 brawl at Cintas Center. Had this event been neutered? Did these games belong on the home court? Would people show?
Certainly, tweaks to pricing points and other exterior elements will be necessary, but it provided the best atmosphere of the season. Honorable Mention: Ring of Red vs. Marquette, Final Big East Tournament MSG.
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your favorite games, moments, plays and performances. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my winners and send me your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
For three years Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright have been at the forefront of UC's return to national relevance, now these two friends hope to be at the centerpiece of one unforgettable final chapter. (photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)
CINCINNATI - Reality struck Sean Kilpatrick the moment he saw Cashmere Wright walk to center court at Fifth Third Arena with his family on Senior Day.
The junior from New York couldn't help it. He began to tear up.
Much of his emotional moment came in realizing the tumultuous, painful path Wright endured to reach this final chapter. Another underlying understanding tagged along that day. As much as this would be the final home game for Wright, JaQuon Parker, Cheikh Mbodj and Alex Eppensteiner, this would be the final home game for Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to play together.
This duo stood at the forefront of a movement that changed the face of UC basketball. Over the course of three seasons, they willed this program out of the dark, irrelevant corner of the college basketball landscape and into the brightest stages the game offers.
In 103 games played together they amassed 2,507 points, 72 wins against 31 losses, three NCAA tournament victories and a spot in the Big East tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden.
They've redefined the prism through which the program is viewed. They've done so not only as the team's premier players on the court, but close friends off it.
Decades from now they may better remember the moments away from basketball best, as so many alumni of the program do. They'll recall their jokes in the locker room, late nights at Waffle House or football Sundays at Hooters.
Yet, as the swan song of this rejuvenating basketball era commences Friday in Philadelphia, these two would love nothing more than write the definitive final chapter of their friendship between the lines.
"Actually, we were talking about that in the training room the other day," Kilpatrick said. "Me and him came a long way. We played a lot of games, a lot of minutes together. It's been a ride. That's something we are going to miss, but I know that he wants to go out with a bang and that's something I am going to try and help him do."
Wright, as the fifth-year senior, imparts a wise, introspective tone while discussing their careers - past, present and future. In many ways he takes on the role of older brother, even though he's actually born three days after Kilpatrick in January 1990.
When describing his backcourt partner, Wright begins and ends with an appreciation of his drive and focus.
"He's that whole other beast," Wright said of the team's leading scorer who averages 16.9 points per game. "He's that person who shows you how to put in the work and you see him put in the work and you see him getting better and you realize it. He's really outgoing, he wants the best for him but also pulls everyone alongside him with him."
On the contrary comes Wright, with his high-pitched laugh and optimistic personality. Neither of these two could have imagined how much this optimism would be necessary during a season they believed destined for elite status. Expectations altered under the pressure of the late-season losing streaks and a team as worrisome as any Mick Cronin can remember needed a fixture to keep their spirits from crumbling.
Enter Wright, with one good knee, one good shoulder and one important leadership skill set.
"One of the funniest, motivated, high-spirit guys you'll ever meet," Kilpatrick said. "Even if right after a loss and everyone is sitting here and down and everything about it, the whole room will be quiet and you'll just hear Cash, 'C'mon y'all, we all right, we all right!'"
This attitude didn't form overnight and didn't necessarily come from his youth, he learned the most from watching senior Deonta Vaughn's final season when the Bearcats finished with a disappointing trip to the NIT. Vaughn didn't post the numbers he hoped for in his final year and the external pressures were as much responsible as any defensive strategies.
"We were ranked that year," Wright said. "We came back and we lost and we made the NIT, I realized one thing with Deonta, I was looking at him he let that whole season just stress him out. When it got toward the end he was so stressed out he couldn't even help us. Me seeing that, I'm like I can't even let that happen to me."
From that moment forward, enjoying the opportunity trumped all other aspects. Combining Kilpatrick's work ethic and focus with Wright's light-hearted reality check created the culture to lift the team to new heights.
On the court, that means a look or single comment to bring the best out of each other. When you play together more than 100 games, timeouts and huddles to impart urgency aren't needed.
"He'd be the first person I look at if we are in the game and got a tough stretch going on, or going to have a tough stretch," Wright said. "He'd be the first person I'd look at, like, 'C'mon now.' He'll look at me and say, 'C'mon now, help me, do what you got to do.' We look at each other first and say, 'It's time you start playing.'"
Playing will look much different next year with Wright bound for the next level of basketball and Kilpatrick with one year of eligibility remaining. SK bellowed a laugh thinking about the amount of defensive pressure he would see returning for his final season at UC without Wright and other graduating seniors.
"I thought I'd seen double teams this year," he said. "Imagine next year."
For two players so synonomous with each other, imagining next year seems impossible to envision one without the other. Along with Parker, his running mates will be gone. So, the question of next year does still hang in the balance. Kilpatrick will have a decision to make whether to move on to a professional career or return to UC.
It's maybe the only topic these two friends don't delve deep into.
"He's got so many people asking him so many questions, that's the last thing I want to talk to him about," Wright said. "I just tell him do what is best for you and make the decision that you are going to live with and you are going to be OK with. Either decision you make, I'm fine, I'm here with you, but make the decision because of you. That's all I tell him about next year."
"It will be different," Kilpatrick said. "But then again now it will be their chance to sit there and watch me - if things did pan out the way it was -- watch me basically try to carry a team and try to sit here and really keep growing as a player."
All thought of next year ends there. The final moments of any relationship are cherished more than any others. Perspective officially hit these two. Now, extracting one final run together would mean the ultimate celebration of their basketball bond. And a symbolic reflection of a characteristic which in many ways defined them and this three-year rise to relevancy.
"We are a group that really likes proving a lot of people wrong," Kilpatrick said. "That's something that got us this far because we've always had that chip on our shoulder. We've always wanted to really sit here and prove doubters wrong. It would mean the most, especially with the ups and downs we did have. If we could make this run and on top of that get to Atlanta for Cash, that would meant he most."
It might mean the most, but wouldn't mean the conclusion. Not for these two.
"It's part of growing up, like I tell him, that's why they made phones," Wright said. "But right now everyone is grown, we all got kids. Everyone's got to do what's best for their families.
"Friendships don't end, brotherships don't end. Only thing that's going to be different is we won't be playing together in basketball."
Adult life and decisions hold on the immediate horizon for these 23-year-olds, but prolonging these final moments on the court together would make for a fitting, unforgettable finale.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or observations to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Spent much of the day down at UC yesterday and certainly no shortage of buzz in the building. I like to think everyone was talking about the massive NCAA tournament blowout podcast I put together. In a related note, I also like to think people are watching my flashy typing skills on press row during home basketball games.
Regardless, thanks to Dan Hoard, Tommy G, Rob Dauster and Darren Savino for taking the time to chat with me in what turned into an hour full of comedic stylings and all you could possibly need to know about the Bearcats in the NCAA tournament this weekend. Plus, the latest, greatest photoshop creation from VideoShane. Disappointed my face didn't get the all-white suit ensemble, though.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions shoot them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
As has been the case all, week here's another One Shining Moment.
Let's eat ...
--- Before I jump into more NCAA tournament talk, we have to start on one of the biggest moves to happen at UC in years. Now, this might not spike the radio talk show ratings or grab the headlines of a tournament win or the hiring of Tommy Tuberville, but make no mistake, Whit Babcock's decision to make all 19 sports operate at full scholarship allotment by the NCAA is as big a game-changing move as he's made at UC.
The decision to eliminate many scholarships to programs such as golf, baseball, swimming and track came down in 2009 and this essentially repeals that decision.
In a time when schools are chopping sports and cutting corners for money, Babcock and his staff are dedicating themselves to playing every sport at the highest level possible.
As Whit was telling me yesterday, if you say you want to be bigtime and not take a back seat to anybody, you have to back that up. This is him backing it up in the biggest way possible.
It will amount to 35-45 more schollys for Olympic sports that will gradually be added over the course of the next few years with probably an extra 15-25 next year. Few will be affected more than baseball and Brian Cleary, who has won over 400 games at UC, made evident with this statement:
"This is quite possibly the most significant development affecting the UC baseball program during my time at UC," he said. "The plan removes the largest obstacle we have faced and will allow us to pursue players in the same fashion as those schools with which we compete."
--- Here is Whit talking with Mo Egger yesterday on ESPN1530.
--- Kevin Goheen at Fox Sports Ohio wrote about how this unveils Babcock's mission and vision. As Gogo also rightly points out, this only solidifies UC's position in the grand scheme of conference realignment.
Speaking of ...
--- Details have been released about the TV deal for the current Big East with ESPN. As Brett McMurphy points out if two schools leave, the contract can be voided. While not a secret but important for UC fans, ESPN's McMurphy -- the absolute expert on all Big East realignment news -- also quotes sources as saying UC and UConn are "next in line" to move to the ACC if and when the conference gets plucked again.
Sing it, Axl.
-- OK, enough of the business side, back to the games.
--- The beginning of One Shining Moment and really every game on CBS in The Dance starts with the shot of a player dancing in the middle of the pregame huddle. As promised yesterday, I got to the bottom of who will be the UC huddle dancer on Friday. SK says they will decide on Friday, but it's pretty much down to him, Parker and Rubles. He's determined to get Cashmere Wright in the middle, but Cash informed me he only can do two steps and isn't interested in embarrassing his team on national TV. And hurting his knee trying to drop down and get his eagle on might not be greatest look.
It should be noted director of basketball operations Drew Seidenberger has been known to hop into the middle of a pregame dance huddle and sources tell me his moves have improved exponentially this year.
What is for sure is that they will be doing what's called the South Dallas Swag. Which according to this tutorial from "WhiteBoy Chris" in a high school parking lot on YouTube it is, indeed, very swaggy. No confirmation on if I will do the South Dallas Swag before beginning my story on the game.
--- My guy Dan Hoard, feeling fresh off his podcast appearance, with a fantastic piece about Mick Cronin setting a new goal for this tournament. He wants his team to have more fun than anyone else. Love this philosophy. Loose and free the only way to be with your season on the line.
--- Cashmere Wright told me really ever since the USF game when Mick started telling the team they were in the tournament, the atmosphere and attitude of the team changed dramatically. That all started with the coach loosening everything up. That was evident during Tuesday's practice open to fans -- which drew a pretty impressive number for 18 hours notice on a Tuesday afternoon.
The guys were joking, laughing and really enjoying the moment. This all feeds back into more of what Cronin said Sunday about this being one of the most conscientious, worrisome groups he's ever coached. He doesn't need to drop the hammer to keep them focused and going, he needs to relieve their self-imposed pressure.
--- As Bill Kochwrote about here, Corie Blount and Terry Nelson came down to practice to hang out and talk to the team. Mick didn't ask them specifically to come, but welcomed them. Says the door is always open to past players. Part of what makes the program great. Who better to discuss the possibilities of March?
--- The team flew out this morning for Philadelphia. They will take part in practices and media availability tomorrow. Look for all your coverage from Dan, Chuck, Tommy and the video team from the city of brotherly love all week here at GoBearcats.com. And obviously, keep it locked to the blog.
After grinding through hundreds of practices over the last several years, Cincinnati's veteran players figured that they had heard every motivational tactic that Mick Cronin had in his bag of tricks. But he surprised them on Monday as they began preparing for Friday's NCAA opener against Creighton.
"I told our guys that we have two goals for this week: Going 2-0 would be goal number two," Coach Cronin told me. "And goal number one, which we can achieve regardless of outcome, is to have more fun that any other team in the tournament. In practice, in our travel, and with each other.
"They need to have fun. They've earned it. I want them to enjoy their accomplishments. It's an accomplishment to make the tournament and I'm structuring things this week so that they can enjoy it."
"What's gotten into him?" said Sean Kilpatrick when I asked for his initial reaction to Coach Cronin's remarks to the team. "We've never heard him say that. It's good because it makes the players comfortable and reminds us that he's with us. Not only does he want us to win, but he wants us to have fun."
"He says a lot of stuff, so we were like, 'I wonder how he's going to act tomorrow,' said Cashmere Wright with a laugh. "But it seems like he meant what he said and he's following through on it."
One way that Coach Cronin showed the players that he meant what he said was by opening Tuesday's practice to the public. It virtually guaranteed a less stressful environment with no tirades from the head coach.
"We knew when the fans were here that practice wasn't going to be crazy," said JaQuon Parker.
"I've thought a lot about the whole event and I'm trying to make it the most memorable for our players," said Cronin. "There's no secrets this time of year anyway with the film and the scouting -- everybody has everybody's play calls and there's nothing that's going to go on at practice that people don't already know about our team.
"We have to make sure that we're fresh on Friday, so you won't see World War III at practice."
Of course, there's a method to his (March) madness. Coach Cronin undoubtedly hopes that a relaxed team will perform well in Philadelphia.
"I think that's been our problem," said Parker. "We've been too uptight around here. Now in our last few practices, we've been loose and having fun. It feels good."
"We're our best when we relax and nobody worries about making mistakes and we're just out there playing basketball," said Wright.
But don't get the mistaken impression that having fun and working hard are mutually exclusive.
"It will not detract from our preparation -- I can assure you that," said Cronin. "Our guys understand how hard you have to play to win games. We play in a league where if you don't play hard you don't even have a chance."
"He's telling you to go out there by any means necessary and get it done," said Parker. "Just win and have fun doing it. That means a lot to us."
"It's my last go-round and I'm just enjoying every day, every practice, and getting ready for the game," said Wright.
Of course, there are limits in the quest to have the most fun of any team in the field of 68. For example, the players do not expect to have their nightly curfew lifted in Philadelphia.
"We've got to have curfew," said Kilpatrick with a grin. "That's mandatory. If you leave some of our guys with no curfew, they might not come back."
And while the players would undoubtedly be able to have fun if given free rein on the road, there's nothing more enjoyable in the NCAA Tournament than advancing.
"At the end of the day, if this is going to be our last hurrah, let's go all-out," said Kilpatrick. "Especially for our seniors. This is their last shot and they deserve to have fun, so we're going to try to make a run in this tournament."
"Once you're in you've got a chance," said Cronin. "Now it's time to win games."
I'm sure you've seen or heard by now that former Bearcats Terry Nelson and Corie Blount showed up at UC's open practice at Fifth Third Arena on March 19.
It doesn't quite seem 20 years since both were on the floor in their final UC game against North Carolina in the Elite Eight in 1993. They got out to a 15-point lead and eventually lost in overtime to the Tarheels who went on to win the national championship behind the likes of Eric Montross and George Lynch.
I spoke with Corie Blount, who has had his mistakes, but always was cooperative with the media (as was the affable Mr. Nelson). One of the highlights of my career was being at the Metrodome in 1992 when UC made the Final Four and took on Michigan. At UC's pregame practice I was able to interview the late George Smith who first took the Bearcats to a Final Four, and much of the CBS crew that did the game including Lesley Visser, Pat O'Brian and James Brown.
I also recall having to pick up Cris Collinsworth's wife, Holly, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. (I produced No. 80s Sportstalk show back then, part of the job.)
Part of what I talked about with Corie was the fame of the "Fab Five". It's a great ESPN 30 for 30 special if you haven't seen it. On the other hand, had the Bearcats advanced, I'm not so sure you wouldn't have an equally compelling show from the on and off the court experiences of Nelson, Blount, Nick Van Exel, Anthony Buford, AD Jackson, Tarrance Gibson, Erik Martin, Jeff Scott, etc. To this day, I have in my possession the press release from then SID Tom Hathaway announcing the Bearcat recruits for the '91-'92 season.
Included in that group were LaZelle Durden, John Jacobs and Shane Komives. Komives (the son of former NBA player Howie Komives) transferred, and Durden and Jacobs didn't play that first year.
If you look at what that group accomplished in basketball, it's very impressive and rates right up there with any previous UC class. Off the court, we all know now there's been some tragedy. Like I said, perfect ESPN story.
Corie Blount has faced the music and I find him to be a stand-up guy. I hope he can contribute to people's lives the rest of his.
With such a big stage as the NCAA Tournament, it's only fair to bring the biggest Inside The Bearcats Podcast of the season -- by far. Tommy G and I anchor the pod as I bring in Voice of the Bearcats Dan Hoard, NBC Sports Senior Writer for College Basketball Talk Rob Dauster and hear from assistant coach Darren Savino.
We all discuss this weekend's trip to play Creighton in Philadelphia plus all the other topics surrounding UC and the Big Dance.
As with any special episode, there needs to be special artwork thanks to Video Shane Harrison. Thanks, Shane. Really made this look prestigious.
In my day hours, when not patrolling the Queen City in costume with The Avengers, I cover high school sports for The Community Press papers owned by the Enquirer. (I'll be covering Walnut Hills in the Division I state tournament this weekend. When not at live events, I write a pretty tolerable volleyball preview.)
When I can tie Bearcat athletics with something locally, that works out pretty well. In this case, as an Anderson High School grad and the father of two others (with two yet to go) I was happy to cover the hiring of Vince Suriano to the UC football staff.
This link is what will be published in the local papers this week and it's already online on www.cincinnati.com. Suriano literally rescued the Anderson program from the armpits of the old Hamilton County Suburban League and turned it from a doormat into a yearly playoff contender. He set the table for their two state appearances in Division II in 2007 and 2008.
When he first made the DI playoffs, they took just four local team and somehow Anderson was one. I'll never forget it.
Here's the link which also includes the video interview:
And here's Coach Tuberville "photo-bombing" the new staffer
Busy day as activity ratchets up in preparation for the basketball team's trip to Philadelphia. I'm wrapping up a podcast extraordinaire this morning and should have it up by about lunchtime. You'll hear from Dan Hoard, NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk Senior Writer Rob Dauster and assistant coach Darren Savino as well as my guy Tommy G talking all about Creighton, The Dance and so much more.
You'll want to hear this. Huge thanks to all of the above for joining me, tons of great stuff that should make for a must-listen for UC fans getting ready for Friday.
This is tournament week. While I love to typically fill your ears with a combination of 90s hip hop and Pearl Jam, this is all about One Shining Moment. Here's the 2011 version. Is there anything better than the shots of players dancing in the center of the huddle before games? As far as I could tell, Titus Rubles has been this team's preferred dancer this season, but alas, don't worry, I'll get the for sure answers from the players today. Spot the Bearcats!
As always, send any comments, questions or suggestions to me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Cool idea. I think many fans would love to know how practices run and will have one final chance to send off the team before they leave.
If you are there and see my bald head reflecting off the lights, give me a shout.
--- Time to take a look at the recent history of 10 vs 7. Historically, the 7 wins 58 percent of the time over the 10. As far as how it has gone the last three years, though, it's a coin flip -- here's the results:
10 Xavier 67, Notre Dame 63
7 Florida 71, 10 Virginia 45
7 Gonzaga 77, 10 WVU 54
10 Purdue 72, 7 St. Mary's 69
7 Washington 68, 10 Georgia 65
10 Temple 66, 7 Penn State 64
10 Florida State 57, 7 Texas A&M 50
7 UCLA 78, Michigan State 76
10 Georgia Tech 64, 7 Oklahoma State 59
7 BYU 99, 10 Florida 92 (2OT)
10 Missouri 86, 7 Clemson 78
10 St. Mary's 80, 7 Richmond 71
TOTAL: 10 seed 7 wins, 7 seed 5 wins.
--- If there is one expert out there you want picking your team, it's Jay Bilas. Congrats, Bearcats fans. Trill is riding in red and black. You can check his bracket out here.
--- Scott at Bearcats Blogposted his initial thoughts on Friday's game. He discussed who will guard McDermott, which is the question of the week. Rubles would seem to be the best physical matchup. His length and ability to track McDermott around the floor will be key. Remember, you need to put your best OFF THE BALL defender on McDermott, because he moves as well without the ball as anybody in college hoops. He's not a one-on-one type, except he has nice moves in the post.
--- Mike DeCourcy has been all over every media outlet this week, here was him talking with Lance. He also likes the Bearcats to pull the upset on Creighton. Mike also ranked the teams 1-68 in order of chance they can win entire tournament. He checks the Bearcats in at 39 while ranking Indiana over Louisville at the top.
One I will call here and now, Syracuse will upset Indiana in the Sweet 16. I think the Hoosiers struggle with that zone and the Orange showed the signs of breaking out of the offensive slump of the last few weeks in NY. Just feels right.
--- Jason Lisk from The Big Lead with fantastic analysis of scheduling and its effect on your tourney resume, specifically playing the bottom quarter of Division I teams. This has been why UC's RPI tends to be lower than it's other metrics, the cupcakes they've played (as everyone does) in recent years haven't been from the 220-275 range, rather too many in the 275+ range. In the end, it's a matter of paying money for those teams to show up. And those back end teams really anchor down the RPI number.
As Lisk points out, playing Division II teams, which doesn't factor into the RPI at all, seems to be a better way to go in order to increase your number. The Mountain West with their 14 games against D2 teams and five bids serve as the perfect example.
Hate that manipulating an archaic metric is still a part of how we choose the field of 68. Just when you think the committee takes steps in seeing the light, you realize 36 of the top 37 at-large RPI teams made the tournament. Much of it due to stupid manipulation like this.
Only one way to start the NCAA Tournament post. The ball is tipped ...
Welcome to your one-stop shop spectacular Bearcats postseason blog extravaganza bonanza. It's a working title. I have here all you need to know and so many pieces of information you probably don't about UC's NCAA Tournament draw, particularly the Bearcats against Creighton on Friday.
THE PARTICULARS: UC (22-11, 9-9 Big East) vs Creighton (27-7, 13-5 Missouri Valley), Friday approx. 2:45 p.m. in Philadelphia.
In the same pod will be No. 2 seed Duke (27-5, 14-4 ACC) and No. 15 seed Albany (24-10, 9-7 America East)
THE TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller and Lewis Johnson on the call.
NEED TO KNOW: Dougie McBuckets, aka, Doug McDermott. He's one of the premier scorers in the country -- he's second nationally at 23.1 points per game. About as efficient and savvy as it gets offensively. He's a 6-10 power forward who spends a majority of his time in the post and hitting pick-and-pop shots from the perimeter. And he can fill it up.
He hits 49.7 percent from deep and shoots plenty of them (74 of 149). He is the best 3-point shooter in the tournament. Period. End of discussion.
This scouting report video does a great job breaking down his strengths and weaknesses. Has had trouble with longer, athletic defenders, so I'd imagine a combination of Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson will draw the assignment of slowing McDermott with plenty of help from their friends.
ELITE OFFENSE VS ELITE DEFENSE: This will be the ultimate battle of elite offense against elite defense. Creighton enters with the No. 6 most efficient offense in the country. UC is ranked as the No. 12 most efficient defense in the country.
Creighton leads the country in 3-points percentage (42.1%) and effective FG percentage (59.1%). The Jays are a full three points better than any other team in the country in eFG. That is the best percentage in college basketball since 2007 (Florida 59.6). Think about that -- since 2007!
I was able to find two like games from the 2012 tournament pitting elite offenses against elite defenses in the first round. Incredibly, Creighton is a near identical first-round matchup with Alabama last year.
Top 15 offense vs. Top 15 defense 2012 Tournament
7 seed Florida (3O) vs. 10 seed Virginia (6D): Result -- Florida 71-45
8 seed Creighton (5O) vs 9 seed Alabama (8D): Result -- Creighton 58-57
Here's the highlights of that game. Scroll to the 5:30 mark to watch the conclusion or enjoy all of the Creighton buckets in their entirety
THE NOTRE DAME COMPARISON: The best team on UC's schedule in terms of eFG% is Notre Dame, who ranks 44th nationally. Now, I fielded a few Notre Dame comparison questions on The Twitters and would say that comparison doesn't hold as much water because what made them one of the toughest opponents on UC's schedule was how well they passed and consequently didn't turn the ball over. That's not the case with Creighton, they will turn the ball over (rank 112th nationally in turnover %) and they won't turn you over, either. They rank 327th nationally in turnover percentage on defense.
On Friday, I broke down the two key stats for any matchup with UC because the Bearcats play their best and win games when offense is created from second-chance points and points off turnovers. You can read that here.
Since Jan. 27th Creighton has not forced more than 12 turnovers in a game. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have averaged more than 12 turnovers a game by themselves.
For a UC team that relies so, so heavily on the points off turnovers statistic, that is an area where the Blue Jays are susceptible and exactly how the Bearcats will have to win this game.
BEARCATS VS ONE GREAT PLAYER: Sure, Dougie McBuckets averages 23.1 points per game, but he doesn't receive much help from his supporting cast. No other player on Creighton averages double figures.
F Doug McDermott: 23.1
C Greg Echenique: 9.6
G Grant Gibbs: 8.6
G Ethan Wragge: 7.7
The UC defense has been solid, but how have they done against opposing teams leading scorers in recent games? Here's the list (minus UConn without Napier in UC home win):
Georgetown (loss): Otto Porter (16.3): 18 points
Providence (win): Bryce Cotton (19.4): 12 points
USF (win): Victor Rudd (12.3): 22 points
Louisville (loss): Russ Smith (18.1): 18 points
Notre Dame (loss): Jerian Grant (13.4): 13 points
UConn (loss): Shabazz Napier (17.1): 27 points
Georgetown (loss): Otto Porter (16.3): 16 points
Despite the great defense the Bearcats have for the most part played, they have allowed the other team's top player to at least hit his average regularly. That will be a trend they will need to stop in order to beat Creighton.
How bad can McBuckets beat a team single-handedly? Look at some of the Blue Jays biggest wins this year:
Wisconsin (84-74): 30 points, 8 rebounds
Arizona State (87-73): 29 points, 9 rebounds
@California (74-64): 34 points, 9 rebounds
Wichita State (91-79): 41 points, 6 rebounds
Wichita State (58-56: 14 points, 4 rebounds
DON'T BET ON IT: Of course, for recreational and perspective purposes only, the good folks in Vegas opened with Creighton as a 2-point favorite over the Bearcats. KenPom has them winning 66-62.
While we are talking prognosticators, plenty of the experts were liking the Bearcats. In one ESPN roundtable, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Dick Vitale all picked the Bearcats to pull the 10-7 upset.
"The guys are talking about it on Bracketology, but yeah, the Cincinnati matchup is utterly brutal for Creighton."
BATTLE TESTED: Creighton doesn't exactly come from a land of heavyweights, though, the Missouri Valley has earned respect in recent years. The conference only put two teams in this year's Dance (Creighton, Wichita State) compared to eight from the Big East.
To break it down, Creighton has played 12 games against the KenPom Top 75. In those games, they are 7-5.
Compare that with UC, who has played one team ranked outside KenPom's Top 75 since Feb. 2. The Bearcats are 8-10 on the year against those teams.
"One thing about us, we play multiple games in a row against NCAA Tournament teams ... we played seven straight in February against tournament teams," Mick Cronin said. "We understand every game is tough. Every game brings different challenges. That is the one thing about our team and playing in the Big East. So, you see different types and different styles."
QUOTENT QUOTABLES: Cronin on liking the way his team relaxed and played in New York compared to the tense weeks leading up to Selection Sunday:
"They are very cognizant of how they are doing and how their team is doing. I have a very conscientious group of kids. Probably the most conscientious, worrisome group I've ever had. To the point where I've had to change some of my tactics with them to try to get them to relax and just worry about playing hard. Sometimes thy put way too much pressure on themselves, are too hard on themselves. So, we are all equal now. Everybody is in. If you are a 2-seed or 7-seed or 10-seed it doesn't matter. Hopefully we can play relaxed, I thought we were really relaxed, I liked the way we played in New York."
THREE FOR THREE: UC makes the NCAA Touranment for the third time in three years, they are one of 23 teams to pull that off (h/t @xlax1306). With a victory on Sunday, they would be one of nine teams to have won a game for three consecutive seasons.
As a defending national champion failed to make the tournament for the second time in four years, everyone should be reminded of how difficult it is to make this happen, particularly in the rough and tumble Big East.
UC is one of six Big East schools to make the NCAA Tournament three years straight (Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Marquette, Cincinnati).
"These types of leagues can eat you alive, so I'm proud of what we have accomplished," Cronin said.
Regardless, it would be an intriguing matchup. And a similar gameplan for UC. Only five teams have an offensive efficiency better than Creighton -- one of them? Duke. They are ranked No. 4 in the category. (Also 8th in defensive efficiency)
We can get more into those logistics later, but for UC fans, it's mainly an excuse to break out this video of one of the most memorable moments in UC basketball history.
A change in the lineup helped bring a change in result for the Bearcats, who snapped a four-game skid with timely hitting against Western Michigan.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- With the Bearcats in the midst of a four-game losing streak, head coach Brian Cleary decided to tweak the lineup just a bit. He switched junior outfielder Justin Glass to the second spot and freshman Ian Happ to the third spot for the first game of a three-game series Friday against Western Michigan.
Obviously it worked for Glass.
He went two for five with a bases-clearing double in the eighth and a towering home run over the right-field scoreboard that hit off Fifth Third Arena in the third inning, as the Bearcats beat the Broncos 11-1.
"I knew I was going to see a lot of off speed [pitches] because he's a lefty pitcher and I'm left-handed," Glass said. "I always try to hit the ball hard, somewhere, and it just so happened it went over the fence."
Glass is not a newcomer to the second spot in the order. He hit there a couple times last year and during his freshman year. While he went 7 for 16, a .438 average. Over the past four games he had only one RBI and one extra base hit.
"I've been hitting some balls hard and stuff hasn't been dropping," Glass said. "It felt good today to finally do something for my team [and] produce some runs."
Cleary, however, looked at the bigger picture for his team.
"I thought it was far and away the best game we played all year," Cleary said. "We did everything well."
Sophomore Matt Lathuras made his first collegiate start and pitched five innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. The bullpen combined for four shutout innings. The base runners were both smart and aggressive, as evidenced by the five stolen bases. Freshman third baseman Devin Wenzel and freshman infielder Ian Happ completed a few web gems.
Cleary seemed most satisfied with the clutch hitting though.
"We got some really timely hitting today, which has been missing for us," he said. "We got some really good at-bats from guys with runners in scoring position with two outs."
UC had left 30 men on base during their four game losing streak.
Not only did Glass hit the ball well, but Wenzel also went 2 for 4 with four RBI and a home run onto Sheakley Lawn. Wenzel has now reached base in every game he's played this season.
"Devin's done really well," Glass said. Speaking of all the freshmen players, he said, "The scary part is they're only freshmen, so they're only going to get better. And they have a lot of time to get better."
Cleary doesn't know what his lineup will look like for future games, but there's a decent chance it'll stay the same for at least "a couple more days." After all, it already worked once.
With so many individual stories, trends and analysis necessary with spring football and the postseason tournaments going on, I've backed away from the Breakfast format recently to delve deeper into the individual topics happening around UC.
Well, not today. I'm coming at you in full Breakfast format. There's officially too many topics to hit on to do anything but chow down Farmer's Breakfast style.
Let's eat ...
--- Have to start with the Big East tournament. Another untimely scoring drought bogged down the Bearcats as they were eliminated by top seed Georgetown. No surprise as finding offense remains and will continue to be the stamp on this year's UC team. When they've been able to create extra opportunities through points off turnovers or offensive rebounding, they score enough to let their defense win the game. Sometimes they don't. That's when a second half like Georgetown happens.
Disappointing exit, particularly for Sean Kilpatrick who adores MSG and the Big East Tournament and will have his final game there be one to forget (4 points, 2 of 12 from field, 0 of 8 from 3-point range). As we've known for months -- and will be the case with 95 percent of the NCAA Tournament field -- this team's Big Dance will be all about draw and the right matchups. Such a wide open field and the proper matchups paired with a few made shots and UC could find themselves back in the Sweet 16 again.
For those of you who started swinging the negativity stick at that sentence, I'd only point out that there is negligible difference between the 2 seeds and 12 seeds this year. It's been as wide open a regular season as we've seen.
So, when UC sees its name on Selection Sunday for the third time in the last three years the characteristics of the opponent to look at will be their offensive turnover percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. No matter the strengths or stars on the opposing team, the Bearcats can overcome those. Drawing an opponent who occasionally struggles to hold on to the ball and can be susceptible to giving up offensive rebounds matches perfectly with UC's makeup.
Remember, points off turnovers has been the defining statistic between wins and losses in conference play and UC ranks 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
Now, complete weakness in both categories is difficult to find in a tournament of the best 68 teams in the country (theoretically), but with such a soft bubble, they will be out there.
With UC likely slated somewhere in the 9-11 range, let's take a look at some of the possible opponents. I'm drawing from all the current 6-8 seeds in Joey Brackets latest update for a sampling. There are great matchups out there.
Who to root for: 1) Memphis (as undisciplined a team as in the entire tournament), 2) UNLV, 3) Butler
Who not to root for: 1) Colorado State (apparently all they do well is board and hold onto the ball), 2) Creighton, 3) UNC
I'd rank turnover percentage as more important than defensive rebounding, which is the reason why some of the rooting ranks are what they are. UC ranks 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
--- The most encouraging development from two days in NYC was the verification Cashmere Wright appears to be back to his old ways. He drove and finished in the lane and knocked down shots from deep. We started to see the turn against Louisville, which I wrote about that night, and it truly looks to be a turning point for him.
With Cash playing like he did against Georgetown, UC will have a chance. He does need to stay more involved with his shot, unlike the final 15 minutes where his attempts were limited.
Next 10 games: 19.7% (14-71)/// 22.9% (25-109) /// 8.2
Last 4 games: 50% (10-20) /// 47.2% (17-36) /// 12.5
--- For those who scoff at making the NCAA Tournament three years in a row, understand how difficult it is to win year-in and year-out in college basketball -- particularly at this major level. Finding the right chemistry, momentum and pieces, all while staying free of key injury can be as difficult as it gets with a cast of 20-year-olds.
Look no further than Kentucky this year. This time last year the thought was rules needed to be changed to break up his superpower system. Now, they're bubble babies. Three years ago, all-powerful North Carolina missed the Big Dance and joined UC in the NIT. Jamie Dixon and Pitt played in the CBI last season.
Even the best, most powerful programs with Hall of Fame coaches have years when the cards don't fall as they would like.
Here are some other programs that missed out on The Dance at least one of the last two years or are going to miss this year: Arizona, Tennessee, Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Baylor, Cal, Clemson, Maryland, Indiana, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas, West Virginia.
These are tradition and talent rich programs with quality coaches. Understandable the expectations for seeding and a run in the BET were higher this season for UC, but understanding the highs and lows of college basketball is important perspective.
If your worst year is 22 wins and a middle seed in the Big Dance, you've made it. Just ask Roy Williams or John Calipari or Jamie Dixon or Bob Huggins.
--- Speaking of Huggs, his WVU team will finish the season 13-19 and 6-12 in Big 12 play. But everyone can keep clamoring for the "old days."
--- The semifinals of the BET, not a bad night of basketball. Georgetown-Syracuse and Louisville-Notre Dame. Toss in Raf, Bilas, McDonough. You can take the batteries out of the remote.
Oh, and Bill Clinton showed up in the Louisville locker room last night and snapped this photo. Just another night at MSG.
--- I know ripping on uniforms has become more popular than pope jokes on Twitter the last few days, but at some point it makes little sense. Are they different? Yes. Do they look bad? Sure.
But what does this essentially devolve into? Old people ripping on what young people like to wear. Been happening for generations upon generations. Somewhere a cavemen slapped his caveson for chopping the sleeves off his tigerskin.
This is a bunch of older media types judging a younger generation's fashion choices. Sigh. It's not about us, despite as self-entitled as we often act.
Should expect anything other than Travis Kelce joining his brother there after this draft?
--- Also, spoke with Travis at UC's Pro Day on Wednesday, he informed me he actually suffered a sport hernia last season in Week 3 but played through it all year. Imagine how he could have played healthy. He expects to be fully healed from it for his April 4 workout for scouts at UC.
From all that I've seen or heard he should go somewhere on Day 2, either second or third round.
He also told me he plans on starting a beard-growing contest with his brother, Jason, whose beard is the stuff of NFL legend. Worth monitoring, to be sure.
--- Most significant number from UC's pro day came from RB George Winn. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. That was a dramatic improvement from the 4.75 he ran at the Combine which hurt his stock. Still believe somebody takes a shot on him late.
--- Samsung releasedtheir new Galaxy. I've joined #TeamiPhone and am pretty partial, but I could see this making a run at the Apple folks.
--- For those of you wondering about The Killers, here's probably their most popular song. Have a great weekend everybody and make sure to keep it locked to the Twitter feed (@pauldehnerjr) for reaction to UC's seeding in The Dance. I'll have all you need to know about the draw Sunday night and Monday morning. For any reaction you can shoot an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bearcats continue to be as comfortable in New York as a $12 cocktail. With their 61-44 victory against Providence on Wednesday they won at least one game in the Big East tournament for the fourth consecutive season. Unless Notre Dame wins their opener tonight, UC will be the only team in the conference to have accomplished that feat.
They are 6-3 in the BET the last four years.
The victory over the Friars didn't have as much to do with earning the win, rather how they did it. Mick Cronin tinkered with the lineup and personality to create a more uptempo, pressuring defense designed to keep teams out of rhythm.
Instead of staying big when Cheikh Mbodj came off the floor, he decided to go small and aggressive by leaving David Nyarsuk/Kelvin Gaines on the bench and opting to move Justin Jackson to center with Shaq Thomas seeing increased minutes at the 4 spot.
The move added an offensive weapon when Thomas can grab eight rebounds as he did, not much is lost on the glass. Going deep into the bench and not being afraid to run serves as a change in philosophy and one that fit the team well in the win.
"We just tried to evaluate some things of how we wanted to play in the postseason," Cronin said. "Just wanted to be a faster team, more athletic team. Tried to get us in full-court mode, attack mode. We are just a better team when we play that way."
Indeed. Not only that, but receiving production from Thomas (5 points, 8 rebounds) and Mbodj (8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks) changed the dynamic of the entire team.
Cronin was well aware of Thomas' effect on the game: "Best game he's ever played for us."
--- Elsewhere, Sean Kilpatrick spent more time attacking the basket and less time bombing 3-pointers than in previous games. It led to on of his more efficient efforts.
For only the third time in Big East play more than 50 percent of his shots came from inside the arc. He finished 6 of 16 from the field and 2 of 6 from long range. He canned two critical and-1 drives to the lane, including one late that put the game away.
--- Now, we'll see a repeat of last year's 2OT classic against Georgetown. The Hoyas come in as the No. 1 seed and fresh off an annihilation of Syracuse to win the Big East title. They haven't been perfect, however. They lost by 10 at Villanova the second-to-last game of the season and needed 2OT to beat UConn two games before that.
The last time these two met, UC led 51-50 with seven minutes remaining before eventually losing 62-55. In that game they went 4 of 24 from 3-point range and missed 13 free throws (17 of 30). Without doubt, a game they could have won. Even with average shooting they would have won.
Another effort like the one given Wednesday and they will certainly have a chance.
--- The Bearcats historically have been good slowing the Hoyas back-cutting offense and that's why they've enjoyed so much success against them of late. Prior to the Hoyas win earlier this year, UC ran off four consecutive victories against GT.
Of course, this Hoyas team has won 12 of 13 and owns conference player of the year Otto Porter.
"We know they are a great team but we are a great team as well especially when we are playing defense the way we are," Kilpatrick said. "We're a team that's hungry. We are a team that is not going to back down from anyone. We are going to come out and give our best fight every night."
--- In the postseason since 2010 (Big East Tournament, NIT, NCAA) the Bearcats are 10-6, including a Sweet 16 and BET runner-up.
--- Cronin never likes to leave a press conference without keeping them laughing. When the players were asked about the uniforms and the media took a shot at them, he pointed out how much his players like them.
"If you guys were going to go out tonight, they wouldn't dress like you, either," he said.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or predictions to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
In order to fill the new fullback position in the offense, Tommy Tuberville pulled from an unusual position group to make it happen.
CINCINNATI -- Patrick Coyne proudly discusses his tradition as a fullback and running back. Sure, the standout from Hamilton Badin ranked as the No. 17 dual threat QB nationally by Rivals.com upon arriving at UC, but as the coaches asked him to move to the newly created fullback position in the offense, he could draw on his past.
He could also draw on his astute mastery of sarcasm.
"I played running back and fullback until seventh grade," Coyne said, tongue in cheek. "That's the last time. I played guard in third grade. I think that's the closest thing to it. All the way back in third grade, I think it carries over. Everyone is about two feet taller and 200 pounds heavier."
The concept of moving a quarterback to the fullback/tight end position may seem like a joke, but in the world of fitting old pieces into new parts thinking outside the pocket doesn't arrive on a whim, it arrives with necessity.
Tommy Tuberville and the pro-style offense reintroduces the fullback position to the offense for the first time since Mark Dantonio roamed the sideline. When analyzing the current players capable of handling a move, Tuberville spotted candidates with the skill set to make a successful conversion - regardless of position.
That meant Coyne, the redshirt sophomore stuck in a quagmire of quarterbacks on the depth chart, but the biggest of the bunch, could increase him frame and trade the no-contact red jersey for that all-contact black.. Despite being a bit shocked at first, he happily responded to a chance at playing time by adding 20 pounds - he's now up to 244 - and lugging a different attitude into the Sheakly Athletics Center.
"It's the complete opposite end of the spectrum than playing quarterback," Coyne said. "It definitely goes from mentally strenuous to completely physically strenuous. It's definitely more physical, I'll tell you that. I don't miss (the red jersey) at all. It's good getting in there and mixing it up, getting to experience what all the other guys do every day which you didn't get to, the soreness every day."
While Coyne endured true soreness for the first time following the spring's first scrimmage on Saturday, he was joined at the position by a player all too accustomed to new experiences in spring football. Jordan Luallen has joined Coyne in the backfield in what appears to be his journey to play all 22 positions at career. He's previously played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and linebacker.
Now, he can check off fullback and tight end.
"Camp is pretty much been a mystery to me at this point," Luallen said. "This is my sixth one and this is my fifth position. It's pretty much a new adventure every time."
Don't expect the latest position change to erase Luallen's patented smile.
"I'm great with it," said Luallen, whose also joined by former linebacker E.J. Junior at the position. "Anything to help the team. I think I've kind of showed that over my career. Anything they've asked me to do I've done. This is just another step in that. If I can help the team win by doing this then I am happy to do it."
Happy? Yes. Learning? Oh yes.
Tuberville didn't expect the transition to be smooth. The first scrimmage showed a position group trailing as far behind in the technique department as any on the team, but far ahead of the curve mentally. Really, for a couple of heady former quarterbacks, the results make sense.
"It's just different," Tuberville said. "What the fullback has to do is either cleans up on pass protection someone we didn't block or has an assignment on a blitz he has to protect. They knew what to do it was just being able to be physical at the point of attack when your mind is spinning 100 miles per hour or so."
The spinning likely won't stop for a while. Nor will living in the training, dining and weight rooms. In order for these players to be sizeable enough to take on B1G linebackers on Aug. 31, the growth of the last few months must continue, particularly for Luallen, whose tipping the scales at 232 after gaining 14 pounds this offseason.
"Obviously I need to get bigger," said Luallen, who does boast his bench press numbers to be on par with most of his competition around 400 pounds. "I'm the smallest guy in the room right now. If I can keep getting bigger, get my shoulders stronger I'll be ready to block those guys."
Once they begin to drop the hammer from the fullback position, perhaps the first fullback pass play in UC history will be right around the corner? Incredibly, there would be a battle to see who gets the nod to throw it.
"I don't think we could have a double fullback pass," Coyne said, "but we are in thick competition for it right now."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or your application to play fullback to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up
UC fell to Purdue on Tuesday, 7-4, but as they move forward they search to combine the periodic offensive surges with the periodic excellent pitching to find a complete game to start a winning streak.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- In what felt like a blink of an eye, head coach Brian Cleary's Bearcats were down 4-0 to Purdue Tuesday at Marge Schott Stadium, a game in which UC eventually lost 7-4.
Redshirt junior Christian McElroy had a shaky start, giving up four runs in the first inning. He got the first two outs relatively quickly, but then had some problems with control. At one point, he hit a batter, walked a batter, hit another batter and walked another batter, in that order.
"We obviously needed a better start," Cleary said.
McElroy ended up pitching three innings and giving up six runs on six hits, walking five and striking out three.
After going 4-6 with a 4.41 ERA in 2012 and finishing sixth in the Big East in fewest hits allowed (59), McElroy was drafted in the 32nd round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, but chose to stay at UC another year.
However, McElroy hasn't started the 2013 season the way he would want, coming into the Purdue game with a 1-2 record and a 5.40 ERA. His ERA jumped to 7.71 after yesterday's game.
If there was one positive thing to take away from the game (besides the mini-rally UC put together in the bottom of the ninth), it was the
bullpen work turned in by senior Thomas Gentile and freshman Mark Downs.
Gentile relieved McElroy and pitched five innings, giving up six hits and two runs, one earned, with five strikeouts and two walks. His mindset coming out of the bullpen in a situation like that is to not allow the opposing team's lead to get any larger.
"First thing you want to do is eliminate a big inning and control what you can, coming in and trying to minimize damage," Gentile said. "Try to give up the least amount of runs as possible.Obviously zero's the best, but sometimes that doesn't always happen."
Cleary was satisfied with the way Gentile pitched, but was still concerned about the two runs he gave up early in his appearance.
"I thought he got better as he went," Cleary said. "After getting out of that first being down four, every run after that is like two. You really just can't afford to give up any more runs until you get yourself back in the game."
Cleary, however, was pleased to be able to get freshman Mark Downs into the game in the ninth. Downs pitched one inning and retired all three Purdue batters he faced during his third appearance of the season.
The Bearcats don't have a lot of time to think about their fourth consecutive loss as they head to Lexington Wednesday for a date with No. 9 Kentucky.
Gentile has the right attitude, though. His team has hit well during some games and pitched well during other games. They just have to put together a complete, all-around game.
"Some days we pitch well, but we don't hit well or play well defensively," he said. "Some days we don't pitch well, but we hit very well. So we just got to put all of it together. [But] that's the beauty of baseball; there's always another day or another game right around the corner."
I had every intention of including running back Anthony King in my video piece for Monday, but I had some camera difficulties and I thought I lost it. Tonight, after deleting some things in the camera, No. 48 magically reappeared.
Because he had one of the better days of the running backs in Saturday's scrimmage, I thought I should at least play the raw interview. You could discount King because he's a senior and there's some competition, but no one thought much of George Winn either until he started running through people last season.
For the techno-types, I've figured out that the flash light coming on inside the bubble makes the video look foggy. I've turned it off (truthfully, I didn't even know it was on). We'll try to rectify with better stuff next time around.
ESPN1530 Host Mo Egger joins me again this time as we take a look at the Big East Tournament, the Bearcats chances to make a run, what it means for their NCAA Tournament status and how the tournament helped legitimize the reincarnation of UC basketball.
Of course, we also spend the first 15 minutes discussing which of the 16 conference tournaments we would most like to attend and least like to attend this week which requires openly debating the pros and cons of Missoula, Mont. Plus, Mo takes a phone call, discusses the unhealthy disdain for Gerry McNamara.
As always, make sure you are reading Mo's blog here and listening to him from 3-6 p.m. this week on ESPN1530. You can also catch him on the weekends on national ESPN radio.
The first-round game against Providence will be a rematch of one of UC's two bad losses from the season. The 54-50 defeat at the dunk sent the two teams in different directions. It helped spark PC winning 7 of their last nine, the only two losses coming in OT at UConn on Saturday and against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
The difference? Center Kadeem Batts has gone Beastmode. Including the win against UC, over his last eight games he's averaging 19 points and 8.4 rebounds including, most recently, back-to-back double-doubles. Add that with First Team All-Big East selection Bryce Cotton at guard and there's PC's magic combo.
In the first game, UC did a nice job on the offensive glass, grabbing almost 50 percent of their misses, but not much else went right. Providence won despite Batts making only 5 of 12 free throws and sharpshooter Cotton going 2 of 9 from deep. Much of Cotton's struggles can be attributed to UC's defense but they realistically can't expect him to struggle like that again.
The biggest problem the Bearcats had in the game was finding a way to penetrate and avoid turnovers against the Providence defense. Really, against everyone that will be the deal going forward.
--- UC's formula for winning basketball games is simple: Create points off turnovers, offensive rebound like maniacs and play stifling defense. With those three things, that's enough to win games in this tournament and the next one. Talk all you want to about missed shots, shooting percentage and offensive struggles --- that's this team's formula. Every team owns their own winning formula. Some are more conducive to consistency than others. Louisville plays great defense and lets Peyton Siva create opportunities. Duke must fill it up from deep. Indiana relies on their talent to rise to the top.
By this point in the season you are who you are and have to find ways to accomplish the winning formula for your team. Points off turnovers, offensive rebounding and defense are this team's strengths, for better or worse. They must dominate in them.
--- The last few years, UC has done as well in NYC as any Big East team. They are among three teams to have won at least one game each of the last three years, USF and Notre Dame are the others. Notre Dame has advanced to the semifinals whereas all USF's wins came in the early rounds.
That also leaves them as the only team to have won at least one game in NYC each of the last three years and play in the championship game. No easy feat.
Looking even deeper at where their success ranks, only UConn and Louisville have more wins in the BET over the last three years. Here's the records of this year's Big East tournament teams the last three years:
Notre Dame: 4-3
St. John's: 2-3
Seton Hall: 2-3
Hard to believe Pittsburgh hasn't won a game in New York the last three years. Louisville with its two championship game appearances and one title deserve recognition along with UConn, but beyond those two, UC stands as the most effective team in the league's grandest stage.
What does that mean for this year? Maybe not much. But I asked Mick Cronin why his team has had so much success in New York and he pulled out an intriguing way to connect the question with this year's quest.
"Mental toughness," he said. "Guys that believe that they can win. Which with this team I got to do a better job of trying to get these guys to believe in our formula. There's times with us we worry about mistakes, we get afraid to lose at times. In fairness to them, when you start out the way we started out and end up losing so many close games you are just so worried about losing. Where, I think we can put all that behind us now. Which is going to be my message. We've done what we needed to do from a regular season standpoint we can put that behind us now. We don't have to worry about, oh, we blew it. There's a lot of that going on, not that I talked about it. It's just inevitable with the kids. You can't play not to lose. Scared money never wins. You got to play to win. That's how we got to go up there and play."
He makes a great point, I think back to the 2010 tournament team with Lance Stephenson. That team was able to leave all the disappointments of the regular season behind them, play loose, free and believe in their formula. If not for De'Sean Butler's bank shot, who knows how far that team could have gone.
Last year's team was not only playing well, but certainly believe they could beat anybody, especially after the 2OT thriller against Georgetown.
Maybe, the win against USF and likely secure spot in The Dance will help them loosen up on offense and not be as afraid to make mistakes. We shall see, but that's proven to be true with this group before.
--- Each of the last three years, a seed seven or higher has advanced to the championship game. Last year, Louisville won it as the seven seed, in 2011 UConn and Kemba Walker made the run from nine seed to title and in 2010 Georgetown lost a thriller to WVU as the No. 8 seed.
Sean Kilpatrick earns All-Big East honors for the second consecutive season, being named to the second team, just as he was last year.
While Kilpatrick would have liked to move up to the first team, he joins a small group of players who have proven good enough to make the first or second team in consecutive seasons. In fact, over the last five years only six other players have made back-to-back All-Big East teams.
Player, School (Years on A-BE team)
Luke Harangoudy, Notre Dame (2008, '09, '10)
Sam Young, Pittsburgh (2008, '09)
DeSean Butler, WVU (2009, '10)
Austin Freeman, Georgetown (2010, '11)
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (2011, '12)
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2012, '13)
Sean Kilpatrick, UC (2012, '13)
Should Kilpatrick return to the Bearcats, he could join Harangoudy as the only player to make three consecutive lists. Now, he also would like to follow in the footsteps of the other six because they all ended up on the first team All-Big East at one point whereas, Kilpatrick scored secondary honors both years.
--- One final note, Mick held Justin Jackson out of Saturday's game against USF. Jackson is close to being able to play. He wanted to against the Bulls, but it worried Mick that had he played him Jackson wouldn't have been able to go this week or next. When asked if he expects him to play this week, he said, "hopefully," after the game.
As always with injuries, you don't know, but signs point to Jackson taking part in the BET.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or your thoughts on the Bearcats Big East tournament chances to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The UC baseball team suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of Eastern Michigan this weekend, but it didn't come without plenty of opportunities to pile on runs. Entering a difficult week against Purdue and Kentucky, finding key hits stands atop the priority list.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bearcats' (4-8) offense stalled this weekend as Eastern Michigan (6-9) pitched a shutout Sunday at Marge Schott Stadium, 3-0, thus completing a three-game sweep.
In the first two games of the series, UC let Eastern Michigan bat around the lineup in one inning, including a ninth-inning six-run rally on Saturday and a nine-run inning on Friday.
On Sunday, the offense was non-existent. The Bearcats had only six hits and no player had more than one hit.
But one factor was the same in all three games: leaving runners on base.
"[It's] really been the case all weekend," Cleary says. "We just have not been able to cash in some opportunities, giving away some at-bats in some key situations."
Friday UC left 10 men on base. Saturday, it was eight. Sunday, it was six.
The bottom of the fourth inning Sunday was a perfect example of the Bearcats' inability to get runners home with less than two outs.
After freshman Ian Happ grounded out to start the inning, freshmen Jeff Murray and Woody Wallace both singled. Murray then advanced to third on a wild pitch, but junior Brendon Neel and redshirt freshman Taylor Schmidt struck out back-to-back.
These types of innings were frequent for the Bearcats all weekend. Two players reached base via singles before a fielder's choice and a strikeout snuffed out a threat on Friday. Saturday they left men on base six of the nine innings, including the ninth inning when they were down 7-3.
If there was one good thing to take away from the weekend, however, it was the Bearcats' young pitchers. Redshirt freshman Connor Walsh made his fourth start of the season Friday and pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up one run on five hits and striking out five batters.
Mitch Patishall started Sunday and gave up two runs on three hits with three strikeouts. Cleary was pleased with the freshman's first career start.
"He did a really good job," Cleary says. "He's got some things he can improve on, but certainly he was competitive."
Cleary was also impressed with sophomore Art Warren, who relieved Patishall in the fourth.
"I thought he did a good job, other than his run, the solo home run, and falling behind in the count," he said. "But I thought he made some great pitches."
As the Cats look toward their week with games against two good teams in Purdue and Kentucky, they hope their offense can come to life.
"I feel good about a lot of what's going on," Cleary says. "We're making it very difficult on ourselves with some little things. We've got some of these guys playing more and getting more comfortable in the field."
We want to hear from you! If you have any questions, comments or observations about UC baseball shoot them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheikh Mbodj played one of the best games of his UC career including a key block toward the end of regulation in a critical overtime win against USF. All this with his parents in town from Senegal watching him play basketball live for the first time in six years.
CINCINNATI - Cheikh Mbodj last saw his parents two years ago.
The last time his mother and father watched him play a basketball game in person came six years ago when he still lived in his native Senegal.
They attempt to keep up with Mbodj, UC's 25-year-old starting center, either through Internet streams or the occasional online highlight. Living across the world makes following Big East basketball a challenging task.
That all changed Saturday.
For his final home game, Mbodj's parents, Asta Khaly Welle and Ousmane Mbodj, traveled 4,370 miles on a nine-hour flight from Dakar, Senegal to see their son honored for his career at UC. After six long years, they would finally see their boy play again in person.
Little could either have imagined they'd witness him play the game of his life. And little could anyone have thought Cheikh Mbodj would be responsible for saving the possibility of a demoralizing home defeat to USF placing UC on the Big Dance bubble.
Yet, in UC's 61-53 comeback victory, he scored eight points with nine rebounds and three critical blocks - all but one bucket of which came in the second half and overtime. Those were the most points and rebounds he's collected since January.
"He doesn't give us nine and eight, we don't win this game," Mick Cronin said. "I can tell you one thing about Cheikh, he can block shots and he's a great kid."
In the world of basketball and life, people don't come much nicer than Mbodj. Polite, respectful, conscientious and as quality a representative of the University of Cincinnati as Cronin could hope for. He'd love to have seen Mbodj become a more effective scorer in this final season and wonders if he pushes him too hard attempting to make it happen.
That said, players like this, people like this, deserve their moment. For Mbodj to soak up his with his parents watching him play live for the first time in six years redefines special Senior Day experiences.
"Man, it was a great feeling," Mbodj said. "I haven't seen them in so long. At first it was a surprise (they were coming), but when people told me I was really happy."
Dressed head-to-toe in native garb, they flanked Mbodj walking to the center of Fifth Third Arena as a crowd of 11,572 stood with an ovation for the 6-foot-10 center. Had the day ended there, all three would look back fondly on a special day worth remembering for the rest of their lives. Only, Mbodj provided a day they'll never forget. It, incredibly, came in what appeared could be the darkest moment of the season.
Trailing by eight points with 3:30 left, Mbodj along with fellow seniors JaQuon Parker and Cashmere Wright, helped trim the deficit to one possession. From there, Mbodj grabbed an offensive rebound from a missed Parker jump shot and proceeded to bury both free throws to pull within one.
On the ensuing possession, USF point guard Anthony Collins drove the lane off a switch attempting to break down Mbodj. The center was able to extend and block the shot with all while palming it to smother the ball into his hand for a turnover.
The block was as beastly as it was game-saving.
"I just realized he was going to try to attack me since there was a size difference," Mbodj said. "I just tried to play smarter and try to use my left hand with his right hand. I just felt the ball so I just grabbed it."
Sean Kilpatrick had seen that show before.
"He gets blocks like that in practice," said Kilpatrick, who scored 13 points. "He's so much longer than everybody his size difference on a defender is crazy because he can cover a lot of ground. Not only that he has the mobility to move with everyone in this league."
The show continued in overtime with Mbodj hitting four straight free throws, including two he earned pulling down a board off a missed Parker free throw.
In a season where numerous close losses were results of singular plays not made, Mbodj delivered them Saturday.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing and it's not easy to win games particularly in this league when every game is a death match," Cronin said. "Those kinds of plays separate who wins and who losses games."
In this case, it may have separated who plays in the NCAA tournament and who doesn't. With a loss, the Bearcats would have fallen squarely onto the bubble in the eyes of most experts. Instead, they probably should be in, Cronin admitted postgame. "Probably being the key word because you never know," he said.
Maybe the stories of how Mbodj played will be lost in translation when his parents return to Senegal on Tuesday and begin bragging on their son. Friends might not understand the importance of the game or even the game itself.
None of that will matter to Cheikh.
An ear-to-ear grin shyly flashed across his face just talking about his week leading up to the game spent hanging out with his parents, proudly showing them his life in the United States. Had the week ended at that, surely, Mbodj would look fondly back at the time as a memorable experience.
Yet, Mbodj transformed this one into a day his family will never forget. One could think the presence of Mbodj's parents inspired his defining game as a Bearcat. Anybody who knows Mbodj and how much he cares about his teammates and his effort, though, knows that's nearly impossible. Giving maximum effort has never been an issue.
"I just try to get on the floor and help my teammates win ballgames," he said. "I'll always do that. No matter who is out there watching us."
The fact his parents were watching Saturday allowed an even more remarkable day. One worth waiting six years for.
I want to hear from you. Shoot any questions, comments and thoughts on Cheikh Mbodj to email@example.com and hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
When living outside the elite world of blue chip magnets like Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, schools hoping to build national title contenders must rely on more than handpicking McDonald's All-Americans.
In the case of Cincinnati, the key to ascending from one scholarship player to the verge of three consecutive NCAA tournaments revolves around recruiting to a specific profile. For Mick Cronin, that means finding players owning the intangible of toughness.
The only thing more difficult than defining toughness would be finding it.
Books have been written searching for the answers. This may not be the most talented player on the court, but will be the one who relentlessly fights when a deficit grows. This may be from refusing to give in to size disadvantages or quickness deficiencies. This may be from never allowing an injury to provide an excuse.
No player in the Mick Cronin Era more defines the intangible at the core of Cronin's rebuilding profile more than JaQuon Parker.
"What happens at this level, it becomes hard to do the things you did in high school," Cronin said. "You got to have a toughness about you. You can win games with JaQuon Parker because he can get it done against any opponent. He can raise his level of play, his focus, his toughness and when it gets tough you can count on him."
One final time Saturday, the fans at Fifth Third Arena will count on him as the Bearcats take on USF on Senior Day. That means a list of statistics and numbers will be wheeled out in an attempt to put into words what Parker meant to the basketball program.
He's averaging 11.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season. He's contributed 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds each of the past two seasons. He stands 6-foot-4 but tied for the team lead in offensive rebounds (62) despite giving half a foot to most big men in the lane.
Those numbers sound great, but don't tell the Parker story. Turn on the film of Cincinnati against Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Watch Parker grab 11 rebounds, five offensive, over the top of an FSU front line standing 6-10 across the board. The extra possessions he added in a defensive slugfest as physical as any in the tournament showed Parker's immeasurable value.
That wasn't the first time he'd found away to pull off the improbable to alter the outcome of a game. Saturday won't be the last.
"There's two types of players: guys that help you win games and guys that don't," Cronin said. "Guys that help you win games they can do it in a multitude of ways. But if you can't get stuff done that's hard to get done, you are not going to make it as a player."
Parker almost didn't. A conversation about his options - including transferring -- came after a disappointing sophomore season. Fittingly, as times got tough, Parker rose above. Challenged by Cronin to improve, Parker became the difference as the team was able to play a four-guard offense without being bludgeoned on the glass because he could battle anyone on the interior.
Over four years he's played four positions and if they needed him to play center he'd happily step in and make it all five spots. Cronin constantly compliments Parker's conscientious nature and relentless desire to execute his teachings. That can be viewed as a blessing and a curse at times as his unselfishness could inhibit his natural ability to rack up points. Following an urge from Cronin to pick up scoring slack down the stretch he's averaged 13 points per game over the last six.
Again, as he's escorted to center court before Saturday's game, reciting those numbers won't tell the story. For all those who spent four years looking on at Fifth Third, they won't need to hear them.
"It will be kind of bittersweet," Parker said of his expectations for Saturday, "but at the end of the day I will feel OK because I gave my all while I was here."
Nobody can deny that. Toughness may be hard to define, but easy to recognize in motion. It looks exactly like JaQuon Parker.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own thoughts on Parker to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
My friend and yours, New Media and Broadcasting Director Tom Gelehrter returns to his regular spot on the podcast this week as we recap all the behind-the-scenes from the trip to Louisville, rank who we think would be the best first-round matchup for the Big East tournament, swap stories about seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker as well as break down the newly-released football schedule.
Of course, we devolve into other topics such as cookie attendants, the likely current condition of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Tommy uses his power to crush a social-media trend.
As always, follow all the video work of Tommy and the team right here at GoBearcats.com including updates from spring football, basketball media availabilities and every other sport at UC.
Remember to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Everyone is doing it. Just follow this link here and the new episodes will come directly to your iTunes account or podcasting application on your mobile device of choice. Just open up the link, View in iTunes and click subscribe.
When Cashmere Wright signed to play at Cincinnati in the class of 2008, he became one of most highly considered prospects of the Mick Cronin era. Depending upon the service, he ranked somewhere around the top 100 and among the top 20 point guards coming out that year. He took a chance on a UC program he believed could turn the corner on his watch.
Five years later, he concludes one of the more productive careers in recent memory for a point guard at UC with he hopes three consecutive trips to The Dance and proved to be one of the top recruits among his class. How close to the top was he? Because us media types love to poke into these types of lists I did some research to break down the rankings.
Let's take a look at the top 20 point guard rankings from Scout.com, plus the best of the rest of the three-star or higher recruits from his draft class and see how Cashmere Wright's career stacked up (Hint: Very well).
2008 Rank/Player/School (Stars): Career breakdown
1. Brandon Jennings, Europe (5): Never played a minute of college basketball, went to Europe then the NBA and stars for the Bucks
2. Kemba Walker, UConn (5): Big East title, national title, Charlotte Bobcats. You know the story.
3. Jerime Anderson, UCLA (4): Never topped 8.8. points in a season, dramatically underachieved.
4. Larry Drew II, UNC/UCLA (4): Struggled in two years at UNC, transferred while ripping Heels, avg 7.3 pts/7.8 assts for Bruins
5. DeAndre Liggins, UK (4): Mediocre player for UK, never averaged better than 8.6 points or 2.8 assists.
6. Andre Young, Clemson (4): Solid, consistent four-year career. 1,223 points, 342 assists, 184 steals. Had one tourney win.
7. Korie Lucious, MSU/ISU (4): Flamed out at Michigan State before transferring to Iowa State. OK there, averaging 10.1/5.6 assists
8. Damier Pitts, Marshall (4): Great for the Herd. 1,551 points, 517 assists, 101 steals. However, never made Big Dance.
9. Andrew Steele, Alabama (4): Bust. Never topped 6.6 points or 2.7 assists for Tide
10. Courtney Fortson, Arkansas (4): Two great years, went pro (16.0/5.1 assists/5.4 rebs). Hogs under .500 both years.
11. Bud Mackey, Nowhere (3): Never made it to college, ran into big problems with law.
13. Demetri Goodson, Gonzaga (3): Quit basketball to pursue college football at Baylor
14. Jio Fontain, USC (3): Transferred to USC two years and averaging 9.5 points and 5.2 assists this year.
15. Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (3): Great career, 1,371 points, 541 assists, stellar senior year. But: zero NCAA trips
16. Tu Holloway, Xavier (3): You know the story: 1,833 points, 473 assists, Sweet 16 runs, did it all for X.
17. Dash Harris, Texas A&M (3): Never better than 6 points and 4.2 assists
18. Tray Woodall, Pitt (3). Similar productivity to Cash. 1,059 points, 572 assists, 115 steals. Longtime starter on good teams.
19. Paul McCoy, SMU/SMC (3): Bolted SMU for St. Mary's and flaming out there. Only 12 points in 47 min this year.
20. Kevin Dillard, SIU/UD (3): Productive at both (878 points last two years at UD).
BEST OF OTHERS
21. Mark Lyons, X/Arizona (3): Again, you know the story. Great player, but major chemistry issues at X.
25. Erving Walker, Florida (3): Killed it for UF. 1,777 points, 547 assists, 159 steals. Tourney runs.
26. Darryl Bryant, WVU (3): Solid contributor, scorer, but nearly one turnover for every assist.
30. Jordan Taylor, Wisky (3): His junior year in contention for NPOY -- 1,533 points, 464 assists, 159 steals (Huge #s for UW)
44. Isaiah Thomas, Washington (3): Stellar three years before going pro -- 1,721 points, 415 assists, 122 steals.
If you are weighing best contributions and production for the schools they committed to (eliminating transfers), the bucket would trim down to these 12: .
Kemba Walker, Andre Young, Damier Pitts, Courtney Fortson, Cashmere Wright, Jordan Theodore, Tu Holloway, Tray Woodall, Erving Walker, Darryl Bryant, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah Thomas.
Now, you have to eliminate those that didn't experience postseason success. College basketball is all about March and March is all about guards. If you didn't win there, you didn't win. That eliminates these three:
Damier Pitts (no tourney), Courtney Fortson (under .500 both years) and Jordan Theodore (no tourney).
That leaves these as the final nine. Up for debate how they'd rank, but mine looks something like this with Cash in a debate for the top five in his class -- tightly bunched with Holloway and Woodall -- when you weigh numbers, team success and tournament success:
Moral of the story -- it's easy to swing and miss in recruiting. Just look at that top 20 . Cashmere Wright not only didn't miss, but turned into one of the top 10 most productive careers nationally for his school of all those point guards in his class.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own memories of Cashmere Wright to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
So why would Eddie Gran - one of Florida State's top
assistant coaches and one of the nation's best recruiters - leave such a
storied program to join Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati?
"He was the best man at my wedding," said Gran with
"I knew I had a chance to hire him because nobody
knows him as well as I do," said Tuberville.
The two coaches met in 1989 when Tuberville was a
defensive coach at the University of Miami and Gran was a graduate assistant at
East Carolina under defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano.
"We were at a coaching convention in San Francisco
and Coach Tuberville was getting ready to go ski," Gran told me."They had just won the national championship
at Miami and Coach Pagano introduced me to him.I met him and shook his hand and he said, 'Be there on March the 10th.'That was the beginning."
"I raised Eddie from a pup," said Tuberville."I've seen him grow up from a young man that
wanted to coach to becoming one of the better ones in the country.I'm proud to be his friend."
When Tuberville got his first head coaching job at
Ole Miss, he hired Gran to be his running backs coach.After four years there, it was on to Auburn
where they coached together for another 10 seasons.
"He taught me what work ethic was, he taught me that
technique and fundamentals are the things that win games, and you have to get
kids that are smart and willing to work hard," said Gran."If you get that combination and have a great
work ethic you have a chance.And he
taught me to make sure that you treat people the way you want to be
treated.It's not that hard."
Now Tuberville is giving his long-time assistant his
first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator.
"To be a coordinator has always been a dream of
mine," said Gran.
"I've watched him grow and work at it and it's hard
to become a coordinator when you're the running backs coach," Tuberville told
me."I've always told him that you have
to know more than just the running backs.So over the last six or seven years, he's really made himself learn the
quarterback position, the offensive line position, and all he needed was
somebody to give him a chance.I know
what he can do."
Tuberville's confidence in Gran's ability to make the
step to coordinator was evident in the makeup of Cincinnati's offensive
"I let him hire his coaches," said Tuberville."I interviewed them too, but I said, 'You
know these guys...you know what you want to do.You pick 'em out and we'll sit down and interview as many as we
can.'He did a good job and they're working
well together.This is all new for him,
but he's excited.
"I told him that the number one thing that he had to
do was hire a good quarterback coach and you've got to lean on him.Darin Hinshaw (former QB coach at Tennessee)
is a good guy and he works well with Eddie and I think it's going to be a good
"He allowed me to hire a staff that I think is as good
as any in the country," said Gran."It's
a great unit and we're all on the same page."
In addition to coordinating Cincinnati's offense, Gran
will continue to recruit in South Florida.
"I'm in my 28th season and I have not had
another recruiting area - ever - at any school," said Gran."There are high school head coaches in South
Florida now that I recruited when they were players.
"The coaches here will all have a Cincinnati area -
all nine of us will have 10 schools in this area.Ohio is where we are going first.But everybody will also go out into other
areas, and for me, that will be South Florida."
"I made him stay in South Florida all of his life
and he's developed a lot of relationships," said Tuberville."That goes a long way in recruiting.Eddie has the personality where he can sell,
and recruiting is nothing but selling yourself, your school, and your football
team.He's earned a lot of respect from
high school coaches because when he takes a player, he takes care of them.He makes sure they get an education number
one, treats them fair, and those coaches in South Florida understand that.It's made him one of the best recruiters that
I've ever been around."
Gran is also a man of faith whose life was changed
when the third of his four daughters was born in 1999.
"She had a rare brain disease and was given between
two and four weeks to live, and she lived almost six years," said Gran."It made me a better father, it made me a
better husband, and it made me a better coach.I really understood where my priorities were.She gave me and my family the greatest gift
that a man could ever have:We all know
where we're going when this life ends.We're very blessed for that."
"I remember getting that call from him three or four
days after she was born," said Tuberville."He said, 'I don't know what's going on, but she's not responding.'I tell you, he and his wife Rosemary were two
tough troopers - It's awfully tough to lose a child.All of the players there at Auburn rallied
around him and I think the kids learned a lot from it."
Eddie and his wife started a charity called The
Sydney Gran Foundation to support children's hospitals and other families whose
children are facing serious illness.
"We would like to raise somewhere between 60 and 80
thousand dollars because that would get us up to $500,000 dollars and then it
would be endowed forever," said Gran."Sometime
here, I think we'll have another fundraiser to try to help out the foundation."
But for now, Gran is busy getting to know his
players...and happy to be reunited with his old boss.
"I was away from Coach Tuberville for four years,
and to get back together with him is just fantastic," said Gran.
"He has a lot of enthusiasm and works well with
kids," said Tuberville."He's going to
make a great head coach.He'll be a head
coach in a few years and I think this is the next step.He's interviewed for a lot of head coaching
jobs, but he's been turned down because he's never made his own calls.Well, now he gets that chance.Let's see what he can do."
The Big East and UC released their football schedule this afternoon. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the breakdown:
Sat. Aug. 31: PURDUE
Sat. Sept. 7: at Illinois
Sat. Sept. 14: NORTHWESTERN STATE (La.)
Sat. Sept. 21: at Miami (Ohio)
Sat. Oct. 5: at South Florida
Fri. Oct. 11: TEMPLE (ESPN/ESPN2)
Sat. Oct. 19: CONNECTICUT
Wed. Oct. 30: at Memphis (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat. Nov. 9: SMU
Sat. Nov. 16: at Rutgers
Sat. Nov. 23: at Houston
Thu. Dec. 5: LOUISVILLE (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Three observations regarding the schedule:
1) Obviously, a wide variety of days of the week for the game. Luckily no Tuesday games, so #MACtion still has that market cornered. UC will play a game on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year. Of course, last year they played on each of those days except for the rare Wednesday game.
It's rare even within the Big East this year, UC at Memphis is the only Wednesday game for a Big East team all year. While far from ideal, it's actually not a bad deal because it comes around a bye week, so Tommy Tuberville will have a week-and-a-half to prepare for both Memphis and the next week at home against SMU.
2) He'll also have two weeks to prepare for what could be the game of the year in the Big East, hosting Louisville on Thursday to close the regular season. Three of the last four years the Big East title has come down to a game the final week of the season and there's a chance this could be the latest incarnation.
Louisville will be the unanimous favorite to win the league, but a UC team returning its quarterback, all five starters on the offensive line and playmaker Ralph David Abernathy IV shouldn't be far behind.
Plus, UC-Louisville in what could be the final Keg Of Nails game for a while, will be the best rivalry games this conference owns next season. Understand, there's a reason the conference put the KON in that slot.
3) I'd argue the four toughest games of the season come at the beginning and end of the season. As was already know, the first two weeks of non-conference play were going to be more difficult. Starting with a B1G doubleheader home against Purdue and at Illinois.
Of course, Illinois was 2-10 last season and didn't beat a single BCS conference team. Their only wins came against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. They nearly beat Purdue, who finished 6-7 overall and 3-5 in conference.
Two close the season, games against the conference's top two teams last year, Rutgers and Louisville, sandwich a trip to Houston. Those should be the two most anticipated games of the conference season. That leaves a very winnable seven-game stretch in the middle of the season where UC could make a name for themselves with an early B1G sweep.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own schedule observations to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Officially a snow day on UC campus. Which will likely be used as an excuse to ... sled. Where are some of the best sledding spots in Cincinnati. I know the few that were up in my neck of the woods growing up. The most frightening sled hill I've ever encountered is the driving range at Beckett Ridge Golf Course. Anybody whose ever been there knows what I'm talking about.
It's about 200/250 yards straight down and pile of discarded young sledders awaiting at the bottom. We used to need a pickup truck at the bottom of the hill everyone would hop in after they went down because climbing back up felt like Everest. There may have been a base camp of 10-year-olds building a fire at the midway point.
Where did you guys go? Or are you strictly awkwardly constructed snowman in the front yard types? I hold readers of this blog to a higher standard. Let's see some creativity out there today.
Let's eat ...
--- Much talk about the Big East jackpot UC fell into. The exact numbers have been reported as anywhere from 15-30 million dollars UC alone will receive from the Catholic 7 separation fee.
Racking up exit fees, separation fees and buyouts isn't exactly a sustainable business model, but they are certainly starting to add up.
Not an easy task. He's spending these 15 days finding out what exactly everyone is capable of. Then they'll evaluate and make decisions. No job is safe, no player is necessarily locked to a certain position.
This is Gran's first offensive coordinator job and he feels especially close to Tommy Tuberville. They've spent almost two decades together. Gran was a grad assistant under TommyT and claims he taught him how to be a coach. Gran was running backs coach with the group that had Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Brandon Jacobs and Kenny Irons.
"I don't know how he got by without me the last four years," Gran joked.
--- Love that Jordan Luallen is now working in a fullback/versatile back role. Add it to the list: LB, QB, WR, FB. These are all positions he's spent extended time working at in three years here. Feel like Jordan's got at least three more positions in him this year. Maybe TE, DE, safety. I bet he can long-snap the heck out of that thing.
--- Interesting quote from Anthony McClung when I asked him about the difference between TommyT and Butch Jones. The two couldn't be on more opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the head coach's role in conducting a practice.
The constant browbeating subsided, replaced by much more teaching with Tuberville allowing players to make mistakes, worrying about correcting them in the film room.
"Coach Jones was kind of a rowdy guy he tried to get involved with everything," McClung said. "Not saying coach Tuberville is not involved he's just kind of the quiet type. He sets the tone. Everything is business. We are here to work, get the job done. We are kind of used to just going and going nonstop. Now they are teaching us. They taught us a lot. I am just kind of feeding off that."
--- I mentioned Greg Blair slimming down last week and here's a story on him by Andrea Adelson. As she rightly points out, if he played that well last year overweight, imagine what he could do at 25 pounds lighter.
Went through the topic of middle linebacker weight while covering the Bengals and Rey Maualuga last year. He slimmed down midseason to around 240. That's become more typical MLB weight these days with less focus on absorbing blocks and more on moving in space against all these passing offenses. Thinking this should help Blair immensely, especially when trying to show off for the next level.
--- In case you didn't know, Senior Night on Saturday at 4 p.m. against USF. JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright, Cheikh Mbodj and Alex Eppensteiner will honored. Plenty more on those four coming later this week on the blog. For that, UC is running a special ticket deal of four tickets for $44 if you are interested.
--- Joe Lunardi officially moved Providence (17-12) into the bubble conversation after their win over Seton Hall last night. This is how far UC is from the bubble, folks. Kadeem Batts has become a manimal for them, though. He had 27 and 12 for them last night. They've won seven of eight, the only loss being at Syracuse.
Nobody wants to see them in the first round at MSG.
He'll go down next to Gary Trent as the greatest OU player of all-time.
--- Complete disrespectful, gutter move by Sir Dominic Pointer of St. John's, who ruined Jack Cooley's senior moment by throwing a haymaker during the final minutes of a blowout defeat against Notre Dame. Here's the video.
--- Anybody whose ever been lost inside an Ikea wouldn't laugh at the idea of an Ikea hotel. Although, it's not what we are talking about. They are getting together with Marriott to start a budget hotel chain. I bet it will take forever to build one.
CINCINNATI -- Upon arriving at UC on Dec. 28, new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran had exactly 63 days to find and retain as many recruits as possible, implement a new offense and begin organizing, evaluating personnel for spring football.
All this while moving to a new city, new job, new life. Yeah, enjoy that.
With files upon files of video offering looks at the current collection of returning players in Bearcats uniforms at his disposal, Gran could have spent the majority of his time clicking through game after game after game of footage to asses his talent.
Instead, he only glossed over it.
"For me, I wasn't going to assume anything," Gran said. "I wanted to make sure I see it with my own eyes and go from there. I didn't want to have a preconceived notion because somebody said this guy can't play. That's not what this is about right now."
Right now, Gran's plan revolves around finding which personnel pieces from Butch Jones' spread puzzle fit into this pro style with multiple sets concept. That means considering any player an option, not only at their position, but any other position on the field. When instituting a new style of play, the slate must be completely clean and the mind wide open.
"We got to do the puzzle," said Gran, a 26-year veteran of coaching who spent the last three years heading running backs and special teams at Florida State. "That's why we got coaches."
That's why QB recruit Patrick Coyne now lines up at fullback as does Jordan Luallen, who could possibly play every position on the football field by the time his career is over. Brendon Kay stands under center consistently for the first time since high school, defenders are moving to offense, running backs spread out to receivers.
Tendy college spread and gimmicks, even those which filtered into NFL playbooks, aren't necessarily a part of this scheme. Still, the correlation between this offense and those run in the league sparks excitement in players hoping to end up there.
"The routes we run, the same plays is like the NFL," WR Anthony McClung said. "We watch film of the NFL and we are running the same, exact routes. We try to perfect that to help us for the next level."
The system change and evaluation will take time. The only rule in this transition is to throw all rules, limitations and previous accomplishments out the window.
As much as the 7.6 yards per offensive touch for Ralph David Abernathy IV or 10 touchdowns to two interceptions for Kay left a lasting impression on fans, they mean far less in the eyes of the new coaching staff. Because a player thrived in the spread of Jones and Mike Bajakian does not mean they'll fit into the Tommy Tuberville version.
"It's just like coming from high school again," Abernathy said. "You are starting with a clean slate. You have to rebuild your reputation. Have to show these coaches what you can do because the old coaching staff is gone. You are starting from ground zero and you have to prove yourself all over again."
These 15 practices essentially act as a month-long tryout. Show what you got and then the coaches gather the information to construct a plan for the season. Gran's looking for athleticism, technique and toughness. The difficulty in that comes with sifting through the learning curve of a new offense to find whose shining despite the information overload of new terminology and concepts.
Tuberville understands the difficulty, more specifically on the reactive defensive side of the ball to play all out when still processing information. He plans to scale back scrimmages to a base number of plays so the offensive players can feel free to show off their skills.
"There's a lot of guys that really won't show their potential this spring because they are going to be thinking so much," Tuberville said. "Football is all about reaction, doing things instinctively."
Simplicity works for scrimmages, but regular practices will involve piling on information.
"There's two ways to go about that, you either throw it all up on there and see what sticks," Gran said. "About the third or fourth day there is going to be an overload. It will slow down, you just have to get through that third or fourth day then we will come back and start re-installing from the beginning. Then we will start to see what we can do."
For now, however, nobody knows quite what that will be. But they are learning, one of 15 practices at a time.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any questions, comments or successful triple-reverse-flea-flicker-throwback plays you'd like me to pitch to coach Gran to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
This is the full-length version of my interview with Munchie Legaux that i used in a short video about the opening of practice last Friday.
As has been well documented, Munchie got a haircut in the offseason. He's also back competing for the quarterback position with Brendon Kay, Bennie Coney and Trenton Norvell for now (Jordan Luallen and Patrick Coyne have moved to fullback).
You can't deny what Brendon Kay did with his opportunity, but Legaux was 6-2 as a starter and likely still has some plays left in him.
Not much good came out of UC's 67-51 loss to No. 8 Louisville on Monday, but the most efficient offensive night since a knee injury for Cashmere Wright could mean he's beginning to turn the corner just in time for the postseason.
LOUISVILLE -- Cashmere Wright may be 178 pounds while holding two bowling balls all while serving as a walking, talking commercial for athletic training, but night after night he takes a bantam-weight body into the heavyweight division of Big East basketball.
He's done so for four years and suffered every injury imaginable along the way. None has proven more difficult to heal than his broken shot over the last 10 games.
Even in the dark shadows of a 16-point defeat at Louisville (25-5, 13-4) Monday, a silver lining poked through in the form of his most effective, efficient offensive performance since that dreadful day in Chicago.
His first shot of the night, buried from the top of the key. He quickly followed with another. The excitable Yum! Center silenced. Perhaps, many Bearcats fans did as well, not wanting to talk, move or change any luck leading to signs of life from the season's most confounding development.
Only, as always lives in the footnotes of Wright's frustrating senior year, success seems to arrive hand-in-hand with pain. On this night, it was Wright popping his shoulder out and needing to return it to the rightful socket at halftime.
Cronin estimated that's the sixth time he's dislocated his shoulder this season. Six.
"Just something you deal with," Wright said. "After the season I will get it taken care of but right now I don't have time so you just keep pushing."
He pushed Saturday, but Cronin admitted he wasn't the same after haltime. Although, even through the pain he also wasn't the same as he's been the last month. He was definitively better.
After hitting a silky jumper over a Louisville defender midway through the second half, he swung a low fist pump and focused clap. Two fast-break jumpers in rhythm later and Wright resembled a December version of himself.
He finished 6 of 11 for 15 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Not only was this the second-most points he's scored since the injury but far and away his best shooting night. He hasn't shot better than 35 percent from the field since hurting his knee and not better than 33 percent from deep. Remarkable, considering he lingered around 45 percent from downtown leading up to that moment.
Entering a March where his turnaround will be more vital than any other variable for the Bearcats (20-10, 8-9), this could have been an encouraging sign on a not-so-encouraging evening.
"We lost, that's the only thing that mattered," Wright said. "My shot is coming on, but everybody kept saying keep shooting. It's all about confidence and doing what your teammates ask you. Just getting more comfortable. Legs starting to feel better, moving around and the injury was starting to feel better."
Of course, with one healing injury comes another. As if a certain degree of difficulty always must exist.
"If he can stay healthy, I got confidence in him," Cronin said.
Wright admitted last week his health continues to improve and the confidence his knee will respond the way he'd like it to reached levels not seen since the DePaul game.
The final hurdle for him, he explained, would be finding a way to put consecutive quality halves together. Spurts of success showed up over the frustrating journey back to normal. They nearly always be quickly replaced by another disappointing drought.
Even through the pain of his shoulder injury, he managed to achieve his goal of stringing together a full game. Certainly, he'd love to see his zero assists and three turnovers switch places, but he was far from the lone culprit in a game where 21 UC turnovers held as the only stat truly worth mentioning in Cronin's postgame media gaggle.
Perhaps, that's all most Bearcats players, coaches and fans will take out of the final true Big Monday game ever. Or perhaps, as he walked toward team bus with ice wrapped around his shoulder, the pendulum has begun to swing back in the positive direction for Wright and this disappointing loss will be spotted as the turning point. We'll find out more on Saturday' Senior Night, but it certainly would be much more important than any regular season loss.
I want to hear from you! Send me any questions, comments or let me know how quickly you would snap to the fetal position if you had to pop your shoulder into socket six times in three months. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
When you check the temperature first thing in the morning and it's 18 degrees, you kind of have an inkling that spring has not yet set in.
When spring football practice begins at 9 a.m. and it's 27 degrees at UC, you find yourself very thankful for the Sheakley Athletics Center. Despite some early March sun, the Bearcats are often able to get more done inside when it's below 40 outside.
Sure, football is played in the elements, but the upside for the southern schools has always been weather more conducive to getting a lot of work in. Now, if there's rain, sleet, snow or just general all-around shivering weather, UC is able to go inside and be productive.
Everyone's happy. Including the media who celebrates such luxury in pictures:
Even in a sweep of New York Tech this weekend, the baseball Bearcats are hoping to clean up defensive concerns with a game against No. 13 Kentucky on deck.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- After wins on Friday and Saturday by a combined score of 29-3, the bats were a little more silent Sunday afternoon at Marge Schott Stadium, even as the Bearcats (4-5) completed a three-game series sweep of New York Tech with an 8-3 victory.
Rather than swing for the fences, they capitalized on NYIT's errors with timely singles and heads-up base running. Five of the Bearcats' eight runs scored were unearned.
"We were able to sneak some runs across," head coach Brian Cleary said. "With the stolen bases we got two runs, [and] a run on a wild pitch."
Freshman catcher Woody Wallace had a season-best three hits and an RBI after starting the season with a .188 average. One of those hits came with a runner in scoring position after a NYIT error and another came in the form of a leadoff hit. He then later scored on a passed ball.
"I got a lot of confidence under my belt now," Wallace said. "It's good to get back in the groove."
However, even though the team did capitalize on NYIT's errors, Cleary feels like they still gave away potential runs, leaving eight men on base throughout the course of the game.
"I thought we got really unaggressive today in the sixth inning [with] bases loaded, nobody out and Perron and Glass and Wenzel and we can't cash in a run," Cleary said. "There's certainly some things we can keep doing better."
While NYIT committed three errors, the Bearcats didn't play much better in the field. They did not commit an error, but looked shaky, especially on the infield. Cleary knows they have to get better at certain aspects of the game.
"We've got to play better on the infield," he said. "We cost ourselves a couple runs today because we can't finish a double play."
Freshman Ian Happ played shortstop on Sunday and had some poor throws. It was possibly a little out of character for him as he has been a solid defender through the beginning part of the season, with no errors in 55 chances.
"Today was a chance to just try to get Perron in the infield [and] Happ at short," Cleary said. "I think we were fortunate that we felt like we were swinging the bats well enough that we were going to get away with playing some different people and still get away with a win."
The team next heads to Lexington on Tuesday to play No. 13 Kentucky.
"Kentucky will be a good test, [and a] good opportunity to test ourselves against what might be the best team they've had in awhile," Cleary said. "And they've had a couple different good teams the last couple years."
We want to hear from you! Shoot any baseball-related comments, questions or observations to Ashley Davis at email@example.com or hit her up on Twitter at @ashleydavis32.
The University of Cincinnati and most teams are already in post season mode and as the regular season winds down and the league tournaments start up there is only one area of improvement the Bearcats have to fix. Scoring in the post in the post season; without it the mountain gets a little higher.
I know this is not rocket science or a major discovery but the post season always offer the chance to start over, fix what is broken or to have an epiphany. If you look at last year's run please don't tell me that the majority of us had UC in the sweet 16 but it happened. With the rotating number one teams this year, the evidence supports the fact that anything is possible starting tournament time. Advantage defense, disadvantage post play for now for the Bearcats. As the do or die nature of the NCAA March Madness stage so often does, it affords seniors and teams one last chance to get it right. One final time to throw caution to the wind and one last time to wear the uniform; and hopefully it's not that mess of a uniform Adidas is shoving down the contractual teams' collective throats. Just my honest opinion.
So with the dismantling of the Big East tournament; the uncertainty of admission into a more respectable and deserving conference UC is playing for more than a national championship. They're playing for respect and admission. They're playing for a date with one one of the more attractive conferences and a solid statement that we are no longer an uncertainty but a definitive athletic program with basketball and football success.
The success of UC is well documented with players in the NFL and NBA and olympians as well. But in the what have you done for me lately world of college athletics, it's what can you bring our conference in the form of attendance and dollars and this will be a big test for UC. Seeding is the X Factor because the further away they seed and send you the harder it is for you to make your case. I think in all candor one of the things that makes Louisville attractive is their fans will hit the road and wear the signature red symbolizing solidarity. I've seen it with UC at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and i hope to see it this post season in the Big East tournament as well as the NCAA's. UC should get in regardless after beating UConn and from there the skies the limit or at least the sky above the rim where the big men play. This post season is where the post players will have to post respectable numbers for UC to make statements across the board. No one wants it more than the players do because seeing the stats next to your name that signal a significant contribution is priceless. These kids have done things right off the court, no horror stories that I know of and no lacking in the classroom either. So they have already represented the C in the right way and we know Coach Mick Cronin won't have it any other way. He just wants one more thing from the big men and that's big production. And to be honest it's not a big request.
I have posted my opinion, now lets hope they post the numbers...
The Bearcats defense created enough offense to grab a desperately needed 61-56 win against UConn on Saturday and its effectiveness will determine how March plays out for UC despite any discussion of offense.
Fittingly, a week overflowing with emotion and tension, concern and frustration, boiled down to a deflection and a forced turnover.
While the world surrounding UC focuses on an inefficient offense, all those inside the Bearcats locker room hold tunnel vision on one concept: defense.
They must. It's how they win. Has been for months.
"That's who we got to be," Mick Cronin said.
The topic of discussion with the Bearcats constantly revolves around the offense. When Cronin merely mentions his defense the Twitteratti react as if he openly supported North Korea bubbling up nuclear weapons.
Bottom line: When this team makes runs, more importantly, when this team wins games, the defense always stands at the source. Always.
"Our defense picked up today," Cronin said. "Our effort and our energy was much better. That was probably the difference in the game since our offense -- other than not turning the ball over -- continued to struggle."
Cronin could drop the probably out of that last sentence. Saturday, they reeled off a 21-1 advantage in points off turnovers. When analyzing Cincinnati 61, Connecticut 56, no need to look further. When analyzing Bearcats wins post-Cash injury, the same script plays out..
Consider, in their five victories they've outscored opponents 93-46 in points off turnovers. In their six losses, they've been outscored 77-40.
Wins (UC points off turnover/Opponent points off turnovers)
Seton Hall: 14/17
The victory over Seton Hall represents the only game in that stretch where the result went a different direction than the points off turnovers battle.
For better, worse or indifferent, defense defines this team.
At face value, the final nine minutes Saturday looked eerily similar to six losses from the last three weeks. The Bearcats struggled to close, going without a field goal the final 7:04. Every possession turned the knuckles a lighter shade of white on the death grip UC held on the slimming lead.
The only difference was the Bearcats defense willed deflections and disruption, steals and stops, including twice in the decisive final two possessions. Ironically, concluding with an over-and-back call 10 days after the same decision doomed an overtime loss in Hartford.
"We've been having trouble closing out close games," Sean Kilpatrick said. "Today our main focus was just defense. We knew that down the stretch if it was going to be a close game ... you got to be able to not only get easy buckets, but defend.
Every team needs a signature in March, a footprint capable of bailing them out when the chips are down. It did so in the most critical of spots Saturday. During halftime, a three-week run where the Bearcats backs inched closer and closer to the tournament wall pressed them square against it.
The result was an inspirational - and incredibly comical - technical foul from Cronin sparking a 16-4 run. As much as any boiling point with officials, though, the run came from the defense allowing the offense to play on instinct and shoot without thinking.
JaQuon Parker trapped and scrapped to break Jermaine Sanders for a layup. Kilpatrick poked a pass out for a free bucket of his own. Meanwhile, fast break chaos helped Cashmere Wright forget about his 0-for-8 streak to start the game and bury back-to-back 3-pointers in rhythm.
"When you on the floor and see your coach get fired up like that, he's playing for you," Wright said. "It's like your father fighting for you so you have no choice but to fight for him."
They now exhale as their name drifts away from the dreaded bubble and by all accounts comfortably in the NCAA tournament, barring disaster.
Cronin referred to the anxiety and emotion as the same as any other week for him, he'd have "gone to law school" if he didn't expect stress. He worried about his players.
"Make no mistake about it," he said. "They knew they had to win."
The stress was as evident in all-business run through opening warmups as the reaction once inside the locker room with the desperately needed win in tow.
"I walked in the locker room and I just started staring at the ceiling, like, sheesh we needed this," Kilpatrick said. "About time we got one we actually needed.
"(The week) was a little draining, but when you have great coaches and you have great teammates when we are in the practice gym everyone's focus is on the same thing. We know things aren't always going to bounce our way and we know everyone isn't going to always be there behind us when things are going wrong. That's why we have each other. That's something we stuck with the whole year."
They have each other. And they have defense creating offense. It was enough Saturday and will be the primary weapon when the Big Dance comes calling.
I want to hear from you! Send in any comments, questions or how you would sum up Cronin's technical fall to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Brendon Kay has already earned a bachelor's degree
in health education and is working toward a master's degree in business
education.But right now, the Bearcat
quarterback is also studying a foreign language - as in the offense of new head
coach Tommy Tuberville.
"We're teaching them a different language on offense
and defense and when you do that, you have to start from ground zero and work
up," said Tuberville.
"You've got to live it," Kay told me."You've got to be in the office and the film
room.Before you go to bed, you've got
to study and get this terminology down because you're learning a new language."
But the changes on offense aren't strictly limited
"The plays are a little bit different too," said
offensive coordinator Eddie Gran."We're
more of a pro-style, multiple set - but there is a lot of carryover.They have to learn the terminology and understand
where we're coming from and where we're trying to go offensively."
"We've kept as much in common with the past offense
as we could, but obviously there are a lot of different things," said
Tuberville."So when you change just one
or two things it throws everything into a spin."
Tuberville said he was pleased with how the offense
functioned at UC's first spring practice on Friday, and added that it is helpful
to have experienced quarterbacks in Kay and Munchie Legaux.
"You couldn't ask for two better guys," said
Tuberville."They come to my office and
talk, and they ask about the quarterbacks that I've coached before and what
they can learn from their experiences.
"I've had fun talking to both of them about life,
and football, and leadership, and little things that can help them be better."
After starting the final five games last season and
passing for 332 yards and 4 touchdowns to earn MVP honors in the Belk Bowl victory over Duke, Kay
is the odd-on favorite to be the starting quarterback next season, although
Legaux will be given the opportunity to win his old job back.
"It feels good, but at the same time, I have to go
out and compete every day," said Kay."The
big thing about competition is that it keeps you on your toes.You have to stay ready and can never
relax.That's going to help me and
Munchie get better."
Kay didn't know that he would be on the team this
year until December 17th when he was granted a sixth year of eligibility
by the NCAA after suffering multiple injuries that limited his participation in
2008 and 2011.
"I got the news during our bowl prep," said Kay.I talked to (trainer) Bob Mangine beforehand
and he was pretty sure that I would get it.Then (compliance director) Maggie McKinley came down and gave me the
news.I gave her a big hug, celebrated a
little bit, and then told my family.Everything
happens for a reason, and God has a plan for everything."
"He's a sixth-year senior and he's a guy that has all
of the leadership qualities," said Gran."I'm excited about how he comes in and wants to learn.When we first started with him we had to say,
'Hold on, hold on...we still have to install.'I'm excited about it because the guys at that position have bought in to
what we're trying to do."
It's only a matter of time before they're speaking
the same language.
Over the course of time, the perception of UC football has changed dramatically.
Several years ago, if I mentioned I was coming to UC football spring practice, I might have been asked, "Why?", or "I didn't know they had spring practice."
This March 1, a full media contingent was on hand. There were possibly more total media in the Sheakley Athletic Center (a/k/a "The Bubble") for the opening of practice than there have been at some spring games/Bearcat Bowls in the past.
A high profile coach and a few bowl wins will do that.
Today, I get to show you some of the fancy formal training the Gannett folks have put us through. We now shoot videos, voice them and edit them on our phones. This little number was put together in my car in the Corry Garage.
Here's a brief look at today's practice. I will have some more interview-type videos, etc. and I'm no match for young Video Shane and company, but this is mildly tolerable for a guy that used to bang out quite a bit of his work on an IBM Selectric.
Nearly important as breaking down film at this point in the season is breaking down the exterior pressures building on college athletes grinding out spots in the NCAA tournament. For few teams right now is this more important than the Cincinnati Bearcats.
CINCINNATI -- This time of year, as bracketologists construct the hopes and dreams of 20-year-olds on a weekly basis and plaster successes and failures on the Internet for a thirsty public to judge, coaches and players search for any means necessary to rise above the noise.
At Minnesota, Tubby Smith called in a sports psychologist as they spiraled from No. 8 in the country to losing eight of the next 11. At Illinois, John Groce banned Twitter attempting cut off detractors while losing six of seven. At Kentucky, where John Calipari's latest collection of future NBA All-Stars cascaded from defending champs to outside The Dance, Cal called for a game of dodgeball to lighten the mood.
Mick Cronin desired to keep the atmosphere light and the pressure lighter this week on a Bearcats team attempting to regain form prior to losing five of six. Although, he didn't bring in a sports psychologist or dial up a game of dodgeball. Self-promoting gimmicks don't fall in his wheelhouse.
"I've never seen either one of those," Cronin said. "I think people believe in different things ... I have the job that I want in my career, so, I don't feel a need to promote myself. It's just really not the way I operate to brag about 'look at this genius thing I came up with to do in practice.' So, we kind of do what we do and keep it quiet."
Maybe he's never been around a coach whose broken out those unorthodox motivational ploys -- not saying he doesn't wonder how they might have unfolded.
"I'd have liked to seen dodgeball in '97 with Danny Fortson with a chance to throw the ball at Huggs, that would have been interesting," Cronin said of his former boss Bob Huggins. "I'd have made sure that I was on Fortson's team."
Dodgeball and shrinks were dismissed for intermixed games and laughter this week. It's that time of year for all teams in college basketball where the focus on mental begins to outweigh strategy -- for no team more right now than the struggling Bearcats. Cronin uses a mixture of analysis and prep, while attempting to insulate his players as much as possible from negativity that creeps up during a rough stretch in the rugged Big East.
In the end, however, the players must be the ones to keep their minds straight and play free. Playing with the weight of an NCAA tournament bid blanketing the body doesn't make hitting a jump shot any easier. Actually, it makes it nearly impossible. Even the fans play a significant role in molding the mental state of a team chasing a sweat-free Selection Sunday. When offensive shooting and struggles come at a premium, any backlash from the home base only exacerbates the fragile mental state of a team already dealing with dozens of exterior pressures.
"If you are coming Saturday, please help me," Cronin said, pleading. "We have to make sure our guys are worried about one thing, that's defense. We can't control whether shots go in. Most teams make one out of two, on a bad night you make one out of three, but you can control your effort and your energy and your hustle. That's what we have to make sure that we do and we don't need to have a nervous breakdown or the crowd have a nervous breakdown any time we miss a shot."
If ever calm nerves and leadership fall onto seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker, now is the moment.
"Us, as the core, we are kind of old," Wright said. "We really don't, the pressure, we just got to stay mentally together. Everybody got to realize that and be on the same page and get back on the page of playing for each other like we was at the beginning of the year."
Nobody understands the effect of an altered mental state more than Wright, whose averaging only eight points per game in the nine contests since his knee injury against DePaul. He believes his health has finally turned the corner. The key to becoming the dominant player he was prior to the Chicago trip is believing in the recovery process. He feels closer now than ever before.
"I'm getting better, I'm getting way better, physically, now it's the mental part," said said. "I realize [the difference between] thinking that you are OK and knowing everything will be all right once you move."
The quest to refuel confidence resumes Saturday at 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena against UConn, a team that delivered a brutal overtime blow to the psyche only nine days prior. Cronin said his team was devastated in the locker room following the loss. As whispers begin to grow regarding tournament standing, the devastation with each passing defeat becomes more and more difficult to brush under the rug.
Cronin preaches an important message to his players this week, whether this team won five of six or lost five of six, none of those results matter on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Continue grinding out a way to get into The Big Dance and nobody will remember this valley in retrospect of the season in the same vein nobody remembers the regular-season peak of No. 2 seed Missouri who was upset by Norfolk State in the first round.
"A lot of it is staying mentally fresh, not doubt about it," Cronin said. "At the end of the day you got to get to March. You don't get to carry wins with you when you do get there ... It's an interesting world, college basketball."
We want to hear from you. Send me any comments, questions or your obscure motivational tactics to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
CINCINNATI -- As a freshman, UC third baseman Devin Wenzel spends most days adjusting to the high level of college baseball compared to Fleetwood Area High School in Pennsylvania. Maybe that's why when he hit his first collegiate home run Feb. 17 against Florida Atlantic, he described the moment precisely.
"Surreal," he said.
The UC baseball team started the season 1-5, but considering they boast 15 true freshmen on the roster and six of them in the starting lineup, including Wenzel, their youth just might be one cause for this slow start.
As the season opens the home portion of the schedule Friday for the first of three against New York Tech (4 p.m., Marge Schott Stadium), one of the ongoing adjustments for incoming freshmen will be the difference in pace at the college level.
"The speed of the game is so much different than what they're used to in high school," coach Brian Clearly said. "For every player, I would say, this is the first time in their baseball career they've had to actually show up and play with skill. Most of their success to this point in their career is due to the fact they're more talented than the guys that they're playing with and against."
Despite his team's slow start, Cleary is pleased with the way the collection of newbies are contributing early in the season.
"I think they're doing a great job," Cleary said. "That adjustment doesn't happen in the first game or the second game or the first weekend. It happens over a period of time."
Cleary compared the process to growing grass. Someone can water the grass, feed it, and do whatever they want to do to make it grow, but it's still going to take time.
"You can only speed the process so much," he said.
From playing both fall baseball and six games already this season, the freshmen also understand the step up from high school.
"It's night and day, definitely," Wenzel said. "Just the speed of the game, the quality of the pitching, [and] the way the game is played is so much more business-like."
Wenzell has been taking care of business as he's tied for the team lead in hits (6) and RBI (4). Classmate Colin Hawk leads the team with two doubles, but agrees finding his footing at the next level has been a process.
"The biggest adjustment I would have to say, for me, is just the speed of the game," Hawk said. "Everything moves so much faster, the pitchers throw harder, the runners are faster, more talented."
The Bearcats freshmen could be starting to make that adjustment to college pitchers. They beat Western Carolina 7-6 in 10 innings on Sunday for the first win of the season. The offense collected 10 hits altogether, with the freshmen collecting seven of those 10.
"I think all we have to do is just build our confidence," Hawk said. "And that confidence is key when it comes to hitting."
Cleary isn't too worried about the offense. Through six games this year they've belted four home runs, averaging .67 home runs per game. Last year, they only managed .41 home runs per game over the 18-38 season.
"I think we've got a fair balance of speed and power and I think we've got some guys in the lineup that can hit some home runs," he said.
After six straight games on the road, the team is eager to get back to Marge Schott Stadium and continue their offensive surge. They're looking for more than just a win against New York Tech on Friday night. These freshmen are interested in a few more "surreal" moments.
"I hope not only that we get a win on the home opener, but that we get a sweep and improve our record to 4-5," Hawk said.
We want to hear from you! Shoot any baseball-related questions, comments or observations to Ashley Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.