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February 2014 Archives


I'll never forget the first game I covered after moving back home to Cincinnati leaving my job covering UGA in Georgia. The Bearcats football team had been on quite a run. Even from afar on the other side of college football buried beneath eight layers of crazy inside the SEC I knew this fact. 

But Game 1, Day 1 for me working for CNati.com (thanks again, CTR) came on Dec. 5, 2009: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. 

I sat in the press box at Heinz Field and knew the stakes. I knew the players. I knew the coaches. I knew the brisket buffet was delectable. 

But looking back, I didn't quite understand. I didn't understand the fan base, the love of this place, the blue-collar, underdog persona of a program reflecting its city. 

Then Tony Pike to Armon Binns happened. 


That moment and the ripple effect of the following years began my education of the University of Cincinnati. Sure, I grew up in Cincinnati and even followed UC basketball as a young kid, but from the unbiased adult journalist side didn't quite understand the dynamic at play here. 

As I look at the number next to "On The Bearcats Beat" on the right side of this page it's apparent 1,045 times, I attempted to disseminate what I was learning about this place and its programs. Sometimes the message came across coherently, other times in overwhelming charts still red flagged and studied for clarification by NASA. Occasionally, even I didn't know what I was trying to tell you. 

But I think the broad brush statement of the tens of thousands of words, hundreds of videos, charts, gifs and the one awkward cat photo, was that there's a unique combination of tradition, community and progress at play in Clifton right now. 

I've always loved this city and this University is a proud reflection of it. That will never change and will always mean something bigger than any coach, player, athletic director. 

I'm moving on to cover the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer, working for the hometown newspaper has been my dream job since I was memorizing the stats of the 1992 Final Four team as a 12-year-old kid in Mason. That means I have to leave GoBearcats.com, a place that has allowed me to create a base and write regularly for the past four-plus years. 

I couldn't be more thankful to everyone that commented, emailed, interacted on Twitter or chatted face to face. Except @walkjrw -- thank goodness for the block button. 

But before I move on to The Enquirer, it only seems right to go out with one final trip to the griddle. One last Bearcats Breakfast. 

Let's eat ...

--- I'll start off with the best thing this athletics program has going for it these days: Mick Cronin. I've written time and again about the job he's done. From stating how unfathomable it was to rebuild the program from one scholarship player to the middle of the toughest conference in basketball by 2010 to going off on how rare this type of loyalty and talent were in today's college hoops. 

Time to do so one more time. 

At the beginning of this season, Gary Parrish took a poll of the coaches under 45 most likely to make the Hall of Fame. Here's the list. 

Coach, SchoolW-L%
Shaka Smart, VCU131-4474.8%
Brad Stevens, Celtics166-4977.2%
Sean Miller, Arizona242-9172.6%
Buzz Williams, Marquette152-8265.0%
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State84-4465.6%

OK, Mick Cronin: 228-128 -- 64.0%

Fair enough that he wouldn't reach that list if you look at those numbers, but consider he reached 64 percent wins at Murray State and building a program from scratch in the Big East. 

If you take away just the first three years (2006-09) as he fought an uphill battle to emerge from decimation of the program, the numbers tell a different story. 

He's at 186-76 -- 71.0%. 

Now, take a deeper look at the coaches on that list. How many of those you think are as dedicated to staying at their current school as Mick? Any? Heck, one of them is on the assumption Stevens will eventually return back to college. Miller might be the only one I actually believe could stay for a career at the current place. 

I'm not saying Mick will make the HOF. That's irrelevant here. I'm saying fans need to understand what they have.

Cronin pledges his desire to stay at Cincinnati every year. Over and over and over again. That's as rare a combination as you will find in the sport today. 

The contingent of anti-Mick, pro-Huggs people gradually eroded since I joined the beat and I'm convinced the small fraction that still yells will be there forever. The fact they are holding on to that rather than embracing the electric, fun-to-watch players their "school" brought in means they probably never belonged under the "fan" classification anyway. 

Mick and everyone inside UC sounded more optimistic this year about a solution to the arena issue than I've ever heard. And with the city beginning to address the US Bank Arena issue, a light flickers at the end of the tunnel. 

I know this, for what Mick accomplished at UC he deserves the support -- both financially and verbally -- of everyone whose stepped foot into Fifth Third Arena for a men's basketball game. He saved a program and returned it to heights as relevant as ever. Look around, folks, you have something special going on here. 

--- Mick will probably be there when The Sammi Cronin Show isn't just a gag on the Bearcats Sports Weekly Show with Tommy G, he could still be there when she is legitimately running the show. Of course, that could be sooner than later. Sorry, TG, she's good. 

 
--- Speaking of TG, maybe one of the best things UC has going for them is Tom Gelehrter, Director of New Media and Broadcasting. The episodes of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast we churned out were among some of the most fun times I've had on the beat. And sometimes we even talked about UC sports. 

Other times, we talked about cookie attendants, self-tweeting baby pics, the Harlem Shake, bedazzled mics, taking a trip to Sweden for Midsummer and, of course, Fred Savage. 

Maybe the greatest side-creation of the podcast was the intricate renderings of Assistant Director of Creative Services and Multimedia Shane Harrison. As we talked about who knows what that shifted us off topic, we'd see him rapidly working the photoshops to fit our faces into the topic of the day. Magical. And I had to eventually eliminate his access to my Facebook photos. To this day, the stuff of genius. 

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--- This will be the point in the program where I spend time thanking everyone that helped me during my time at UC. I know some of you will scroll past it. Go ahead, this has to be done. The sports information/PR department is in great hands with Ryan Koslen and his entire staff there. Of course, I never would have known any of them if not for Jeremy Martin believing in the idea of true analysis on a web site. He's in a much better place now (no, not there, he's alive -- allegedly) and deservedly so. 

From Whit Babcock to Desiree Reed-Francois and all the coaches who humored me thoroughly through dumb questions and typically absurd story angles, can't help but say thanks for everything. 

Also big shout outs to Brad Wurthman, Jaime Juenger, Andre Foushee, Katie Botsis, everyone else in the SID office and, of course, Equipment Manager/Motivational Speaker/Dap Giver/Ladies Man Skippy. 

--- When I first arrived at UC and was attempting to prove myself among writers/media members I didn't know, I received an email after a few of my earliest stories. It was from Dan Hoard. He said he enjoyed what I was doing and if I ever needed anything to not hesitate to ask. I never forgot that. In the position I was in, that meant the world to me. Then I proceeded to make him regret the offer as I leaned on him over and over again for help. 

I owe a ton to Dan and am jacked I get to keep working around him on the Bengals beat. 

---  My favorite story in all my time there came after meeting former UC swimmer Nate Kramer. At the time I chatted with him he was fighting a battle with cancer still on the uphill end. The UC athletics community was rallying behind him and helping keep him going. Here's that story I was lucky enough to be able to tell. 

I'm happier to report that of the last post from his family earlier this month, Nate is doing great almost two years since his brother underwent a bone marrow transplant to keep Nate alive. Amazing. And inspiring. 

--- Maybe my favorite game that I covered wasn't one UC fans will want to remember in the scorebook, but for those who sat in the now (thankfully) torn down Nippert Stadium press box they will never forget the 2010 season finale against Pitt. 

Snow poured down that day and covered the field. Playing the game was a challenge and keeping the yard lines clear was even harder. But, right before halftime an interesting comment popped up in my Twitter feed -- the police just took away the Bearcats mascot in handcuffs. Had to be a joke, I thought. Not the first time Twitter broke a comical lie. Then came another tweet. And another. And then, the video. For a man who loves mascots being placed in real world situations, this was the dream scenario -- the video. 


Ryan Koslen had to stand up in the press box and actually make this announcement: "The mascot has been detained, the backup mascot is now in the game." 

Maybe the greatest line uttered in any press box. 

--- Randomness ....

--- Thank you, Ryan Quinn. Thank you. Baseball jousting, still the best in my book. 

--- I could have talked to Marcus Barnett about his tattoos all day. To be fair, I would have needed all day consider he had 87 of them. 

--- Maybe the most underrated watershed win during my time at UC was the 22-point beatdown of Georgetown to close 2011. When the fans seemed to finally embrace the Bearcats again. 

--- Recording a podcast at Montgomery Inn and introducing the Ballin' Is A Habit guys to great ribs was fantastic. Anytime a server can make a legitimately engaging cameo, it's a great pod. 

--- George Winn didn't say much, but his emergence might have been one of my favorite storylines. Plus, he did this. 

--- Still don't know how Cashmere Wright got that shot off. Best single play I saw on the beat. 

--- The 2011-2012 UC basketball team. What a fun run. 

--- Usually in this spot I'd throw some silly Interwebbing viral video, some witty (at least in my mind) comment. Instead, for the last one, which feels a bit like an encore, I thought about the best encore songs I've ever seen. I narrowly estimate Pearl Jam, over Outkast and Phish, was my most highly embedded musical act, I could have gone with something from them. Baba O'Riley? SpottieOttieDopealicious? Tweezer Reprise? End of the Road by Boyz II Men? All lovely. 

But nothing gets across my message like Monty Python. 

Thanks for reading everybody. Trust me, when I say it's impossible that you enjoyed this more than I did.

SK Has Come A Long Way

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I will never forget the first time I saw Sean Kilpatrick in action.

He stunk.

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It was Sunday, January 18, 2009 and Sean had already signed to play for UC the next fall.  The Bearcats were scheduled to play at Providence the following night and Sean's prep school team took part in a showcase event in Boston that afternoon.  I was living there at the time and Mick and Hep Cronin planned to drive up from Providence to meet me at the game.

Unfortunately, a massive snowstorm made it impossible for the Cronins to make the one-hour drive and I was one of maybe two dozen people who showed up at Chelsea High School for the event.

My timing was as lousy as the road conditions.  The night before, Kilpatrick scored 28 points in a game played in New York City, but his entire team (including Sean's roommate and future Syracuse standout James Southerland) appeared sluggish in the loss I witnessed to Bridgton Academy.

"That was a long day," Sean recalled when I asked if he remembered the game.  "The bus ride up there was hectic because of the snowstorm.  It was crazy.  It was interesting to see you there because I didn't think anybody was going to make it because of that snowstorm.  You weathered the storm.  You've been following me since I was in prep school and that is something that I've always appreciated from you." 

And while I didn't see him have a good game, Kilpatrick's coach assured me I would not be disappointed when he got to Cincinnati.

"You didn't see much of a performance today, but Sean's basketball ability is not a concern," Notre Dame Prep head coach Ryan Hurd told me at the time.  "The kid performs.  We've played 19 games now and this is maybe the second time he didn't play well.  I have no doubt that he's going to go to Cincinnati next year and put up really solid numbers."

Not a bad call huh?



In Saturday's loss to Louisville, Kilpatrick joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in school history to score more than 2000 points.  Sean finished the game with 28, making it the 16th time this year and 33rd time in his career that the fifth-year senior has scored 20-or-more in a game.  In Cincinnati's last eight games, he's averaging 25.3 points.Kilpatrick listening to Mick (440x300).jpg

"We often talk about his leadership and what kind of person he is, but there's not enough talk about his raw ability and what kind of basketball player he is," said Cronin.  "He has evolved into a big-time player.  I've been around some guys that were drafted in the Top 20 and dominated college basketball, but he's as good a guard right now as I've ever coached in my 18 years."

"Coach Cronin's had my back for the five years since I've been here," said Kilpatrick.  "He's never let me down and I've tried my hardest to never let him down."

Kilpatrick's individual brilliance and the team's unanticipated climb into the Top 10 has led to talk in recent weeks - especially from my WLW colleagues Mo Egger and Lance McAlister - that the University of Cincinnati should retire his uniform number.

"I've never thought about that and I don't really know the criteria," said Cronin.  "That's pretty strong because there have been a lot of great players here, but obviously I'm on SK's side at all times."

"I'll leave that up to the President of the school and Coach Cronin if he has anything to do with that," said Kilpatrick.  "At the end of the day, I'm just somebody that goes to school here and tries to help the program.  It's an accomplishment to hear talk like that because I never knew that I would be in this position, but it's something that I'll leave up to them."

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Oscar Robertson, Kenyon Martin, and Jack Twyman are the only Bearcats to have their numbers retired, but there's a Wall of Honor in the practice gym featuring seven former All-Americans that seems certain to eventually include Kilpatrick.

"Looking up at that wall and seeing the greats that have played here is something that inspired me every day to come in and keep working," said Kilpatrick.


More than his scoring total or helping UC make four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, Kilpatrick's legacy should focus on his work ethic and dramatic improvement over his college career.

"You're talking about a guy that if he took two dribbles as a freshman he lost the ball," said Cronin.  "He literally got it stolen every time.  I asked him if he was trying to make a run for best bakery instead of Servatii's because of his turnovers.  It was unreal.  That's how far he's come.  Through hard work, will, and determination, the guy is one of the best players to ever play here."

"I've worked my tail off for this," said Kilpatrick.  "This hasn't been given to me - I've earned it."

"We came in together and I've seen Sean grow from a boy to a man," said Justin Jackson.  "And from a good player to a phenomenal player.  He's a great guy, a leader on and off the court - he's a leader when he's not even trying to be a leader."

"He accepts the responsibility of showing up every night," said Cronin.  "That's why he's an All-American.  That's why he's going to play in the NBA.  And that's why he's the Player of the Year in this conference.  He shows up every night.  He has tremendous work ethic and character."

I certainly didn't know I was watching one of Cincinnati's all-time greats in a mostly-empty high school gym on that Sunday afternoon more than five years ago.

"I came in here not highly recruited and who knew that I was going to end up being this way?" said Kilpatrick.

"He's the most underrated great player that has ever played here," said Cronin.  "You had better enjoy him while you can."

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

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Sun shines after the rainbow

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UC endured a heart-breaking defeat against Louisville, but through the pain a positive picture of March shines through for the Bearcats. 

CINCINNATI -- From the moment the Bearcats took the floor Saturday against Louisville, the day felt different.  And not when they took the floor for opening tip. When the took the floor for warmups. 

The student section caked in white and packing big heads stood shoulder to shoulder filling every inch 20 minutes before tipoff. The upper decks overflowed and roared at levels unheard in the five years I've been on this beat. 

Sean Kilpatrick agreed with my ranking. 

"No. 1," he said. 

As UC bullied its way to a three-point lead, the waning moments trended to a coronation against arch-rival Louisville, booting them to the ACC with a final swift kick. 

Only, with one hanging rainbow, Russ Smith grasped all the white-hot energy of Saturday afternoon and ripped it out of the UC basketball team. 

Those moments leave a mark. They did in the immediate aftermath of a succinct, frustrated press conference from UC players and coach Mick Cronin. 

Losing to Louisville in that fashion stings. It should. But sifting through the smoke and rubble of emotion a clearer picture of future emerges. The Bearcats are 24-4, 13-2 in the American Athletic Conference, tied for first with the Cardinals with the next game on the schedule beginning March Madness. 

The Bearcats didn't play well Saturday. Justin Jackson fouled his way out of the first half, Cronin called the fact UC only trailed by three at the break without him a "modern miracle." 

UC went 8:55 without scoring one point, nobody but Sean Kilpatrick topped eight points, they didn't score a single fast-break bucket and were owned 34-14 in the paint.

Yet, it took a helium-filled, Russdiculous buzzer-beater to bury the Bearcats. 

While many story lines should evolve from Louisville 58, Cincinnati 57, concerns about the Bearcats' potential next month don't fall among them.

"I love (my guys) for how hard we play," Cronin said. "We just didn't play very well today. We didn't play very smart today. Even if we won we would have won because of our toughness."

The moral of my story of Saturday comes two-fold. First, maybe the biggest travesty of the breakup of the Big East from UC's perspective is officials of that level unable to control a game of this magnitude. It's a shame when two teams in the top 11 square off so many leave talking about the guys in stripes. 

Second, these two sides must find a way to continue this rivalry going forward. How can it be better for either of these two schools that this rivalry ends? Take a look at the recent past between these two schools in both football and basketball. Thriller after thriller and passionate crowds in both arenas. 

Logistics on both sides come into play, but if this rivalry takes a permanent hiatus it's not just a loss along the Ohio River, it's a sad defeat for all of college basketball. 

We can delve into those topics around the watering holes Saturday night, but we won't talk about the Bearcats potential when it matters most in four weeks. 

Concern is for those not paying attention beyond the box score. 

UConn, Memphis and Rutgers remain on the schedule as UC races Louisville (22-4, 12-2) to the wire for a regular season American title. The Bearcats resume places them in the cone of probability for a top four seed. 

Losing a February game when you didn't play well on a shot at the horn might make for a swift kick to the coffee table in the living room of a UC fan, but doesn't stub the toe of the big picture. 

A win at UConn next Saturday or home throttling of spiraling Memphis back in Fifth Third will make this a distant memory. 

For the moment, it stole the soul of a special atmosphere and ruined a Saturday afternoon. After the rainbow, however, the sun still shines. 

I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions and suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Two Minutes with Troy

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I'm not sure where Midlothian, Virginia is, but anyone from there likely marveled at Troy Caupain at Cosby High School.

I'm also not sure what Cosby High's nickname is.  It probably should be "Kids".  Whatever it is, I'm sure Caupain did it proud as he not only scored 26 points per game, but also averaged an astounding 15 rebounds from his 6-foot-3 frame.

He once hit for 48 in high school and plays with the confidence of someone who wants the ball when a bucket is needed.  Thus far, his UC high is 15 points.  With three years remaining, there's no question he'll surpass that figure easily.

With a large amount of Bearcat memorabilia around my various workplaces,my family noticed a few months ago that Caupain bore a slight resemblance to former Bearcat great Danny Fortson. 

As my wife would say, "He's a babyface!"

At 18-years-old, Caupain might not appreciate the reference, but at some point he will.  If UC were to get a portion of Fortson's production out of No. 10, fans should be pretty satisfied.  It's also encouraging to think of the future backcourt of Caupain, Johnson and Deshaun Morman, based on what we've seen thus far.

This is "Two Minutes With Troy" from UC's practice gym in the Lindner Center.

Guyn Boosts Numbers After Looking At Stats

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Ge'Lawn Guyn's initial instinct was to blame it on the stat crew.

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After a home win over Temple on January 14th, the junior point guard was called into Coach Cronin's office for a one-one-one meeting where it was pointed out that Guyn only had four steals in the Bearcats' first 18 games.

"I was like, 'There's no way!'" said Guyn. 

Way.

"We looked at the stats in a staff meeting and said, 'This guy only has four steals - this can't be right,'" said assistant coach Darren Savino.  "So we sat down with Ge'Lawn and went over it with him and he couldn't believe it either."

In truth, the conversation with Coach Cronin wasn't quite as calm, cool, and collected as pointing out a number on the stat sheet.

"I can't tell you what he really said, but Coach got after me and told me that I was too athletic, too quick, and too smart not to be getting any steals," said Guyn.

"I said, 'You're the lowest steal guy on the team and you're the guy around the ball the most.  You're supposed to be our defensive point guard,' said Cronin.  "I give him credit.  He's taken it to heart and tried to be more aggressive in the passing lanes and getting to loose balls."

Since that conversation, Guyn has had 13 steals in eight games - that's 1.6 per game in an average of 23 minutes of playing time.  That average (for an entire season) would put him in the Top 10 in the AAC. 

"Now that I'm actually looking to get steals it's made a big difference," said Guyn.  "Coach always says, 'Read the play or read the guy's eyes.'  It's all about anticipating.  I'm quick enough to get the steal, I just have to ready and be alert."

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Guyn's contribution hasn't been limited to the defensive end of the court.  In the same eight-game stretch, he's been one of the Bearcats' most accurate 3-point shooters by knocking down 11-of-28 treys (39%).  Toss out an 0-for-3 night at SMU, and it rises to 44%.

"It's a great feeling to finally see the hard work paying off," Guyn told me.  "I shoot well in practice and in drills and I haven't been able to transfer it to the games.  Now I'm finally doing that so it's a blessing.

"I try to take as many shots as I can until my arm gets sore."

In Saturday's win over Houston, Guyn turned a 3-point nail-biter into a comfortable 9-point Cincinnati lead with less than 2:00 to go, by drilling back-to-back threes off assists from Sean Kilpatrick.

"Every time that one of us passes him the ball we yell at him to shoot because we know that he's a guy that can really knock down threes and open the gap for us," said Kilpatrick.  "Especially when teams are collapsing on the guards that are penetrating - they're going to leave him dead open."

"My confidence level is on a high," said Guyn.  "It's really a blessing and I just want to thank God for being able to play this great game of basketball."

With his improved play in the last month, Ge'Lawn can thank his coach for making good use of the stat sheet.

"I obviously should have brought it up to him a lot earlier," said Cronin with a laugh.

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The Bearcats have won most games this season due to their suffocating defense, but flipping the script to win offensively as they did in Saturday's 73-62 victory against Houston offered a glimpse of the possibilities as March approaches. 

CINCINNATI -- Bearcats games this season -- and most since Bob Huggins ushered in the Clifton renaissance -- have been easy to describe. 

Slugfest. Rock fight. Sumo bout.

Many seasons since the mid-90s also ended with the UC falling short of the aspired destination. More often than not, inability to produce consistently on offense took the blame. 

This particular group should be viewed as the best defensively in the Mick Cronin era and would compete for the title with any under Huggins. They scrap, they steal, they block shots. Heck, they are 23-3 and 12-1 in the conference, you don't need me to reiterate how they are winning games. It's why you have fallen for this team like your college basketball's version of The Bachelor. 

This defense can win games in March. Those facts are undisputed when you own the sixth most efficient defense in the nation and one that shifts another stratosphere in the closing minutes of tight games. 

While defense may win games in March, that alone can't make runs in March. Teams need more. 

"You got to be able to win a multitude of ways if you are going to try to win four to six in a row," Cronin said. "You are not going to shut everybody out. You have to answer and counterpunch when kids are making plays." 

That's why the 73-62 win against Houston on Saturday stuck out among the lot of dozen conference wins and the latest against an opponent the Bearcats were favored to dominate. 

No rocks were thrown. No sumo wrestlers diapered. 

Asked to overcome a Houston team shredding the UC defense and making shot after shot, the Bearcats churned out their most efficient offensive effort of the season. 

It wasn't close.

The Bearcats finished with 135.2 points per 100 possessions -- the definitive advanced statistical measure for efficiency on offense in basketball. 

Their previous high on the season against non-cupcakes was 123.5 at Temple. In those 17 previous games, UC only crossed the 110 barrier five times. 

Only four home team turnovers graced the box score. That's the fewest on the year, the previous low being seven against Nebraska. Place that number against 15 assists and the 3.75 assist to turnover ratio blows any previous game out of the water. 

Houston's defense leaves plenty to be desired, but they are middle of the pack in conference play. This wasn't bad defense, though. This stemmed from a week-long directive. 

Lacking enough numbers to practice 5-on-5 and enduring a busy first five weeks of conference play not enough practice time could be dedicated to ball movement and offensive passing habits. 

That changed this week when Cronin focused his time on improving efficiency and passing. The numbers along with an eye test left an obvious assumption -- it worked.

"For the past week we have really been focusing on our offense and really swinging the ball," Sean Kilpatrick said. "A lot of games this year we kept the ball on one side of the floor. That's something that really wasn't helping our big men especially on the weak side for rebounding. Being able to swing the ball today and drive the big gaps and get in the middle and look for the open guy -- especially in the second half -- that was something that was huge for us."

Enjoying efficient offensive days can be easy when Sean Kilpatrick plays as he has the last month. The latest effort -- 28 points, six assists, five rebounds and only one turnover -- left Cronin rightfully asking what guard could possibly keep him off First Team All-America. 

But, without Shaq Thomas attacking the basket early and converting using his trampoline feet and Inspector Gadget arms, 73 points never would have been possible. 

If not for Ge'Lawn Guyn burying wide open back-to-back 3-pointers on game-changing assists from Kilpatrick, a win might not have been possible. 

If not for Justin Jackson's spin moves leaving post defenders grasping at nothing, 51 percent shooting on the day never exists. 

The headline above the Bearcats name on the NCAA Tournament bracket will start with the word defense and include the name Kilpatrick. But if they want a headline for the Elite Eight or beyond, efficient and offense must bully into the subhead. 

This week of much-needed practices and Saturday's result served as a step in that direction. In the process, it began to belly the sumo wrestlers toward the edge of the ring. 

I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions you may have to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Bearcats Defense Is DVD-Worthy

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The stats show that Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in college basketball this year.  Through 25 games, the Bearcats rank 5th in the country in points allowed (57.6) and are holding foes to 39% shooting.

"That's who we are," said Justin Jackson.  "That's Bearcat basketball."

But it's not just this season.  Cincinnati has earned the reputation for being one of the best defensive programs in the nation and soon there will be a DVD to help explain why.

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Championship Productions is known for its instructional sports videos, as coaching legends like Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, and Pat Summit share their expertise.  Beginning this spring, coaches and fans will have the opportunity to study Mick Cronin's defensive principals.

"They came in and filmed practice because they had so many requests from high school coaches around the country for our practice drills and defensive drills," Cronin told me.  "They do it for money so they had to have a lot of requests from people who are trying to figure out what we do defensively around the country from guys that are coaching basketball."

"That's an honor," said Jackson.  "We take pride in what we do and that shows that we've been successful."

"I thought it would be something neat to do - I've never been a part of something like that," said Cronin.  "If it can help other coaches that would be great, and since it's going to be distributed nationally it really helps the status of the program.  I'll do anything I can do to elevate the status of our program, help recruiting, help create interest in the Bearcats, and help create positive energy toward what we're trying to accomplish here which is hopefully trying to build a national power year in and year out."

The Bearcats have been strong on defense throughout Coach Cronin's tenure and this is likely to be the third time in the last four years that Cincinnati has allowed fewer than 60 points a game.  It obviously helps to have one of the nation's leading shot-blockers in Jackson, but that alone does not explain why this year's team is so difficult to score on.

"This team is able to switch everything for the most part," explained assistant coach Darren Savino.  "What happens is, a lot of teams run their offense and try to use screens to get advantages, and they can't do it on us as much because we can switch.  And then it becomes 'mano y mano' ... me vs. you and it's not that easy.  Yeah, they're going to score some, but not as much as if our defense was constantly helping.  We try to eliminate that by doing a lot of switching and then keep people in front of us.  We're not perfect obviously - nobody is - but I think that's really helped our defense."

"Interchangeable parts are a big part of it," said Cronin.  "Enough depth to never have to play anybody tired - because when you're tired you're going to have slippage.  And obviously a shot blocker.  Usually if you have a shot blocker, he's a weakness in the pick and roll, but Justin is not.  He can move his feet on the perimeter and he can also block shots around the rim."

Jackson leads the Bearcats in blocks and steals and will be a strong candidate for American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.  But Savino says, another UC senior is just as important to Cincinnati's defensive prowess.    

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"Titus Rubles is one of the best defense players in the country," Darren told me.  "The guy can guard anybody from the center to the point guard." 

"Titus doesn't block the shots that Justin does, but he allows us to be extremely versatile with what we do with our coverages and confuse our opponents," said Cronin.  "His ability to guard every position is vital to what we do.  Things that don't show up in the box score make him just as valuable as Justin - he won't win any awards because he doesn't have the individual stats to prove it, but his statistic is our field goal percentage defense and our points allowed per game.  A lot of that is because of Titus."

None of that information is a secret to Cincinnati's opponents.  But what about the upcoming video - will Coach Cronin be divulging any secrets that could help teams dissect the Bearcats' defense?

"I have editing right of refusal at the end, and we're very scouting report-specific." Mick told me.  "The video will show our core principals and how we teach things.  That's really the basis of it, but I will also make sure that everybody knows that we do adjust game-to-game and year-to-year based on the personnel."

I look forward to seeing Cincinnati's "D" on DVD.

********

I received a question on Twitter asking for tiebreaking procedures for seeding the conference tournament in The American.  I couldn't squeeze them into 140 characters, so I've posted the official league rules below.

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

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

 

SEEDING & TIE-BREAKING PROCEDURES

 

Note: these procedures apply to the 2013-14 season only. New procedures will be

developed for 2014-15 due to the addition of new membership.

 

Overall Conference record, at the conclusion of the regular season, is used to seed teams

numbering 1 through 10. If an institution is ineligible for tournament competition, all

tiebreaking procedures will be followed, then the ineligible team will be removed from the

tournament field and seeds will be adjusted accordingly in an upward manner.

The following procedures are set up to establish seeding for the championship and to break

ties. Follow the appropriate steps in order.

 

TWO-TEAM TIE

 

1. Regular season head-to-head results.

If the tied teams split their two games, then proceed to Step 2 below.

2. Each team's record vs. the team or tied teams occupying the highest position in the

standings. If an advantage is not determined, proceed to the next team or group of tied

teams in the standings for comparison. Continue down through the standings until one

team gains an advantage.

3. Coin Flip

 

If any ties still exist after implementing all of the above tie-breaking procedures, a coin

flip is required. The procedure takes place at The American Athletic Conference office

immediately following the conclusion of the last regular season conference game.

Commissioner Mike Aresco or his designee will administer this procedure. This session

is open to the media and to athletic department representatives of the tied teams.

 

MULTIPLE-TEAM TIE (3 or more teams)

 

1. Teams are viewed as a "mini-conference" when comparing head-to-head results.

The team with the best record vs. the other teams in the mini-conference gains the

advantage. The team with the worst record vs. the other teams in the mini-conference is

seeded the lowest.

a. If only two teams have the same best winning percentage in the mini-conference,

the higher seed goes to the team winning the head-to-head series.

b. If the two teams split their two games, then proceed to Step 2 under Two-Team ties.

To seed the remaining team(s) in this mini-conference, proceed to (e) below.

c. If three or more (but not all) teams have the same best winning percentage in the

original mini-conference, then those tied teams create a new mini-conference and

follow this same procedure beginning of Step 1 (Multiple Team Tie).

d. If all teams in the mini-conference have the same mini-conference record, proceed

to Step 2 below.

e. After the top or bottom teams in a mini-conference are determined, the remaining

teams are ranked by their record in the original mini-conference.

i. If there are any remaining teams tied by their record in the mini-conference,

then head-to-head results will determine the higher seed.

ii. If the teams split two games, then proceed back to the two-way tie breaking

procedure.

iii. If there are at least three teams remaining tied by their record in the mini-conference,

they would then form a new mini-conference and follow the

procedure again at the beginning of Step 1 (Multiple-Team Tie).

2. Compare each team's record vs. the team or group of tied teams occupying the highest

position in the standings. If an advantage is not determined, proceed to the next team or

group of tied teams in the standings for comparison. Continue down through the

standings until one or more teams gain an advantage. If two teams have the exact same

advantage (i.e., having the same and better record against a compared team relative to

their mini-conference), they are separated at that point by the two-way tiebreaker

procedure. The next step would take you back to Step 1 (e) (Multiple-Team Tie).

3. Coin Flip

If any ties still exist after implementing all of the above tie-breaking procedures, a coin

flip is required. The procedure takes place at The American Athletic Conference office

immediately following the conclusion of the last regular season conference game.

Commissioner Mike Aresco or his designee will administer this procedure. This session

is open to the media and to athletic department representatives of the tied teams.

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Sean Kilpatrick appeared in line for a great senior year that would make the fan base appreciate his UC career, instead, his ascension of late grabbed the attention of a college basketball world appreciating his seizure of the national stage. 

CINCINNATI -- The Sean Kilpatrick story already played out like the feel-good movie of the season around UC athletics. The grinding senior expected to push his way to elite territory in school record books and enjoy a swan song in reward for returning to school as a 24-year-old. 

Fans would applaud. Teammates would brohug. Mick Cronin would probably well up. 

Only, of late, the feel-good story of Kilpatrick executed a plot twist that would make Steven Spielberg set his Oscar down. 

Suddenly, the work-hard scorer enjoying a fun senior season for local diehards to appreciate has tossed this team on his back and made the entire nation take notice. An enjoyable ride morphed into an unprecedented adventure, one Kilpatrick masterpiece at a time. 

The last four games with victories against two ranked teams and twice on the road, he's averaged 25.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists. His leadership calmed tornadic storms, his free throws buried desperate hopes, his confidence lifted all boats. 

Now the Bearcats are 22-2, 11-0 in conference, winners of 15 straight and ranked No. 7 in the country. He's the clear front-runner for American Player of the Year, but now elicits realistic mentions as a first-team All-American. 

During his finest work of art yet, racking up 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in topping No. 22 Connecticut Thursday, students chanted "M-V-P!" as he stood at the free throw line in the final seconds. That award doesn't exactly exist in college basketball, but no matter. The reverence nonetheless deserved and understood. 

The last four games, an already great individual season turned special. 

"No doubt about it," Cronin said. "Mark of great players is they rise to the occasion. He has the ability to rise to the occasion."

The rising of the numbers stand impressive enough. He's hit 43 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep over the four-game stretch. Knocked down 28 of 32 free throws, most in defining moments. He's notched 12 games of at least 20-plus points this year. Nobody else in the conference managed more than eight. 

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Kilpatrick rose for one-handed dunks that sparked season-altering runs. He silenced crowds and ignited them. 

Yet, the more impactful element of his special play has been the method behind his madness. He's not seeking points or prestige, averages or awards. 

He cares about wins and being a leader of his team. That's it. 

"I am just doing my job. I'm not the MVP, my whole team is the MVP," Kilpatrick told us, crediting his teammates for all the success. Fairly unprecedented stuff in a college sport stuffed with players seeking SportsCenter moments and enough shine to impress NBA scouts. 

Outdueling Shabazz Napier, as he did resoundingly Thursday, didn't enter his conversation before, during or after one of his greatest games. The only reality clearer than Kilpatrick's skill was his humility and maturity. 

"I'm playing to win," Kilpatrick said. "I am just playing to win. I don't care about points. I don't care about any of that. To help my team win and put them in the best situation that's something leaders do. Leaders don't go out there and try to compete against the other best players and try their hardest to outscore them. The only score that matters is the final score. Your points don't matter at all." 

As it was his 26 points came on an ultra-efficient 15 shots. The most significant difference in Kilpatrick's offensive rating ballooning from 108.5 last season to 121.4 has been a lesson in shot selection and trust in teammates. That offensive rating ranks fourth in the country among those used on at least 28 percent of their teams possessions. 

He plays smarter basketball. He plays winning basketball. Consequently, the Bearcats do, too. 

As the game went on Oscar Robertson, from his standard court side seat, would motion for Kilpatrick to keep shooting. Nobody at UC can touch Oscar's unprecedented aura, but Kilpatrick couldn't help even letting the Big O know what everyone in the nation is now understanding.  

"He kept giving me the signals to shoot," Kilpatrick said with a laugh before reverently referring to Robertson a legend. "I told him just relax, we got it." 

He was right, leaving Oscar able to sit back, smile and wonder along with the other 12,432 at Fifth Third Arena what the next exciting chapter will be in this coming-of-age tale. The final stanza has begun to be written. 

I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 


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Mike Bohn noticed the moment he walked to the podium at the eighth floor of the Lindner Center the energy and momentum driving University of Cincinnati athletics. 

With the pep band playing the fight song and cast of faculty, staff and coaches coating the back wall only hours before a critical home basketball game against UConn, Bohn couldn't help acknowledge it. 

With a bombastic and energetic tone he's been known for since jumping into the athletics game 30 years ago, he heaped praise toward the band, cheerleaders and jumped into speaking about the passion he's noticed around town. 

"The sense of team came through loud and clear," Bohn said. "That's impressive to me. That's attractive to me." 

The word momentum would flow out of his mouth dozens of times in the next 30 minutes as blew through the local media car wash. 

Momentum created here under Whit Babcock caught his eye. An ability to create momentum sold President Santa Ono. 

Everywhere Ono seeks a leader and the Bearcats to advance on the college athletics landscape Bohn offers experience times over. 

Need to raise money? He oversaw several multi-million dollar capital projects and facility upgrades at Colorado, as well as secured the largest corporate sponsorship in school history.  

Need to spend effectively? In 2013 his athletic department was name the most economically efficient in the country.

Need to invigorate the fan base? Ono can relay that answer: "He is a communication and marketing genius."

Perhaps most importantly to those familiar with the economics of college ahteltics, if you need an athletic director familiar with navigating the water of conference realignment, Bohn would be your man. 

He was the first to hop into the Pac-12 and secure Colorado's spot at the table. As an AD at Idaho he even found a way to temporarily keep the football program afloat once the Big West conference stopped sponsoring football. It wasn't the best fit moving the Sun Belt, but kept the program alive. 

He knows how to align a program to take advantage of whatever opportunity that arrives. It's why he's here. 

"It's imperative to have your trustees, your president, your athletic department, your community all in alignment," he said. "That's why I talk about synergy and teamwork. And that's why it's inspiring to be here because that is in place. Other institutions, that is what they are looking for, a commitment and great sense of foundation from all those key players." 

His connections across college athletics wowed Ono. As did Bohn's personality. While Babcock's search lasted 10 weeks, this lasted 12 days. Bohn left Ono with no doubts. 

"He's a seasoned leader, proven innovator, trusted partner and community builder," Ono said. "He's somebody deeply connected to the community, alumni and fans. He has a tremendous amount of energy and passion." 

I want to hear from you! If you have any comments, questions or suggestions about UC athletics send them to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 


Bearcats Add Speed Despite Travel Slowdowns

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In more than 32 years of college coaching, Tommy Tuberville has never run into weather-related travel nightmares like he did over the last month.

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"Awful," said Tuberville.  "I've never seen anything like the last few weeks but it was kind of fun at times.  I was in Tampa and I had to rent a car because I had to be in New Orleans that night.  I got to Tallahassee after five hours of driving and I pulled over at Cracker Barrel to get something to eat - my favorite is fried catfish and hushpuppies - and all of the state troopers were in there.  So I said, 'Man, you guys all take a break at the same time?'  Some of them recognized me and they said, 'No Coach, we're closing the interstate.'  So they gave me the back roads and I slid around, helped people out of ditches, and made some good friends. 

"Another night a policeman pulled me over and said, 'Hey sir, does it look funny out here?'  I said, 'What do you mean?'  He said, 'You're the only one driving.  Get off the road!'  So I got off and stopped at a Shoney's restaurant and he pulled in behind me and also recognized who I was.  He was an Alabama fan.  You always run into those dang Alabama fans."

Sometimes on the recruiting trail, you even run into Alabama's coach.

"I sat with Nick Saban at a luncheon in Macon, Georgia," said Tuberville.  "Nick's from Ohio and he said, 'How do you like my home state?'  I said, 'I like it pretty good.  Our weather up there is much better than it is down here.'  Which it has been.  It's been bad here but it's been worse in the south."

The travel woes continued right up to signing day.  On Tuesday, Tuberville and assistant coaches Jeff Koonz and Blake Rolen could not get a flight back to Cincinnati out of Georgia so they hopped in a car and started driving, making it as far Lexington before the roads became impassable.  They finally made it to campus on Wednesday morning as the National Letters of Intent were coming in on the fax machine.

In all, Cincinnati got 28 commitments (including preferred walk-ons) from 11 different states with an emphasis on speed.

"We recruited as much speed as anyone in the nation," said Tuberville.

That's been his number one priority in recruiting since working as an assistant under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami.

 

"It all started there," Tuberville told me.  "Jimmy's basic instructions to you when you went out recruiting were, 'Don't bring a guy in here that can't run - at any position.'  They had to have good athletic ability and they had to be able to run.  

"If you were recruiting a big guy, he pretty much wouldn't give you the green light to recruit him if the kid didn't play basketball.  We had a couple of guys that we recruited this year under the same scenario.  A lot of people didn't offer them, but we went and saw them play basketball and these guys had more athletic ability that some of the guys that we were beating our heads against the wall about."

One of the fastest recruits in this year's class is JUCO wide receiver Casey Gladney from Copiah Lincoln CC. 

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"He's one of the best receivers that I've ever recruited," said Tuberville.  "He was going to sign with Alabama two years ago and they were over the limit so we signed him at Texas Tech and put him in a junior college.  He's an Anthony McClung-type that plays slot receiver and he can fly.  He'll play in the NFL.  We just have to figure out more ways to get him the ball.  Anthony caught about 70 passes this year so I foresee Casey having a great career here over the next couple of years."

On defense, Tuberville expects an immediate contribution from a defensive back from Fort Lauderdale, FL.

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"We got a young man named Carter Jacobs who will be all-conference here for several years and maybe all-American," Tommy told me.  "He's a safety from American Heritage High School and he's one of those guys that you can't get out of the weight room or the film room.  He loves football and he was offered by everybody.  We got him committed early and all the big schools from the SEC came in and made offers and he said, 'I'm going to be a Bearcat.'  He'll play next year.  He'll either be a starter or a backup because he's a football player."   

Cincinnati's class was ranked anywhere from 58th to 66th in the various recruiting websites, but Tuberville advises fans not to put too much stock in those numbers.

"I spent nearly 10 years at Miami and not one time was our recruiting class ranked in the Top 25, but we won three national championships" said Tuberville.  "The bottom line is, when you get to about a three star prospect they're all about the same.  You can't measure heart - if you could do that then you could really put a star on a kid.  But you can't tell how much determination and what kind of work ethic he'll have while he's with you.  If you could do that, you would never lose a game."

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

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