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Titus = Toughness

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I'm not about to suggest that he pours in jumpers like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, but with God as my witness, Titus Rubles makes a good percentage of his outside shots at UC basketball practices.  Unfortunately, that has rarely carried over to the games in his two years with the Bearcats.

"I don't know why - I wish I had the answer," said UC assistant coach Darren Savino.  "I know in the drills that he doesn't hesitate and he makes a high percentage.  In the games it seems that he's hesitant and that's a tough thing to get over." 

"When you're missing shots you're like, 'Dang, I make these all day in practice,'" Rubles told me.  "But what I keep telling myself is that my day is going to come.  I'm just going to keep working."

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Despite his shooting woes, Rubles has been a major reason why the Bearcats are 46-17 in his two seasons and headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

"Titus Rubles is our heart and soul," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He gives everybody on the team confidence because he's afraid of nothing.  What he may lack in skill level in terms of shooting the basketball, he definitely makes up for it with fortitude, toughness, and in being a fearless competitor."

"He's one of those intangible guys," said Sean Kilpatrick.  "He sets screens that allow me to get open, he rebounds, he dives on the floor - there are a lot of things that he does that don't show up on the stat sheet."

"Titus Rubles gives you everything that coaches talk about that fans really don't understand sometimes," said Cronin.  "They say, 'Coach is always talking about toughness when they need to get some scorers.'  Let me tell you something.  Titus Rubles' toughness is a big reason why we're sitting here at 24-5."

That trait caught Coach Savino's eye from the very beginning.   

"The first time that I saw Titus play was at a JUCO jamboree," said Savino.  "I was watching random games and trying to find guys that we didn't know about and instantly he stood out with his toughness and aggressiveness. He had what I call, 'The look of a Bearcat.'  I watched him the rest of the weekend and he did a lot of things that fit what we do and I thought Coach Cronin would like him and his style of play."

"We will sorely, sorely miss him next year when he is gone because that is stuff that comes from within," said Cronin.  "You can't go into the gym and work on having a fearless attitude every day.  That means wins, although it doesn't show in the box score.  I can't imagine where we would be without him."

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And while Rubles is only averaging 7.0 points a game, he probably scored Cincinnati's most important basket of the year so far - the game-winning bucket with four seconds left to beat Pitt in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

(Listen to the radio call here)

Rubles calls it the highlight of his UC career.

"It is, and the place that it happened made it a highlight too," said Rubles.  "I still have the headband that I was wearing when I hit the shot.  I'll probably never wash it."

"The tougher the game, the bigger the moment, the tougher the environment; the more physical he plays and the more he gets done," said Cronin.

On senior night vs. Memphis, the loudest cheers will undoubtedly be reserved for Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, but Rubles deserves a lengthy ovation as well.   

"Titus has made as much of an impact as any two-year player here in a long, long time," said Cronin.

"I feel like I made a really good decision coming here," Rubles told me.  "I've been on two teams that have been in the Top 10 and that doesn't happen for a lot of JUCO guys.  I really like the city of Cincinnati and this has been a really good experience for me.  It's crazy that it's coming to an end.  It seems like it's gone by so fast."

"To win a war you've got to have some soldiers, and he's a soldier," said Cronin.


I haven't posted a photo of the handsome lad lately.  On Senior Night it seems appropriate to include this picture of Sam wearing one of his favorite Christmas gifts this year.

Sam in SK jersey (330x440).jpg

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Luc Hopes To Be Man In Middle

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The UC Bearcats will have a new starting quarterback in the fall.

On both sides of the ball.

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In addition to losing QB Brendon Kay, two-time all-conference middle linebacker Greg Blair - who helped call signals on defense - also exhausted his eligibility last season.

When spring football opened last week, the new man in the middle of the Bearcats defense was Jeff Luc who started at outside linebacker last year.

"Right now Jeff Luc is starting in the middle and we'll see what he's got," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "He's a senior, he knows how to play football, he understands it, and he just has to put it all together."

"I adapted better than I thought I would for the first day," Luc told me.  "It felt like it was my natural position.  I'm not just saying that.  The calls went well, I was getting the fronts right, and I feel comfortable.  I feel like everybody on the defense was working with me and when you have amazing athletes around you, everything is a lot easier."

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"We're looking at everybody right now and he's a guy that has some physical tools," said defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.  "We'll see how everybody progresses in terms of learning their assignments and techniques.  He's a guy that we're looking forward to being a good player for us."   

"I think we've got good speed at linebacker," said Tuberville.  "I think the whole key for us is to get the right guys in the right spots in spring practice." 

After starring at Treasure Coast HS in Florida, Luc was rated as the nation's top middle linebacker prospect by multiple recruiting services and originally enrolled at Florida State.  Although he transferred to Cincinnati after two seasons, Jeff was excited when his former FSU teammates won the national championship last season.

"I've been keeping up with them since I left," said Luc.  "I still have a lot of boys there and in my mind they're still like my brothers.  That's who I came out of high school with, I was there for two years, and I still speak to those guys like three days a week.  They're still a big part of me and that friendship and brotherhood is not going to change."

In a Sports Illustrated story about Florida State's victory over Auburn in the BCS Championship, Luc is referred as the "Pied Piper of FSU's turnaround," as writer Andy Staples described how Luc's commitment to Florida State helped head coach Jimbo Fisher build a contender:

Fisher, in one of his first acts as head coach, hosted a group of top recruits on official visits. One of them was Jeff Luc, a Bunyanesque linebacker from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Fellow recruits in the class of 2010 treated Luc like a rock star. They delighted in his slobberknocker-heavy highlight video and shared it on social media. They marveled at his 6'1", 240-pound physique, which resembled that of a five-year NFL veteran's. Fisher wanted a grown-ass man, and Luc fit the bill. When he committed to the Seminoles while in Tallahassee on Dec. 5, the other recruits noticed.

"I'm not going to say that it was just because of me," said Luc.  "Lamarcus Joyner and I sat down and said that we should go to school together and see if we could bring some more boys in.  I guess he wanted me to make my move first, so when I committed to Florida State he committed and it started rolling.  It was a whole bunch of great athletes coming together and wanting to play on the same team."

Luc was a leader of that highly-touted recruiting class and is expected to be one of Cincinnati's primary team leaders in 2014.

"I just feel like I have a different role," Luc told me.  "Usually people say that they lead by example, but I think it's time for me to be more vocal and I'm working on that."

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And in addition to his new role, Jeff has a new number switching from 48 to 1.

"I just wanted something different," said Luc.  "It's a new year, I'm at a new position, and it's a new beginning. 

"It's a whole different point of view for me because I'm in the middle of everything and that's where I want to be."

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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."

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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. 


"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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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.

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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.




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


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.

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."

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The Love Village

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Leave it to a guy who has become famous for his "mean face" to coin an expression for how close-knit the Bearcat basketball team is this year.


"We're a love village," said Justin Jackson with a grin.

That gave Mick Cronin a big laugh when I passed along Jackson's comment, but there's no doubt he would agree.  Cronin says he's never been closer to his players in 11 years as a college head coach.

"I respect them so much, and they know it, because of how hard they play," said Cronin.  "That's what we try to be all about - control what we can control and don't let other people define us.  They've really bought in to that part of what I try to instill in our program more than any guys that I've coached."

But at the age of 42, with more than a decade of head coaching experience under his belt, Cronin has changed too.

"Only a fool would not try to become a better coach every year," Mick told me.  "With experience hopefully comes a tad bit of wisdom, and also maybe a tad bit of patience.  You understand that the game is not all about you, it's about the players.  I think the more you make it about them, the harder they're going to play, the more they're going to play to win, and the more coachable they're going to be.  At the end of the day, that's really what this is all about - their education and helping young people grow up.  Obviously you have to win games and we're all competitors, but I really think that's the way to win."  

"He wants the best out of everybody," said Jackson.  "That's the reason why I came here.  You can tell that he wants the best for you - not just in basketball but in being a better person and a better man.  That's what I wanted to be."

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One thing I've found interesting about this team is how the players react to criticism.  Our broadcasting location is frequently close to the Bearcats bench and even in those situations where Coach Cronin is reading players the riot act, they rarely seem to get upset.

"We all know that it's his love for the game," said Sean Kilpatrick.  "For that five seconds that he blows you up, you shouldn't take it like he's going to take you out of the game for a long time - he's trying to teach you.  At the end of the day, he still loves you and he's going to get his message across."

"He's a winner and that just shows how much he wants to win," said Jackson.  "Every coach has a different way of expressing that.  Some coaches are quiet and some coaches are loud."

And while TV cameras are drawn to sideline flare-ups, Cronin makes sure to provide plenty of praise as well.

"If somebody makes a bad play, he's quick to say, 'Why are great players making bad plays?'" said Kilpatrick.  "If he didn't believe in us to be great players and take their game to the next level, then he wouldn't say nothing at all.

"Everyone is happy to come to practice and everyone is willing to play hard.  If you have a coach that's on you 24/7, you're probably going to say, 'Come on, cut me some slack.'  He wants what's best for you and that's something that helps us a lot."

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"They give me great effort and they really care about winning," said Cronin.  "It's allowed us to play smart.  When guys are mentally focused and their mind is on winning, it allows you as a coach to make adjustments and it actually makes you look like you know what you're doing at times.  That doesn't happen when their minds are not on winning and they're tuning coaches out because all they care about are individual statistics.  With this group, they want to win and they're willing to do whatever it takes to win.  They give me great effort - not just physical effort but mental effort as well."   

As a result, the Bearcats "Love Village" is 19-2 and ranked 13th in the country heading into Thursday's showdown at #12 Louisville.

"We're not always pretty, but I think you have to appreciate how much the kids want to win," said Cronin.

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Future Bearcat Posts Quadruple Double

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A quadruple double?

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Future Bearcat Gary Clark, a senior at Clayton High School near Raleigh, North Carolina, had one on Friday night as he finished with 22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocked shots, and 10 assists in his team's 67-46 win.

"Gary Clark is dominating," UC head coach Mick Cronin told me.  "From what everybody tells us, he's probably on track to win Player of the Year in North Carolina - and there are some McDonald's All-Americans in North Carolina."

Clark is from the heart of ACC country, and while he reportedly had offers from NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, he verbally committed to Cincinnati after visiting campus in September.  The 6'7", 215 pound forward officially committed to UC in the early signing period in November.

"I really loved the guys - they were just awesome," said Clark.  "And Coach Cronin is a great guy.  The whole coaching staff was really hands on with me and talked with me every day.  I talked to Coach Davis probably as much as I talked with my mom - I love that guy."

UC associate head coach Larry Davis worked in the ACC for several years at Wake Forest where he famously signed a lightly-recruited prospect that developed into a two-time NBA MVP - Tim Duncan. 

"Larry Davis did an unbelievable job identifying Gary early," said Coach Cronin.  "We put a lot of belief in him early that he was going to be a great player.  Every now and then you can sneak one in on the recruiting guys where they don't have him ranked nearly as high as he should be for whatever reason - he developed late...he hasn't been as exposed as other people...whatever the case may be. 

"Gary got recruited - NC State is 45 minutes up the road and tried to get him and Pitt was waiting at the airport when he got home from his visit here.  So it's not like he wasn't recruited.  But Larry Davis did the best job.  He got in there first and did a great job of developing his relationship with Gary."

"Gary's been a relationship guy from the beginning," said Clayton High coach Denny Medlin.  "I thought that Cincinnati did a good job.  They've been here for a couple of years now watching him play and they didn't feed him a bunch of lines.  In the beginning, Coach Davis came down and said, 'Hey, you've got to play harder.'  It kind of made Gary mad to begin with, but at the same time I think Gary has always appreciated honesty.  Gary got better and that helped me out because Gary started playing harder.  And the harder he played, the better he got.  Now he keeps playing harder and harder all of the time, and keeps getting better and better all of the time."

For the season, Clark is averaging 24.5 points and he recently had a game in which he scored 31 in less than a half in a blowout victory.  The 15 blocks on Friday night tied a career high, while his personal best for rebounds is 24.

"He's a guy that was vastly underrated for different reasons and probably learned to play a little harder the older he's got," said Coach Cronin.  "Some guys develop later than others."

"He'll be a four-year guy there and by his junior year in college, he's going to be really, really good I think," said Coach Medlin.

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Tuberville Looks To Add To Big Game Reputation

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When Whit Babcock introduced Tommy Tuberville as Cincinnati's new head coach at a quickly-arranged news conference last December, he brought up the time they spent together at Auburn and said that he was impressed with Tuberville's leadership style, family-centered values, and how he treated people.

"I was also impressed with his knack for winning the big games," said Babcock.

I thought that might be worth bringing up before the Bearcats host Louisville a week from Thursday in one of the biggest games in Nippert Stadium history.

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Tuberville has a 7-3 record in bowl games, went 7-3 vs. archrival Alabama during his years at Auburn, and has gone 6-3 in his career when facing teams ranked in the Top 5.

So what's his secret?

"I was fortunate to grow up as an assistant coach in a lot of big games and rivalry games with coaches like Dennis Erickson, Jimmy Johnson, and R.C. Slocum and the one thing that I took from all of those guys was to let the players win the game," Tuberville told me.  "Don't try to outcoach the other team.  If you try to do too much and throw too much on the wall and players are confused, you always end up with problems.  So we'll prepare them and get them ready to go, but it's going to happen between the whistles and between the lines at Nippert Stadium.  Just get out of the way and let 'em play.  There's no secret to it.  Get 'em ready to go and turn 'em loose."

Cincinnati is clearly playing its best football of the year going into the showdown against the 10-1 Cardinals.  After beating Houston on Saturday for their sixth straight win, the 9-2 Bearcats have climbed into the Top 25 for the first time this season.  That seemed hard to imagine in early October when the Bearcats walked off the field after a loss at USF with a 3-2 record.

"We were just trying to find out if we could score points, much less win football games because we were struggling on offense," said Tuberville.  "About midseason we were flopping around just trying to find an identity and we started getting a little bit better and better and guys started to make plays.  We haven't done anything different - our guys are just kind of absorbing everything that we've put in over the past year and it takes a while to do that.  I'm proud of all of the players.  The seniors have done a great job of keeping this team focused and the leadership has just been outstanding." 

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No senior has played a more important role than quarterback Brendon Kay.  During the Bearcats' six-game winning streak, Kay has averaged 330 passing yards and thrown 15 TD passes while completing 72% of his throws.

"It's remarkable - 60% is good," said Tuberville.  "You've got to give some credit to the receivers like Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, and the two little guys inside (Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung) catching everything that he throws.  But still, you've got to find the open man and get the ball there.  And people forget, he's been about 70 to 80 percent healthy for the last few games because he's been beat up.  I'm really proud of Brendon.  He came in and he was the back-up quarterback before Munchie got hurt and he struggled for a couple of games, but he's just been gangbusters for the last few weeks.

"He's the most accurate guy that I've been around, and I've been around some Heisman Trophy winners at Miami (Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta).  But none were as accurate as Brendon for such a long period of time.  He's been on target for the last five or six weeks.  He's throwing the deep ball, the short ball, the screen passes - all of those things are on target." 

While the offense has made huge strides since the USF loss, the defense has been solid in every game this season but the week two loss at Illinois.  Cincinnati is ranked fifth in the nation in rushing defense, ninth in yards allowed, and tied for ninth in points allowed.

"We're not overpowering," said Tuberville.  "We don't do anything fancy.  We've got two or three guys that are good senior leaders.  We've got a lot of first-time players, but those guys are 11 games into the season and they've gotten much better.  I think it's the overall scheme of Art Kaufman and all of his coaches pulling the trigger and saying, 'Listen.  Let's do what we do and don't do anything special and let 'em play.'  It's worked out pretty well for us."

The Bearcats are one win from reaching 10 victories for the sixth time in the last seven seasons and still have a chance to win their fifth conference title in the last six years.  Additionally, if Cincinnati beats Louisville and UCF loses one of its final two games to either USF or SMU, the Bearcats could earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

If only Bearcats had not have dropped their conference opener at USF...

"We'll take 9-and-2 after the start we had," said Tuberville.  "You can always look back and say, 'Man, what if?'  But you don't want to do that.  You want to look at where you are today and what you have in front of you."

What Tommy Tuberville has in front of him is his biggest game so far at Cincinnati.

And if you're like me, it can't get here soon enough.

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Kilpatrick's Senior Year Off To Superb Start

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Sean Kilpatrick's first roommate at Cincinnati is now in his fourth year in the NBA.  And Lance Stephenson is off to a tremendous start averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and a team-leading 5.8 assists for the undefeated Indiana Pacers.

"We spoke the other night after the triple-double game that he had," Kilpatrick told me.  "He's been telling me how focused he's been on just winning.  That's something that's he's been harping on.  He's been trying to enhance his game by just putting the team in the best position to win."

Sean is actually about eight months older than Stephenson and seriously considered leaving school after his junior year in hopes of joining Lance in the pro ranks.  But Kilpatrick ultimately decided to return to UC for his senior season.

"It was very tough, but when you have a coaching staff like we do and you have great parents on top of that, that makes things a whole lot easier," said Kilpatrick.  "It's every kid's dream to try to go to the NBA and being able to fulfill your dreams, but I really just focus on trying to get my degree now.  That's something that will last forever - the NBA won't.  Coach has really talked to me about putting things in perspective with my life.  That's something that I really have to focus on the most, and being able to come back here for my degree and being able to accomplish what I want to accomplish with my teammates and coaches - that's what means the most to me."

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"Hopefully for him, he's going to have a tremendous season, lead his team to victories, shoot a high percentage, and have an All American-type season the way Steve Logan did his senior year," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "That was probably the last great season that was had by a guard here at UC, and that would be a tremendous way to go out for him.  I fully think that he's capable of doing it."

In Cincinnati's first four games, including two exhibitions, Kilpatrick has scored 20, 24, 22, and 21 points.  But he isn't just scoring.  After regular season wins over NC Central and NC State, Sean leads the team in assists (7) and steals (5), and has drilled 16-of-17 free throws.  He's getting to the free throw line by relentlessly driving to the basket instead of settling for three-point shots.

"That's been a goal," Kilpatrick told me.  "Coach has really been harping a lot on trying to get to the foul line a lot because the hand-check foul is in play now.  I'm so much bigger than the guards that are going to be guarding me - they're going to have to foul me in some type of way.  Being able to get to that foul line will put us in a better situation."

After playing for Team USA in the World University Games in Russia last summer, Kilpatrick is looking to go to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year as a Bearcat.  But he's going to need help from teammates like Titus Rubles who's averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in UC's first two games.

"It's funny because he is my roommate now," said Kilpatrick with a laugh.  "He's worked so hard.  He's deserves everything that he's getting right now.  During the summer when I came back from Team USA, he was walking to the gym at one or two o'clock in the morning.  I would ask where he was going and he was like, 'I'm going to get some shots up.'  He's worked extremely hard and that's something that I'm proud of him for.  He's one of the guys on the team that always has a chip on his shoulder, and I can compare myself to him because we look at things the exact same way."    

The 'Cats are also counting on Justin Jackson to provide some offense this year after averaging 3.8 points as a junior.

"He knows how bad we need him," Kilpatrick said.  "The 20 pounds that he put on helped us tremendously because now we're not afraid to throw the ball down to him anymore.  We know that he can score at will because he's a lot faster and more athletic than the guys that are going to be guarding him.  Being able to exploit that mismatch is something that helps us a lot."

If Kilpatrick scores as many points this year as he did as a junior, he'll finish his career as the second-leading scorer in school history behind Oscar Robertson.  But his impact on the program can't be measured on the stat sheet.

"I have like a Top 5 or Top 10 list of guys that I've coached as an assistant that I have a relationship with," said assistant coach Darren Savino.  "He's in that Top 10 in my mind as far as relationship and dealing with a guy.  But as far as a leader?  There's not a better leader that I've ever been around in all of my days as an assistant coach in 19 years of college basketball.  That's Felipe Lopez, Adrian Griffin who played in the NBA for a long time, different guys from the different schools that I've worked at.  SK is all about winning and he's all about toughness.  For Coach Cronin, that's the best thing that you can have - a guy who is your best player but he's your hardest worker and he buys in to everything that you tell him that the program and the team needs and he's all for it.  We're going to miss his scoring and his basketball stuff, but we can always replace that.  You can always get another player that can do the basketball things, but as a person and a leader, that's going to be the biggest thing that the program will miss when he's gone."

Fortunately for Bearcats fans, that day is still more than four months away.

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