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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. 

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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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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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.

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.

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"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?

Gary Clark (440x330).jpg

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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In the immediate aftermath of a disappointing 26-20 loss at USF on Saturday, head coach Tommy Tuberville sounded exasperated in our radio postgame interview with sideline reporter Tom Gelehrter.

"You can't give away 14 points on the road and win - I don't care who you're playing," said Tuberville on 700 WLW.  "We knocked their running back out, we knocked their quarterback out and we still struggled."

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The Bulls entered the game 0-4 and lost quarterback Steven Bench after one pass.  They lost the nation's 10th-leading rusher, Marcus Shaw, after 9 carries.  But USF didn't need an offensive touchdown against UC, scoring on a 75-yard TD return of a blocked field goal and a 10-yard fumble return.

"You just can't do that," said Tuberville.  "I don't care how many games they've won or how they're playing; we gave them all the incentive they needed.  When you're playing on the road, we just opened up a can of whoop-tail when we gave them 14 points."

Combine those touchdowns with four field goals and it was enough to beat a Cincinnati offense that sputtered to gain 162 yards in the first three quarters before erupting for 188 yards and a pair of TD passes in the fourth.

We had 86 yards of offense in the first half," said Tuberville.  "You're not going to win any games - I mean any games - if you don't play better than that on offense.

"We're going to have to get much better to have the opportunity to win games.  We have to get physical and we have to block somebody.  That's the number one thing that we have to get better at.  We're not doing a great job at the point of attack in our running game."

That was especially telling during a key sequence midway through the third quarter.  The Bearcats had a second-and-one at the USF 9-yard line and could not pick up the necessary yard on three running plays.

"You've got to be able to get a yard," said Tuberville.  "We had them coming through gaps and we were turning people loose.  We made some changes on the offensive line during the game and got a little bit better, but we have to be more physical up front.  If you can't get a yard in three downs then something is wrong."

Brendon Kay gave Cincinnati a chance to rally from a 26-6 deficit by going 11-for-14 with 145 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

"I'm proud of Brendon," said Tuberville.  "I didn't think he'd play in the second half.  He took a late hit and really got bruised up in the sternum.  We thought about pulling him out, but he wanted to play and he played his heart out in the second half.

"He played his tail off.  He ran for his life, he threw on the run, and we're just not giving him much protection.  And we have to be able to run the ball a little bit better."

And while the Bearcats struggles on offense began up front, Coach Tuberville says the responsibility for the loss begins with him.

"We have to do a better job of coaching," he said.

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A Spectacular Start: On The Field And In The Stands

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The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati is off to a spectacular start.  And if you attended the game and were impressed by UC's new head coach, you'll be happy to know that Tommy and his wife Suzanne were impressed with you.

"My wife's been to a lot of tailgates over the years and she said that was the best she's even been to," said Coach Tuberville.

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A record crowd of 36,007 packed 98-year old Nippert Stadium, breaking the old attendance mark by 901 fans. 

"I want to thank our fans for coming out because they were very supportive," Tuberville told me.  "They got behind the team from the beginning to the end.  We need to keep it going like that.  As I've said before, we're all in this together.  If we want to keep making this program better and better and take it to another level, it's going to have to start not on the football field but in the stands and work down to the field.  We're going to try to do our part, but we need the help of everybody out there.  We got off to a great start."

It was such an impressive performance that it was easy to forget that after opening each of the past two seasons with a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, the first offensive snap this year resulted in a Munchie Legaux interception off a deflected pass.

"I told Eddie Gran that I was going to have a football printed up of his first play ever as an offensive coordinator - an interception," joked Tuberville.  "I didn't say anything to Munchie because it wasn't his fault.  We're supposed to cut those offensive lineman and keep their hands down.  He was throwing to the right guy, the guy was open, and the timing was good.  They made a good play.  I was proud of Munchie bouncing back and playing well the rest of the time until his last play when he threw another interception.  Munchie is going to make mistakes - they're all going to make mistakes - but they have to bounce back and forget about the last play.  That's what we've been preaching."

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While Munchie directed the Bearcats to a 42-7 win, the Cincinnati defense made life so miserable for Purdue quarterback Rob Henry that he opted to quit Twitter.

In all, 66 players saw action in the opener, including 11 offensive linemen.  I found it telling that the Bearcats rarely looked disorganized no matter who was on the field, and didn't commit a penalty until midway through the third quarter.

"It was awfully hot - about 130 degrees on that turf and I don't care how good of shape you're in, it's hard to focus as long as you need to focus," said Tuberville.  "Our assignments were very good; we only had a couple of penalties, and that's hard to do in the first game regardless of the weather.  When you have first-game jitters you tend to make a lot of mistakes, but I was proud of the entire team.

"They paid a price this summer in two-a-days by running and doing all of our (post-practice conditioning) drills.  Joe Walker, our strength coach, and all four of his assistants have done a bang-up job of knowing how hard to push them but when to pull back.  The strength and conditioning coaches had a plan for them starting back in the summer of getting ready for this first game and it worked.  Our guys were awfully proud of that, so they all stood up in the locker room and gave them a standing ovation."

I don't know about you, but I can't wait until next Saturday.

Don't forget to listen to my daily Bearcat Reports with Coach Tuberville, Monday through Friday at 11:55 on ESPN 1530.  And I hope to see you on Thursday night for Coach Tuberville's weekly radio show from 8-to-9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.

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Be Prepared For Anything Under Tuberville

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We are nine days away from the Bearcats season opener at Nippert Stadium.  With fewer than 1000 tickets available to the general public, it appears that the game is going to be sold-out, so here is a quick reminder to those of you who are lucky enough to attend: 

Come Early. 

Be Loud. 

Wear White. 

And Don't Get Up To Use The Restroom If It's Fourth-And-Long.

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That final item is a tongue-in-cheek reference to new head coach Tommy Tuberville and his history of making gutsy calls in hopes of pulling out a win.

"It started back when I was at Ole Miss," Coach Tuberville told me.  "We weren't very good and had to take a lot of chances.  Tim Brando was working for ESPN at the time and we went for it on fourth down a couple of times and made it and did some other crazy stuff and ended up winning the game.  That's when he nicknamed me 'The Riverboat Gambler.'  We really had no choice." 

"When we first got to Ole Miss together, the program was kind of in disarray," said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.  "We had to 'smoke and mirror' some people, and he told our guys before every game that we weren't going to hold anything back.  We were going to go for it on fourth down, we're going to have fakes, and we're going to do it when they're not expecting it.  That's what he did.  It was a lot of fun and the kids believed in it."

"I like to take chances," said Tuberville.  "I don't like to give games away, but I like to give players a chance to win games."

One of Tuberville's most famous gambles came in the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" between Auburn and Georgia in 2001.

"They were probably favored by three touchdowns," said Tuberville.  "We were only down by seven with a few minutes left in the half.  They had a really fast return man and we couldn't cover him on punts, so on fourth down and about a foot at our own 13 yard line I said, 'If we punt it, they're going to return it to about the 15 and score anyway so let's go for it.'  We ended up making it.  A few plays later, it was fourth-and-nine in our own territory (27 yard line...you can look it up) and we faked a punt and picked up the first down.  That was probably one of the crazier things that I've done, but it worked."

Final score:  Auburn 24 Georgia 17

"In another game, we were able to score but we couldn't stop the other team," Tuberville told me.  "So I told the players at halftime before we went back out that there was no reason for our punter to even come out.  We were going to go for it on every fourth down.  We ended up going for it on fourth down three times in the second half.  We made it every time and won the game."

Beginning in his third year at Auburn, Coach Tuberville led the Tigers to at least one victory over an AP Top-10 team in a school-record seven consecutive seasons.  He had a stretch of six straight wins over archrival Alabama in the Iron Bowl.  Two years ago as a four-touchdown underdog, his Texas Tech team ended Oklahoma's 39-game home winning streak.  Tuberville's record in bowl games is 7-3.

Is there a correlation between winning big games, pulling off upsets, and making the occasional risky call?

"I don't think there's any question about it," said Gran.  "Sometimes you see head coaches in big games and if they get stressed out and are hooting and hollering and screaming, then that's the mentality that the kids are going to take.  They feed off of the mentality of the head football coach.  He's always been unbelievable in big games."

Of course, the calculated gambles don't always work, but after 17 years as a college head coach, Tuberville says he's not afraid to be second-guessed.   

"I don't care about that - we're trying to win games," Tommy told me.  "Everybody is going to second-guess you - there are times where people want you to go for it and you punt.  I'm going to do what I think will give our players the best chance to win the game and a lot of times it's by gut feeling.

"You can't be predictable.  And you want the guys in the Red and Black to know that this guy is trying to win the game."

Just remember that before you leave your seat.

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