Such a cool day in the city Monday. Have to love how much it comes alive to celebrate Opening Day. Really never gets old for me. Ever since I started working down at the stadium with the videoboard team four years ago it changed my perspective even more.
We see just about every type of crazy fan on those cameras and I'm particularly thrilled about the Mr. Redlegs winter hat trend, but really I'm a sucker for anything with a mustache.
Love Scott Rolen, but Opening Day without Coldplay=victory.
Also, hope people were at pregame before team intros when Reds organist John Schutte (also a sleeveless star on keys for The Rusty Griswolds) broke out "Cincinnati Love" remix to California Love on the organ with a Talk Box. One of the coolest things ever. Don't worry, it will be back again, but he's raised the bar for cool things an organist has ever done. (Disclaimer: That list probably isn't very long)
All that said, no single event brings everyone in the city together more -- even if a third of the fans Monday won't be back to a game the rest of the year.
This baseball craze will probably continue through the homestand which makes UC's game Saturday against Louisville at GABP following Reds-Nats all that much better. Can't say enough how great of an idea this is for not only UC baseball but for baseball in the city. This will help open the eyes to the city about college baseball, even if they don't stick around to watch the game. Keeping in the conversation UC baseball and the incredible deal they deliver at Marge Schott Stadium is a public relations home run (See what I did there? Home run is a baseball term, you know).
And if you don't have tickets to the Inaugural Reds Collegiate Invitational, you can get them here through the UC site. Also, as a reminder UC baseball plays at Wright State today and home against Toledo on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Good talk, let's eat ...
--- Hope everyone found some time to read my story on DC Art Kaufman and Tommy Tuberville. These guys are the epitome of football-crazy boys from down South. Love the way they talk about the game. My first job in this business was came in 2004 at a small paper in Arkansas where I covered the Gulf South Conference. Southern Arkansas where Tuberville played and Arkansas-Monticello where Kaufman played were in the conference. That is good-ole-boy football where the game is all that matters. Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for those hours on hours where Tuberville and Kaufman were talking about football in their early days. Both can tell a story.
Speaking of, few extras from my interview with the DC. Found this interesting and one of the biggest differences between this coaching staff and the last one. Butch Jones and his crew were very, um, vocal in yelling at players during both practice and the game. Just ask anyone within a two-mile radius of the microphone he yelled into during practice.
Kaufman had this to say about his coaching style:
"I'll holler as much as I need to holler," he said. "But I know this, if I'm hollering all the time they tune you out."
Along the same lines, more from Art on how he goes about getting all this new information to take hold with his players:
"As we are putting stuff in, we have a system of how it goes in and the progression. I know this, if he can't tell me what I said then he doesn't know it. I'll give the information and turn around and say, tell me what you heard. Then get up here put it on the board and teach it. They can't do that then I know they don't have it. And we'll go over and over until they get it out."
The vocal style fit Butch's passionate ways, everyone is different. Not better or worse, different. In the end, the record will show which was better.
--- UC will hold their open football practice Saturday at 10 a.m. at Sheakley Athletic Complex. It will be followed by the youth clinic. With the UC-Lou game at GABP later in the day, should be a full one all-around for Bearcats athletics.
--- Travis Kelce will hold his Pro Day on Thursday at UC. Will be curious to see his 40 time. We saw his burst this season, particularly in the Belk Bowl against Duke. If he can post a great number to back up what everyone saw in that game, could secure him at least a second-round pick. At last look, Todd McShay has him sitting around the top of the third round.
--- Phil Steele ranks UC's schedule118th out of 124 in difficulty next season. Tough to know at this point, too many variables, but as I've said before, sweeping a winnable B1G double dip (Purdue, Illinois) could mean quite run to Rutgers, Louisville late in the year if the team clicks.
--- NC State's CJLeslie is going pro and with New Mexico's Alford headed to UCLA, the Bearcats non-con schedule for next year grew slightly more favorable.
--- Eatocracy busts5 BBQ myths. And they are right, Texans aren't the only ones that know how to do BBQ. Of course, if you are looking for an expert on BBQ, you can just talk to your head football coach. He can talk BBQ all day.
--- With the return of baseball yesterday means the return of Joey Votto. So there's this. Have a great day everybody and shoot any questions or comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman and head coach Tommy Tuberville go back to their playing days in the obscure colleges of rural Arkansas, but their football coaching chemistry has never changed.
CINCINNATI -- Tommy Tuberville and his current defensive coordinator Art Kaufman both plugged away as low-level assistants throughout their early career, as all coaches do. Those days tend to be as long as the climb to the top rung of the coaching ladder.
Neither Kaufman nor Tuberville were on the same staff during those days in the 1980s and early 90s, but lived in the same circles. You see, both growing up in the South as former players from small, Division III Arkansas schools, coaches not crossing paths would defy the science of that football-crazy region.
When those paths did cross, the intersections didn't last for minutes with a handshake and hello. They drug on for hours, days. They only occasionally veered from football. No need. Not with two coaches so infatuated with the details and intricacies of the game.
"We used to talk football together when we were both assistants," Tuberville said. "Sit down for hours and talk and watch film."
During those sessions of stories and stats, a friendship based in philosophical agreement blossomed.
"We were kind of on the same page," Tuberville said, "kind of speak the same language."
The language matched more than dueling southern drawls. They found a bond over technique. It leads every discussion of teaching and learning the game with both of them. Both rose in ranks as linebackers coaches dedicated to teaching correct form to every step. So, when time came for Tuberville to find a defensive coordinator for his first head-coaching gig at Ole Miss, he wanted someone fluent in his language.
"You got to know what to do and how to do it," Kaufman said. "Making plays is technique, that's what it's all about. Defensively, if you are not a technician then the other team has to screw it up for you to make a play."
The trusted symmetry between Tuberville and Kaufman sat at the centerpiece of the revitalization of Rebels football that eventually led the head coach to Auburn and Texas Tech. Yet, entering last season in Lubbock, Texas, Tuberville boasted a disastrous defense that finished 2011 ranked 114 out of 120 FBS teams in yards allowed.
Tuberville needed someone able to return to the roots of great defense and what he preaches. So, 14 years after last coaching together, he reached to the roots of his own head-coaching career.
"He said, we got an opening, you want to get this thing going?" Kaufman said. "He had a couple of guys that I knew on the staff. I went out there and we talked. He said, 'Hey, here's what I need.' I said, 'Hey, that's what I'm looking for. Let's roll.'"
Roll they did. Wheeling out a Rosetta Stone of defensive football in the South, Kaufman transformed the defense through technique and simplicity into a top 40 unit in total yardage allowed, moving up 76 spots in the national rankings.
Molding a group enduring their fourth coordinator in four years, Kaufman relied on a system trimmed as far down to bare bones as necessary to assure each player understood their job fully. Remove complexity if necessary and let players react.
"Art is one of those that will never give up on technique," Tuberville said. "He'll never get in a game and panic. If we are not playing very well, we'll go back to base defense and play that. That's what I like about a coach."
The base will be a 4-3 with a principle focused on avoiding busted plays. A confident, consistent and persistent defense represent the characteristics of what would be Kaufman's ideal group.
"No. 1, (my ideal defense) knows what they are doing and smart," he said. "They chase the ball and they are physical when they get there. They don't bust, I've been around them when mistakes were made. We're not going to have any issues with that; whatever we got to do to make it simple enough. Two, we are going to chase the ball and be physical."
Kaufman hopes they'll execute all the philosophies he and Tuberville droned on and on about for hours decades ago. As much as the faces, lives and locations change between these two, the football doesn't. It's what bonds them. It's why they are together in Cincinnati.
"The thing that I'm adamant about and so is he, the little things, technique," Tuberville said. "You can line them up and run them through gaps all you want but if you don't play technique you can't beat some teams that are probably better than you. Football is a sport where you got to put 11 guys out there and they got to play well together. Only way to do that is to play your position and continue to stress that."
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When the black and red game jerseys were slipped over top of the shoulder pads of the Bearcats players at Paul Brown Stadium, an explosion of ooohhhs filled the locker room.
This may have been a spring afternoon about six months from the first real football game of the season. This may have technically been listed as practice No. 11 on the schedule. However, make no mistake, this Saturday scrimmage at PBS felt as close to gameday as possible without 35,000 fans awaiting outside the tunnel.
"I had a couple jitters coming out here before the scrimmage," defensive end Silverberry Mouhon said.
Want to learn who responds to bright lights? Want to witness who rises to the occasion in a charged environment? Saturday's change of venue allowed a glimpse inside the gameday reactions of Tommy Tuberville's new team.
"We practice every single day we have the same atmosphere," cornerback Deven Drane said. "I know I got real hyped when we came out to the Bengals stadium and saw people like Marvin Lewis was out there. I know a lot of people had a lot of fire."
Both sides let the emotions out during an hour and a half of football under ideal 61-degree conditions in downtown. Mouhon stomped around the backfield with his arms flailing following a tackle in the backfield. Two goal-line touchdowns by RB Anthony King prompted celebrations with all the excitement a fourth-quarter score against Louisville. With a fresh staff evaluating every position battle with a new set of eyes and zero preconceived notions, a day like this made for one of the most important moment to date of the Tuberville era. Or at least it felt that way to the players.
"As far as the speed and consistency to be able to run your plays consistently it was the same as a game atmosphere," Mouhon said. "Just missing the fans yelling and screaming, but other than that, it was the same thing everywhere."
As for those who rose to the gameday atmosphere, Mouhon and Drane led the way on a day where the defense left their stamp on PBS. Drane hauled in an acrobatic interception in the end zone along with four more pass break-ups. He looked every bit the shutdown corner Tuberville needs him to be next year.
Mouhon, fighting for playing time at a defensive end position wide open to replace Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills, pulled down a twisting interception of Munchie Legaux as well as one and a half sacks.
The running game didn't produce much for UC, but the potent weapon of Brendon Kay's deep ball showed its face again. Kay connected on a 44-yard bomb to WR Chris Moore for a touchdown. The sixth-year senior showed more consistency with the deep ball than any QB through the end of last season and thus far through spring practice.
Despite the highlight to Moore, the day was also filled with a bevy of dropped passes and missed assignments for the offense. Tuberville didn't sound discouraged in the aftermath. In fact, after a first scrimmage where the offense played better than the defense, Saturday's switcheroo felt like normalcy.
"It was obvious that our defense was ahead of our offense today," Tuberville said. "You better be ahead on defense in the spring, I'll tell you that. If your defense is not ahead of your offense than you are going to have problems in the Fall."
The coach can attest to that and after this injection of energy Saturday, he owns a better feel for how this team will react come Fall.
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With the bubble top lifted off the Sheakley Athletic Complex on Friday and sun drenching the turf, a fresh feel came over the latest session of spring practice.
That feel will dramatically change again Saturday when UC takes to Paul Brown Stadium for a full-uniform, full-contact scrimmage. And nobody will taste the difference more than the quarterbacks.
"Big day for the quarterbacks (Saturday)," Tommy Tuberville said. "We are going to do a lot of different things on defense and get in their face and try to make them make mistakes. We'll see how they handle it. I've been impressed with the quarterbacks. Mentally they have handled it pretty well."
In the first scrimmage, Brendon Kay went 7 of 11 for 115 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. Munchie Legaux was 8 of 15 for 150 yards with one TD and an interception. They've both been asked to handle quite a lot during this run of spring practices. On top of soaking in a new offense along with the rest of the team, demands have been placed upon them to know the job of every position on every play.
With the two weeks of practice time away due to spring break and cold weather, Tuberville and his staff installed 20 percent more of the offense and defense.
That means 20 percent more audibles, hot routes and protections slides to call off at the line. All this under duress unseen thus far in the Tuberville practice era. He wants to learn what his QBs are made of and he wants to know learn as soon as possible. No rush exists to officially name a starter in the battle between Kay and Legaux, but the two must both be pushed to begin peeling the layers.
"It's as much of a gameplan as we've had entering the scrimmage," Kay said. "We can see what we are able to do and see what this offense is made of. He's challenging the quarterbacks, but on offense everyone has to be on the same page."
Tuberville didn't discount the possibility a starting quarterback could be named at the end of camp, but didn't seem concerned about the designation, either.
"We just have to wait and see," Tuberville said. "There might be a distinguishable difference at the end of spring between Munchie and Kay. We just have to wait and see. Really not concerned about it they are all taking the same number of reps."
Certainly, there would be advantages and disadvantages to knowing the starting quarterback before fall practice. Tuberville says in the past he's done it both ways, where the starter was known or a battle brewed through camp. Regardless, with so many practices before Aug. 31 against Purdue, any starting position comes with an asterisk: *Subject to change.
For Kay, who didn't find out if he was playing days, hours or even minutes before games last year, being prepared for all scenarios comes with the territory. He doesn't know another way.
"I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity," Kay said. "It's there."
The next step comes Saturday.
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Basically, UC will play at The Big House on Sept. 9, 2017 and the basketball teams will play a home-and-home series sometime between the '15 and '18 seasons.
What does all this mean? Well, there are a number of interesting trends to result as a fallout to this significant deal.
1) While most people will discuss the football impact, I believe a greater development to come out of this is the home-and-home basketball series to go along with it. For years, Mick Cronin has chased down relevant home-and-home series with powers or like teams. Too often as the program rebuilt he was met with a thanks, but no thanks by major programs.
As part of the development of UC's rebuild the prospect of a major opponent coming to Fifth Third didn't contain the payoff they desired. Coming into the arena and winning was much more difficult than the national folks would give a on opponent credit for, so they would rather pass and either play in a large neutral court game host the Dukes, North Carolinas or Kansas types of the world.
This home-and-home signifies UC turning the corner in perception and beginning to win over the major programs to match up for games that will excite the fan base and establish significant non-conference matchups. As Cronin has often said when critics challenged his schedule, he'd love to schedule a home-and-home against Duke (or insert major program here) but the Blue Devils don't want to come here. Didn't make sense for them.
Playing series against Cincinnati is beginning to make sense for those seeking national respect now. That's a sign the Bearcats have officially garnered theirs.
2) That check will be for $1.2 million. Make that out to University of Cincinnati. They'll be sure to deposit it immediately.
3) The Bearcats have found a match with the B1G. Over the next six years UC will play six B1G opponents. Over the previous six years, they played none. That last UC games against the Big 10 came in 2006 when they traveled to Ohio State, in 2005 they traveled to Penn State, losing both games.
Here's the schedule going forward:
2013: Purdue, @Illinois
2014: @Ohio St.
2018: @Ohio State
The B1G provides a unique setup to allow fans a short drive while at the same time keeping quality opponents on the non-conference schedule. I heard from a number of people on Twitter yesterday talking about how they love traveling to these games and will certainly be making the trek to Ann Arbor in 2017.
"The 1.2 million guarantee to play at Michigan is nice, it certainly helps our budget," Whit Babcock said to Lance McAlister last night on 700WLW. "What I really like is it's a four-hour drive or so, something our fans can travel to, that has some appeal. We certainly don't do it just for money."
Those comments from Whit echo similarly for all the B1G games on the slate and it's clear the program has latched on to the concept of this conference being a great one to be associated with for games.
4) Drawing the home-and-home for football didn't materialize. Getting Michigan to come to the city to play never came into the discussion, according to Whit.
This administration isn't a huge fan of one-game road trips, but throwing the basketball package in there along with the money made it a deal worth doing. Don't expect this to open up a run of one-game road payouts, the Michigan name, proximity and basketball connection made this a unique situation.
5) Thanks to Twitter follower @dcweisbrot for the idea that the UC-Michigan games will serve as a perfect opportunity to bring back the 1992 unis as throwbacks. Remember, the last time these two teams played in hoops was the 1992 Final Four game.
Those '92 jerseys and shorts were pretty spectacular and along with the 2001 Jordan line jerseys rank atop my list of throwbacks I'd love to see happen. No better chance than this, which could come at the 25th anniversary of that Final Four matchup.
Moving on, let's eat ...
--- Some discussion of next year's basketball schedule has come up since the end of the season. Although, UC will be in the Currently Unnamed Conference, they will still have Louisville (1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament), Memphis (6 seed), Temple (9 seed) and UConn (ineligible) on the slate next year. The top will still be no joke.
It makes for a delicate dance, but expect the non-conference schedule to be beefed up to compensate for the weaker bottom half of the league anchoring the strength of schedule numbers.
For now, we know San Diego State (7 seed) and NC State (8 seed) will both be coming to Fifth Third Arena with a trip to New Mexico (3 seed) and The Pit also on the itinerary. There are others in the works yet to be finalized, but it will be far from a cakewalk. For now, with a likely rotating schedule, you're looking AT LEAST 9 games against NCAA tournament teams on the schedule with probably 3-5 more on the list by the time all is said and done.
This is his dream job, he references that repeatedly, he finally built it up into what he wants it to be and is able to be around his family every day. The UC administration is dedicated to keeping him here and is willing to make sure his loyalty is rewarded.
I was lucky enough to catch a great stand-up act at GoBananas this past weekend when Nick Vatterott just killed it. That's part of what I like about GoBananas, some of the headliners aren't as well known, but you can catch a really incredible under-the-radar comedian there most of the time.
--- In honor of the Michigan deal, here's some Bob Seger (he's from Ann Arbor, I know because the Internet said so). Have a great day everybody and shoot me any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Mick Cronin mentioned on Monday that Titus Rubles, despite his struggles and criticism, enjoyed "a really good year for a first-year guy." The expectations for JuCo transfers adjusting to the major college game to instantly make an impact would be rare.
Rubles finished the season averaging 5.9 points, 5.9 rebounds (team-high), 2.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game. The biggest problem became his lack of consistent outside shooting. He was 4 of 43 from 3-point range. Cronin pointed out a major concern in his shot (thumb on side of the ball) that he didn't want to mess with during the year but will be fixed this offseason.
More importantly, when talking about the success of junior college players the first year they transfer it's important to keep in perspective the associated learning curve. Seeing Rubles potential likely skewed the view of expectations the Bearcats fans and staff have for Rubles, but looking around at a typical performance it's clear he fell in line with the standard.
Here are Titus Rubles statistics per 40 minutes played this year (he averaged 21.8 minutes per game):
I tracked down the top six JuCo recruits who attended major conferences that have completed their time there in order to find like profiles to Titus Rubles. Here are the results with averages per 40 minutes of play.
Player, School, Position: Junior year points per 40 min/Assists per 40 min --- Senior year points per 40/Assist per 40
Pierre Jackson, Baylor, PG: 17.8/7.6* --- 22.9/7.8*
Faisel Aden, Washington St., SF: 20.0/5.0 --- 24.1/5.1
Bernard James, Florida St., PF: 15.4/11.6 --- 16.3/11.2
Adrien Forbes, Auburn, PF: 9.1/6.8 --- 6.7/8.4
Lazeric Jones, UCLA, G: 12.8/5.1* --- 16.2/4.9*
AVERAGE: 12.9/8.9 --- 14.8/8.9
--- The biggest thing about these numbers to remember is that this is based on points per 40 minutes, this strictly measures efficiency. This doesn't even take into account the extra minutes the majority of these JuCo transfers earned in their senior seasons. For their efficiency to rise by two points per 40 minutes is a significant leap.
--- With Rubles averaging 21.8 minutes per game this year, depending on his improvement and progress of incoming players he could see a spike in his minutes to around the 25-minute area. The junior struggled with his shot and turning the ball over. If Cronin can reclaim the confidence of Rubles from Vegas and tweak his technique to be more consistent his game could open up as teams begin to respect his outside shot more.
This is not to say he will magically become Ricardo Ratliffe or Faisel Aden --- there is no precedent to expect more than a 25 percent jump in production -- but he could become a legitimate offensive option enduring fewer of the miscues that littered his junior year.
--- The grander point is to expect Rubles to enter UC and instantly be a dominant force would be hoping for a rare occurrence. There are but one or two a year that make an overwhelming impact. Would both parties have liked better? Sure. But keep perspective.
In fact, this year, of those in the JuCo Top 15 (jucorecruiting.com) that played, only Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss averaged better than 14 points per game and only five players averaged double figures. Without going through the entire list of JuCos, I can tell you there aren't likely any more in the entire class who notched double figures. Plus, his 5.9 rebounds ranks among the best in the group.
The final Mick Cronin Radio show took place last night at The Montgomery Inn on 700WLW. Dan Hoard and Mick took stock in the season and spent some time looking forward. It was, as you would expect, a fantastic listen.
You can do so right here.
For today's Breakfast, I wanted to touch on a few of the comments Mick made while chatting with Dan. Again, you'll want to listen to this, especially the first segment where Mick gives a state of the program address.
--- I mentioned last week in my story on SK and Cash chasing one final run, that we may never know the true extent of Cashmere Wright's injuries this season but without another scouting report to worry about Cronin offered deeper insight into the injury that altered the season.
He pointed out that the injury to his good knee specifically took away his ability to not just drive, but more importantly, jump stop in the lane. This was a major point of emphasis in Cash's offseason in an effort to be more consistent finishing around the rim. So often early in his career he would miss layups by flying toward the basket off one foot instead of going in under more control off two.
Well, when he sprained his knee, the dramatically improved aspect of his game went out the window.
"He really worked hard at it and what was making him much more of an effective offensive player," Cronin said. "Now it was 'I have to get through the year, I can't explode, I can't land with force on that knee.' That hurt him, that hurt us."
Obviously, that allowed defenses who noticed his lack of explosion to swarm Sean Kilpatrick among other consequences. Going back and bemoaning the injury does no good now, but that's all part of why it's so difficult to win year in and year out in college basketball. One twist of the knee can dramatically alter the shape of a season. That turned out to be the case here.
Here is the comparison of his 2-point and 3-point shot percentages before and after the injury:
No groundbreaking stats here, but it continues to put into perspective how the season changed. Even when Cash began making 3-pointers late in the year he looked much more like the old Cash, but the lack of penetration in the lane was the major difference.
Before the injury, he took an average of 4.8 shots inside the arc and 5.5 shots outside it per game. After the injury, he took an average of 4.1 shots inside the arc and 6.5 shots outside it. That's one less shot driving and one more shot settling from 3 per game. It all adds up.
--- The question of SK and a decision about his senior year came up. Mick seemed to feel that won't be much of an option for Kilpatrick. What will happen is the league submits a list of prospective early entries to the NBA people and they shoot back the reality for being drafted.
Obviously, Cronin knows a long list of connected folks and talks with them often about his players.
"I'm friends with a lot of NBA people and it really hasn't been presented," Cronin said. "All I would do is submit paperwork for any good underclassmen you have. I love SK and I would advise him on what I think is best. Any player would be his decision and I would support his decision."
He went on to mention supporting Lance Stephenson's decision, whether he agreed with it or not. He's all about backing his players and trying to help them make the most informed decision as possible.
"It's his life," Cronin said. "At the end of the day all you can do is advise people and go from there. I don't want to say he would have no chance at doing it but I think it will be a stretch for him."
For what it is worth, here is a sample of some who have ranked draft prospects for this season. None have him within shouting distance of the top 60.
--- Mick talked about moving forward the need for Justin Jackson to gain weight and strength. His future won't be as an athletic wing player. He has too many ball-handling limitations for that. He'll need him to bulk up and be able to bang inside in addition to his athleticism blocking shots.
"His energy is great and we all know we need it," Cronin said. "He's got to average more points and more rebounds and he's got to get stronger. He's got to put weight on ... To play after college he'll have to be more of a physical presence, not just energizing presence. Hard to do that when guy matching up against has 20 pounds on you."
The biggest area where Jackson showed improvement this year was in his defensive rebounding.
Here's his defensive rebounding percentage over his first three years. This season he ranked in the top 200 in the country in pulling down the other team's misses:
On the flip side, his offensive rebounding percentage has stayed essentially the same:
Cronin is looking for more offensively from his sparkplug. That will most likely come on the offensive glass and be more efficient finishing. Size and power will help that. He took a dramatic drop in his field goal percentage despite being targeted more on offense this past year. His freshman and sophomore seasons he hit 52 percent of his shots. This year it dropped to 41 percent. That's a significant dip.
He'll certainly be needed for more than his 3.8 points per game given this year.
I think he was the most affected by the loss of Yancy Gates, not seeing as many open looks the big man helped create through his passing and attention paid.
--- For those clamoring for interior scoring, help is on the way. While we can't comment here on committed, but unsigned recruits, we can talk about Jamaree Strickland (6-9, 240 pounds). Mick did so last night and said this:
"He has great hands," he said. "He's a guy that can score. Defensively he'll be more of a position guy. He's like, 'Coach I got to get there right away I got to block shots like rest of guys.' I told him, don't worry about that, you are coming here to score."
With the conclusion of UC's season coming at the hands of Creighton and Doug McDermott (who, of course, couldn't make a shot against Duke) here at the Bearcats Beat I want to hand out my awards for the season that was.
The year didn't end as anybody inside UC would have like or hoped when it opened five months ago. And certainly not as well as when UC sat at No. 8 in the country in December. But that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of incredible plays, players, moments, games and performances worth chronicling.
Here we go (Reminder: These awards are mine and mine only, not discussed with coaches, players, staff):
Team MVP: Sean Kilpatrick
When determining the MVP, there was a need to assess true value. Should the dramatic change in the team without a healthy Cashmere Wright display his true value to the team? Of course, imagine what this team would have looked like without Sean Kilpatrick. In a closer battle than some would think, Kilpatrick takes this nod.
If the team needed a big shot or push toward the end of a game, it relied on SK. He finished the season averaging 17.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while earning Second Team All-Big East honors for the second consecutive season. His 36 points against Marquette marked the biggest win of the year and all his achievements came with a constant clawing, scratching, double-teaming and use of any other tactic imaginable by opposing defenses. His 3-point percentage dropped this season primarily because of so many times given the ball with five seconds left on the shot clock and nowhere else to go. The defensive attention made it more difficult for Kilpatrick but did open more one-on-one opportunities for other players.
A big decision awaits him this offseason, but nobody meant more to the Bearcats this year.Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker.
Most Improved Player: Shaquille Thomas
This award would have been up for serious debate only two weeks ago, that was before redshirt freshman Thomas left no doubt through an emergent postseason. Given an opportunity for more playing time by Mick Cronin with a switch to a more athletic lineup, Thomas took full advantage. Over the three postseason games Thomas averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in an average of 20 minutes. Prior to that in regular season conference play he averaged 1.8 points in 1.5 rebounds in 9.0 minutes per game.
His confidence looked apparent on the biggest stage of the season when he piled in a season high 12 points using a variety of pull-up jumpers, layups and athletic plays. Oh, and he did this.
After a rocky first year, Thomas appears to have found himself while entering his second year of play in the program. With the departure of JaQuon Parker, his services will certainly be needed. Honorable Mention: Cheikh Mbodj.
Toughest Player: Cashmere Wright
We may never know the severe extent of Cashmere Wright's injuries this season. We know he had to have his shoulder popped back into place about six times, according to Cronin. We know he sprained his knee bad enough that he was supposed feel pain for about a month, but played through it midseason. We know the injuries severely limited his explosion and shooting stroke during the homestretch. Yet, there was Wright, playing hurt -- as he has his whole career -- racking up the most games played of any basketball student-athlete in UC history.
An argument in this category could be made for JaQuon Parker, but that probably means redefining toughness. Parker epitomizes toughness on the court as far as never quitting and finding a way against all odds. As far as leaving any personal pain or discomfort behind in a charge to lead the team, everyone this season takes a back seat to Wright. Honorable Mention: JaQuon Parker.
People forget, Wright struggled mightily that game. He couldn't find a rhtyhm and only had six points. Yet, when he took the ball and dribbled toward the bucket only to find 7-foot center Moussa Gueye in his face. To fade away, manage to get the floater over his outstretched block attempt, slide into the first row of seats and bury the game-winner is one of the great moments in Fifth Third Arena history.
The most amazing part was Cash couldn't even see the rim and didn't know it went in until he heard the crowd reaction and saw his teammates charging toward him.
"I just shot the ball hoping," he said.
Best Play: Jackson dunk off deep pass vs. MVSU
In a non-conference game against Mississippi Valley State, the highlight play of the season occurred when JaQuon Parker attempted a steal near midcourt. As he grabbed the ball he was nearly falling out of bounds, but instead of safely tossing it into play behind him he launched a rainbow pass to Cashmere Wright down the floor. Wright didn't just track down the pass, he immediately flipped into a behind-the-back bounce for a trailing Justin Jackson, who put the exclamation point slam on the end. Phenomenal plays all around. Honorable mention: Wright buzzer-beater vs. Alabama, SK over Marquette.
Best Game: UC 71, Marquette 69 (OT)
Best Individual Performance: Sean Kilpatrick
No Cashmere Wright. A Top 25 team in the house. Allowing 50 points in the second half to the Golden Eagles. Heading to overtime. Sean Kilpatrick dropping 36, including the game-winner on a rival. Yeah, this game had it all. Epic swings in both directions and ended up with heroics from the team's MVP. Was an incredible game and the best night to be in Fifth Third Arena all year.
Kilpatrick always can be counted on for offense, but beyond his 36 points this night illustrated the intangibles that make him a special player. He withstood the mental grind of being denied the ball with a 94-foot faceguard the majority of the second half and overtime that limited his touches. He happily allowed his teammates to take advantage of the space. He then made one of the most athletic, instinctual plays of the year tracking down an overthrown pass near the sideline to save valuable seconds from running off the clock in OT. And after the game he jokingly referred to Cronin as "the little guy." He did it all. Here was the full game story from that night, all about his Kilpatrick's signature game at UC.
Honorable Mention Game of Year: Creighton, @Syracuse, Alabama.
Honorable Mention Best Individual Performance: SK vs. Iowa State (32 pts, 5 rebounds, 5 steals), Cashmere Wright vs. DePaul (20 points, 7 assists in 22 minutes before injury)
Best Storyline: Cheikh Mbodj Senior Day
Certainly my favorite gameday story to write this basketball season. The parents of Cheikh Mbodj flew in from Senegal for the week of his Senior Day game against South Florida. They hadn't seen him play basketball live in six years and hadn't seen him at all for two years. What happened next? Mbodj churned out the best 25 minutes (second half/OT) of his UC career, including a crazy block to help save the game.
This came after his parents walked out to mid-court with him before the game, all dressed in native garb. Mbodj was smiling ear-to-ear in the postgame press conference when he talked about it and one of the true good kids in college basketball finally had his great moment. And it couldn't have come at a bigger time considering how important the win against USF would prove to be toward UC's postseason aspirations. Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright steals record #FindPuffy
Best Quote: Justin Jackson
In a win against Rutgers Jackson showed off his game-changing energy with 7 points, 6 blocks and 7 rebounds and a new career high for number of #JustinJacksonMeanFace's. I wanted to get to the bottom of what type of energy goes through him when he makes a big block like the one that landed on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night.
After a few attempts to elicit the answer where he said he couldn't explain it, I fired one more attempt asking him if he could try and do his best. He then snapped off this gem to me and it fit perfectly:
"It's like getting a new pair of shoes," he said.
Best Atmosphere: The Crosstown
Concerns were abound regarding the move of The Crosstown downtown following the 2011 brawl at Cintas Center. Had this event been neutered? Did these games belong on the home court? Would people show?
Certainly, tweaks to pricing points and other exterior elements will be necessary, but it provided the best atmosphere of the season. Honorable Mention: Ring of Red vs. Marquette, Final Big East Tournament MSG.
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your favorite games, moments, plays and performances. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my winners and send me your thoughts to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
For three years Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright have been at the forefront of UC's return to national relevance, now these two friends hope to be at the centerpiece of one unforgettable final chapter. (photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)
CINCINNATI - Reality struck Sean Kilpatrick the moment he saw Cashmere Wright walk to center court at Fifth Third Arena with his family on Senior Day.
The junior from New York couldn't help it. He began to tear up.
Much of his emotional moment came in realizing the tumultuous, painful path Wright endured to reach this final chapter. Another underlying understanding tagged along that day. As much as this would be the final home game for Wright, JaQuon Parker, Cheikh Mbodj and Alex Eppensteiner, this would be the final home game for Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to play together.
This duo stood at the forefront of a movement that changed the face of UC basketball. Over the course of three seasons, they willed this program out of the dark, irrelevant corner of the college basketball landscape and into the brightest stages the game offers.
In 103 games played together they amassed 2,507 points, 72 wins against 31 losses, three NCAA tournament victories and a spot in the Big East tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden.
They've redefined the prism through which the program is viewed. They've done so not only as the team's premier players on the court, but close friends off it.
Decades from now they may better remember the moments away from basketball best, as so many alumni of the program do. They'll recall their jokes in the locker room, late nights at Waffle House or football Sundays at Hooters.
Yet, as the swan song of this rejuvenating basketball era commences Friday in Philadelphia, these two would love nothing more than write the definitive final chapter of their friendship between the lines.
"Actually, we were talking about that in the training room the other day," Kilpatrick said. "Me and him came a long way. We played a lot of games, a lot of minutes together. It's been a ride. That's something we are going to miss, but I know that he wants to go out with a bang and that's something I am going to try and help him do."
Wright, as the fifth-year senior, imparts a wise, introspective tone while discussing their careers - past, present and future. In many ways he takes on the role of older brother, even though he's actually born three days after Kilpatrick in January 1990.
When describing his backcourt partner, Wright begins and ends with an appreciation of his drive and focus.
"He's that whole other beast," Wright said of the team's leading scorer who averages 16.9 points per game. "He's that person who shows you how to put in the work and you see him put in the work and you see him getting better and you realize it. He's really outgoing, he wants the best for him but also pulls everyone alongside him with him."
On the contrary comes Wright, with his high-pitched laugh and optimistic personality. Neither of these two could have imagined how much this optimism would be necessary during a season they believed destined for elite status. Expectations altered under the pressure of the late-season losing streaks and a team as worrisome as any Mick Cronin can remember needed a fixture to keep their spirits from crumbling.
Enter Wright, with one good knee, one good shoulder and one important leadership skill set.
"One of the funniest, motivated, high-spirit guys you'll ever meet," Kilpatrick said. "Even if right after a loss and everyone is sitting here and down and everything about it, the whole room will be quiet and you'll just hear Cash, 'C'mon y'all, we all right, we all right!'"
This attitude didn't form overnight and didn't necessarily come from his youth, he learned the most from watching senior Deonta Vaughn's final season when the Bearcats finished with a disappointing trip to the NIT. Vaughn didn't post the numbers he hoped for in his final year and the external pressures were as much responsible as any defensive strategies.
"We were ranked that year," Wright said. "We came back and we lost and we made the NIT, I realized one thing with Deonta, I was looking at him he let that whole season just stress him out. When it got toward the end he was so stressed out he couldn't even help us. Me seeing that, I'm like I can't even let that happen to me."
From that moment forward, enjoying the opportunity trumped all other aspects. Combining Kilpatrick's work ethic and focus with Wright's light-hearted reality check created the culture to lift the team to new heights.
On the court, that means a look or single comment to bring the best out of each other. When you play together more than 100 games, timeouts and huddles to impart urgency aren't needed.
"He'd be the first person I look at if we are in the game and got a tough stretch going on, or going to have a tough stretch," Wright said. "He'd be the first person I'd look at, like, 'C'mon now.' He'll look at me and say, 'C'mon now, help me, do what you got to do.' We look at each other first and say, 'It's time you start playing.'"
Playing will look much different next year with Wright bound for the next level of basketball and Kilpatrick with one year of eligibility remaining. SK bellowed a laugh thinking about the amount of defensive pressure he would see returning for his final season at UC without Wright and other graduating seniors.
"I thought I'd seen double teams this year," he said. "Imagine next year."
For two players so synonomous with each other, imagining next year seems impossible to envision one without the other. Along with Parker, his running mates will be gone. So, the question of next year does still hang in the balance. Kilpatrick will have a decision to make whether to move on to a professional career or return to UC.
It's maybe the only topic these two friends don't delve deep into.
"He's got so many people asking him so many questions, that's the last thing I want to talk to him about," Wright said. "I just tell him do what is best for you and make the decision that you are going to live with and you are going to be OK with. Either decision you make, I'm fine, I'm here with you, but make the decision because of you. That's all I tell him about next year."
"It will be different," Kilpatrick said. "But then again now it will be their chance to sit there and watch me - if things did pan out the way it was -- watch me basically try to carry a team and try to sit here and really keep growing as a player."
All thought of next year ends there. The final moments of any relationship are cherished more than any others. Perspective officially hit these two. Now, extracting one final run together would mean the ultimate celebration of their basketball bond. And a symbolic reflection of a characteristic which in many ways defined them and this three-year rise to relevancy.
"We are a group that really likes proving a lot of people wrong," Kilpatrick said. "That's something that got us this far because we've always had that chip on our shoulder. We've always wanted to really sit here and prove doubters wrong. It would mean the most, especially with the ups and downs we did have. If we could make this run and on top of that get to Atlanta for Cash, that would meant he most."
It might mean the most, but wouldn't mean the conclusion. Not for these two.
"It's part of growing up, like I tell him, that's why they made phones," Wright said. "But right now everyone is grown, we all got kids. Everyone's got to do what's best for their families.
"Friendships don't end, brotherships don't end. Only thing that's going to be different is we won't be playing together in basketball."
Adult life and decisions hold on the immediate horizon for these 23-year-olds, but prolonging these final moments on the court together would make for a fitting, unforgettable finale.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or observations to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Spent much of the day down at UC yesterday and certainly no shortage of buzz in the building. I like to think everyone was talking about the massive NCAA tournament blowout podcast I put together. In a related note, I also like to think people are watching my flashy typing skills on press row during home basketball games.
Regardless, thanks to Dan Hoard, Tommy G, Rob Dauster and Darren Savino for taking the time to chat with me in what turned into an hour full of comedic stylings and all you could possibly need to know about the Bearcats in the NCAA tournament this weekend. Plus, the latest, greatest photoshop creation from VideoShane. Disappointed my face didn't get the all-white suit ensemble, though.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions shoot them to me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
As has been the case all, week here's another One Shining Moment.
Let's eat ...
--- Before I jump into more NCAA tournament talk, we have to start on one of the biggest moves to happen at UC in years. Now, this might not spike the radio talk show ratings or grab the headlines of a tournament win or the hiring of Tommy Tuberville, but make no mistake, Whit Babcock's decision to make all 19 sports operate at full scholarship allotment by the NCAA is as big a game-changing move as he's made at UC.
The decision to eliminate many scholarships to programs such as golf, baseball, swimming and track came down in 2009 and this essentially repeals that decision.
In a time when schools are chopping sports and cutting corners for money, Babcock and his staff are dedicating themselves to playing every sport at the highest level possible.
As Whit was telling me yesterday, if you say you want to be bigtime and not take a back seat to anybody, you have to back that up. This is him backing it up in the biggest way possible.
It will amount to 35-45 more schollys for Olympic sports that will gradually be added over the course of the next few years with probably an extra 15-25 next year. Few will be affected more than baseball and Brian Cleary, who has won over 400 games at UC, made evident with this statement:
"This is quite possibly the most significant development affecting the UC baseball program during my time at UC," he said. "The plan removes the largest obstacle we have faced and will allow us to pursue players in the same fashion as those schools with which we compete."
--- Here is Whit talking with Mo Egger yesterday on ESPN1530.
--- Kevin Goheen at Fox Sports Ohio wrote about how this unveils Babcock's mission and vision. As Gogo also rightly points out, this only solidifies UC's position in the grand scheme of conference realignment.
Speaking of ...
--- Details have been released about the TV deal for the current Big East with ESPN. As Brett McMurphy points out if two schools leave, the contract can be voided. While not a secret but important for UC fans, ESPN's McMurphy -- the absolute expert on all Big East realignment news -- also quotes sources as saying UC and UConn are "next in line" to move to the ACC if and when the conference gets plucked again.
Sing it, Axl.
-- OK, enough of the business side, back to the games.
--- The beginning of One Shining Moment and really every game on CBS in The Dance starts with the shot of a player dancing in the middle of the pregame huddle. As promised yesterday, I got to the bottom of who will be the UC huddle dancer on Friday. SK says they will decide on Friday, but it's pretty much down to him, Parker and Rubles. He's determined to get Cashmere Wright in the middle, but Cash informed me he only can do two steps and isn't interested in embarrassing his team on national TV. And hurting his knee trying to drop down and get his eagle on might not be greatest look.
It should be noted director of basketball operations Drew Seidenberger has been known to hop into the middle of a pregame dance huddle and sources tell me his moves have improved exponentially this year.
What is for sure is that they will be doing what's called the South Dallas Swag. Which according to this tutorial from "WhiteBoy Chris" in a high school parking lot on YouTube it is, indeed, very swaggy. No confirmation on if I will do the South Dallas Swag before beginning my story on the game.
--- My guy Dan Hoard, feeling fresh off his podcast appearance, with a fantastic piece about Mick Cronin setting a new goal for this tournament. He wants his team to have more fun than anyone else. Love this philosophy. Loose and free the only way to be with your season on the line.
--- Cashmere Wright told me really ever since the USF game when Mick started telling the team they were in the tournament, the atmosphere and attitude of the team changed dramatically. That all started with the coach loosening everything up. That was evident during Tuesday's practice open to fans -- which drew a pretty impressive number for 18 hours notice on a Tuesday afternoon.
The guys were joking, laughing and really enjoying the moment. This all feeds back into more of what Cronin said Sunday about this being one of the most conscientious, worrisome groups he's ever coached. He doesn't need to drop the hammer to keep them focused and going, he needs to relieve their self-imposed pressure.
--- As Bill Kochwrote about here, Corie Blount and Terry Nelson came down to practice to hang out and talk to the team. Mick didn't ask them specifically to come, but welcomed them. Says the door is always open to past players. Part of what makes the program great. Who better to discuss the possibilities of March?
--- The team flew out this morning for Philadelphia. They will take part in practices and media availability tomorrow. Look for all your coverage from Dan, Chuck, Tommy and the video team from the city of brotherly love all week here at GoBearcats.com. And obviously, keep it locked to the blog.