Outfielder Justin Glass emerged as the Bearcats premier player last season without ever truly being at full strength, feeling as healthy as any point in his career expectations are through the roof for the junior as UC baseball opens the season today.
CINCINNATI -- With the return of baseball season today for the University of Cincinnati with the opening game at Florida Atlantic comes the return of the Bearcats brightest young star, Justin Glass. Yet for the young outfielder the start of the season isn't just about the beginning of baseball, it's a chance for personal redemption.
An odd thought for anyone whose followed UC baseball the last two years. What could there be to redeem? After all, Glass led the team in runs, hits, RBIs, batting average and stolen bases last season while being named first team All-Big East.
Well, he earned all those accolades without playing at full strength. In fact, despite turning in two of the better freshman and sophomore seasons in recent memory around Marge Schott Stadium, Glass is yet to do so with a clean bill of health.
That is, until now.
"My expectations are really high," Glass said, promptly repeating it for emphasis. "Really high."
The redemption theme that has been building for Glass since 2010 when he graduated Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. Glass came off a season in which he shattered many of the school's all-time records, named a Louisville Slugger All-American and accepted a scholarship to UC. With his arrival on campus came lofty expectations. This is where luck began to unravel a bit for Glass, as injuries derailed the perfect start many hoped for Glass' career.
In an average college baseball season you can expect to play about 60 games, and when you consider the players are taking the field three to four times a week, it is easy to see the game can quickly become a war of attrition. Glass knows this all too well, spending the last two seasons battling through those injuries, while trying to live up to the tremendous expectations.
In his freshman year, Glass was able to start all 57 games for the Bearcats despite being hampered by a torn labrum. While he hit .326 with 45 RBI, 14 doubles and was named to the All-Big East Second Team, he knew production was far under what it could have been.
Coming off the labrum injury, and with high hopes for his sophomore season, Glass suffered from preseason appendicitis and consequently missed the entirety of the offseason. While the injury didn't physically hinder his play like the torn labrum of his first year, it did cause him to mentally lose his edge.
"I had no timing or anything," explained Glass.
Timing or no, Glass was a reliable force in the Bearcats line up, and despite missing the entire offseason; he started all 56 games in the outfield. He hit .366 with 21 doubles, 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
Glass' ability to perform at a high level while dealing with injuries thrust him into the national spotlight, and all eyes are on the Bearcats outfielder now that he will finally be playing in full force. Having been held back from his potential for two years, Glass is finally ready to get the monkey off of his back.
"I'm pumped," says Glass, "It's the first time I have been healthy in my entire career, so I'm more than happy to finally show everyone what I'm worth."
He's already proven to be a consistent force in the middle of the lineup. To play every game in his college career in spite of injury is one thing, but playing to the level he has is what makes Glass an centerpiece of the team.
"He's the type of player that can anchor your line up," Clearly said. "There aren't many guys that can hit third and he's one of them. When healthy, he can change the course of a game with his power and speed."
The team shares their coach's high regards of Glass, electing him their first team captain since the 2010 season.
"He has the overwhelming support of his teammates, and he takes the position very seriously," said Cleary, "This team means a lot to him."
Yet all the praise hasn't gotten to Glass' head, as he still feels he has a chip on his shoulder, and much more to accomplish. Going into this season, Glass has been named the sixth best pro prospect in the Great Lakes League by Baseball America and eighth best by Perfect Game. There is a growing sense that if Glass can stay healthy, and continue his tremendous performance on the field, he could be getting big league offers come draft time.
"It's kept driving me everyday," Glass said. "My family and friends are excited about the possibility, but I have to focus one day at a time and hopefully it will come. I just want to bring us the Big East championship, all the personal stuff that comes with winning is just icing on the cake."
While the young outfielder is focused on the upcoming season, he does have the occasional daydream of playing in the majors.
"It would be a dream come true if my name gets called this June," he said. "I'd be happy as heck."
The personal accolades and MLB possibilities shine in the distance, but what brightens this Friday under the Florida sun is for the first time in his collegiate career, he's been unshackled from injuries that plagued him.
"I feel great," he said. "It's the strongest and fastest I've been, mentally and physically, since high school."
Let's eat ... --- Yesterday, the football team was honored at the Ohio Statehouse for the shared Big East championship. Cool moment for the players and a proud one for the program.
--- Also, in case you missed it yesterday,Tommy G and I sat down for the latest podcast discussing a number of UC-related items. Our first seven minutes focused primarily on the Harlem Shake. The potential for a great Shake video at UC is limitless. Keep your eye out for that and give a listen to the podcast. --- The women's basketball team earned their first conference win last night against Marquette. Betsy Ross documents a game that had it all, including a game-winning inside swerve for a bucket at the buzzer by Tiffany Turner. Great assist by Dayeesha Hollins to make it happen as well.
--- The Big East is wide open folks. For anybody who thinks UC is out of the running for a double bye or to a lesser extent the regular season title, they have not been paying attention. UConn took down Syracuse last night and as Andy Katz wrote for ESPN, they have their eyes set on a regular season title since they are ineligible for all postseason play. Actually makes for a tough draw on UC, who will have to play UConn two times in their final six games. The Huskies will be battling like its the Final Four because for them it will be.
Another reason this Georgetown game is massive. Could play out for major tiebreaker implications come BE Tourney time and be the difference between double bye and having to take on the likes of St. John's in their first game.
Remember, the Hoyas still have two games left with Syracuse, so the leaders will continue to fall back to the pack. --- Otto Porter is a beast. He'll be a load to handle. The 6-8, 205-pound sophomore does it all on the court. My guess is we'll see a lot of Justin Jackson on him, but we'll talk more with Mick today about how to handle the guy.
Over the last nine games, where Georgetown lost but once, he's been phenomenal. He's averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds all while shooting 16 of 33 from long range (48.4 percent). He's dangerous everywhere on the court.
--- A call to arms of sorts was brought to my attention from marketing maven Brad Wurthman yesterday. He mentioned the lack of new big heads showing up in the student section this year and the high expectations he has for that to change Friday night. ESPN, sole Friday night stage, this needs to be a breakout game for originality down there.
I bring this up because I was on the ground floor of the big head movement here and hate to see it fade away as it has. Remember, all you have to do is take your picture to any copy spot and they'll make your head for about $9. Happy heading.
--- A fact I didn't know I also found out yesterday is that the UC Dance Team will be representing the United States in the world games. They finished second in hip hop at the nationals (amid controversy, I hear) but were chosen as the US team. Awesome. The halftime angry hip hop routine always makes me want to dance. Thankfully, I don't.
--- Here's hoping I don't get stuck with this dog behind me at a light. Seems more disciplined than Toonces the Driving Cat, though. I imagine a scenario where I lean out the window and yell back to him, "Easy on the horn, big dog," and crack myself up.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast. Today I welcome back Tom Gelerhter, our resident New Media and Broadcasting director as myself and Tommy G talk about the behind the scenes of the basketball team's big win against Villanova, the resiliency of a battered group, the addition of a baseball game at GABP, Signing Day extras with Tommy Tuberville and, most importantly, the Harlem Shake.
For those who don't know what the Harlem Shake is, it's taking over The Interwebbings. Here are some examples. We spend about the first seven minutes discussing what will be a forthcoming UC edition and what makes a great Harlem Shake.
Amazing Mike was able to churn out such greatness all while being absurdly MF'ed on The Twitters. He posted a tweet about Wildcats players having problems standing up during the game. He had clearly been tweeting from UC-Nova all night, but some UK people got a hold of it, and the tweet spread with people thinking he was ripping on Nerlens Noel, who injured his knee in a game against Florida going on at the same time.
Without anybody bothering to look at what Mike was actually talking about or paying attention to instant stream of clarifications after, the ire of an angry Kentucky fan base knows no logic. Oh, social media. You are a blessing and a curse. Purple heart of the night goes to Mike for cranking out a great piece as his mentions exploded in four-letter shrapnel in front of him.
Wanted to hit on three points we couldn't get to in last night's column.
1) Make no mistake, the pressure was beginning to mount on UC. Sean Kilpatrick said the moment he walked into the locker room Tuesday, he could only comment on the weight lifted off his shoulders coming off the two-game losing streak.
"Yes, (it was a relief), as soon as I walked in the locker room I was like it's good to have that monkey off our back. We've been scrapping and clawing. The last two games it wasn't pretty especially knowing we are capable of playing better than what we did the last two games. It's all a grind."
Mick often talks about how much he's learned over the last few years about the need to keep the distractions from creeping in the locker room. He believes it's been a big reason for the team's success, particularly late in the year as attention and pressure mounts. But, as he explains, you just can't keep everyone out. Not in this day and age.
"I'm sure they were (relieved)," Cronin said. "It's hard to insulate your team from external pressures. That is the biggest change in coaching from the 90s."
2) Lost in the shuffle of Sean Kilpatrick's 3-point bombs and Cashmere Wright's true grit was the re-emergence of JaQuon Parker's aggressiveness on offense. The 19 points where the most he scored since December against Wright State. In fact, he hadn't topped 12 points once in conference play.
When we all talk about looking for more offense from somewhere, Parker could be that guy if he asserts himself.
If you take a look, he's actually been the most efficient player on offense, he just picks his spots more carefully. The two likely go hand in hand, but as Cronin pointed out, taking only four shots as he did against Pitt "can't happen. We can't win that way."
He now leads the Bearcats in 3-point percentage (42 percent) and his splits in aggressiveness on offense between non-conference play (particularly against the tougher non-con teams) and conference play is significant. More on that later this week.
"He has to be aggressive on the offensive end," Cronin said. "Sometimes that's my fault because I talk about making the extra pass, getting each other shots, and he's so into doing what I ask him to do that I can't take his aggressiveness away."
Sidenote, is there anything more fun to watch on this team than 6-foot-4 Parker grabbing rebounds from opposing centers? Happens every game and has for years.
3) A highlight of Wright's legacy is likely to come Friday where
with his first steal will make him the school's all-time leader in that
category. He's currently tied with David "Puffy" Kennedy at 189. Kennedy played in early 80s and is actually the father of former St. John's star and current D-Leaguer for the Erie BayHawks, DJ Kennedy. If
anybody can help me track down Puffy, let me know. I'm on a mission.
Pretty funny, actually, as SK decided to open the postgame presser last night with a statement of his own in regards to Cash not breaking the record last night. Here's the video.
"Personally, I think they should have gave Cash one more to be the
all-time leader in steals and whoever didn't make that calculation is
going to have to deal with us. This guy over here worked his butt of
today and I think he deserves to have at least one more steal because he
set a record for the team today with 14 deflections. So I don't see why
he didn't get one of those steals."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email with questions, comments or your favorite Puffy memories to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
CINCINNATI -- Only minutes into the game, Cashmere Wright wasted little time proving a point --- to his teammates, to his coach, to his fans, to his critics, to Villanova, to himself.
Diving and sliding across the floor after a loose ball at the feet of a Wildcats ball-handler, he cast aside concerns of an ailing knee and bum shoulder. Only the heart would matter on Tuesday.
The early dive wouldn't be the last time he'd chestbump the logos in the 68-50 win against the Wildcats. He wiped out villages of dust mites and set up shop in their former living rooms. On a night defense and determination returned to the dialect of the Bearcats, the man teammates are supposed to be helping through frustrating injuries set the standard for intensity necessary to capture a critical conference victory.
"Our captain right here, he led us through everything," said Sean Kilpatrick glancing to his good friend seated next to him at the postgame podium. "We attacked the ball today on defense. We did a lot of trapping and made a lot of rotations. Everyone was active. We came into this game not even thinking about offense. Everyone just came in with a defensive mindset."
For Wright, this meant returning to the scrambling, diving demeanor which served as the cornerstone of late-season surges the last two seasons. He illustrated the point to perfection racking up 14 deflections, a number Mick Cronin says he can't remember another player reaching. The team totaled 46, near a season-high.
After being forced to watch every dribble of the Pittsburgh game in a meeting Cronin called "not very pleasant," he told his team they hadn't dove on the floor for a ball in the last four games. The coach admitted he might have exaggerated a bit, but the message clearly resonated.
"If we are not the hungrier team how are we supposed to win?" Wright said of Cronin's message. "That's our staple, that's what we are known by, playing hard defense and being the first one to the ground to come up with the ball. I feel like personally, me, (Kilpatrick) and JaQuon (Parker), the guards, we got to set an example. We got to be the first ones to show the people on the bench if you come in the game nothing should change. If we are on the floor, you should be on the floor."
Over the course of the last week week critics bemoaned each time Cronin referenced defense, rather than the struggling offense, to be the difference in the sumo wrestling matches the last few games devolved into. Yet, over the last two years nobody would classify the UC offense as a work of art. Around Fifth Third Arena, the calculation worked like a proven algorithm: shoot more shots, score more points. Defense equals offense.
Tough to argue with a 21-7 advantage in points off turnovers, 19 turnovers created, six more shots attempted and the widest margin of victory since Maryland-Eastern Shore. Tuesday night, UC blew dust off the old thesis for a throwback win it sorely needed if it wants to throw back to the postseason success of the last two seasons.
"Defense is the answer, deflections are the answer, loose balls are the answer and playing for your teammates with some heart and some pride is the answer," Cronin said. "Fortunately, I have some winners in the locker room playing hurt and diving all over the floor."
This result came in a three-pronged solution, part UC hustle, part Villanova's continued vulnerability to turnovers and part Cronin's calculated scheme change.
Seeking to focus a team tied for last in steal percentage in Big East play, he changed philosophy deciding to trap every pick and roll. He accustomed the philosophy to placing blinkers on an unfocused horse, forces him up in the bridle and fixated forward. For UC, trapping the pick and roll forced aggression and attacking of the basketball.
"Makes you play harder," Cronin said. "That was an adjustment we tried to make to force our guys to get up and be more aggressive instead of just worrying about playing sound defense and scouting report defense. It really helped us. They bought into it, though. It doesn't work if the kids don't play as hard as they played. They played unbelievably hard."
Enter Wright, who finished the game tied with David "Puffy" Kennedy for the all-time school steals record at 189. He finished with 11 points, four assists, three steals, two rebounds and zero turnovers. The shot continues to be a work in progress after a 3 for 14 night, but he says he's close to fully healthy from his knee sprain and the shot is beginning to feel right again.
To be fair, optimism flows better when 12 of 25 triples find the bottom of the net. The truth for this team all year will be if the deep ball drops along with defensive players to the floor, the Bearcats belong among the Big East elite. They looked like that team against the Wildcats. The challenge for Cronin entering a brutal stretch of five consecutive games against the top teams in the conference will be sustaining.
Yet, combining health with heart on the floor, coupling belief with relief were understandable inside the home locker room.
"We lost that mental aspect of being the one that's going to get everybody," Wright said. "We fell back and people started chasing us. Then we started realizing people started giving us their best shot. When you are ranked higher than other teams they come out and give you they best shot. And we were just taking it. Instead of giving it back to them we were just taking it and hoping we come up with a win at the end of the game."
No question, UC delivered the blow Tuesday. The 178-pound kid from Georgia with a bad shoulder and two bad knees led the way, one dive at a time.
"That's what people don't understand," Cronin said. "His value to our team cannot be measured on the stat sheet."
I want to hear from you! Shoot me an email with questions, comments or game reaction to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
Important gameday for the Bearcats (18-6, 6-5) tonight (8 p.m., FSOhio/700WLW). They host Villanova (15-9, 6-5) for the second of three tough home games in six days. The Big East picture gradually begins to take shape and UC currently sits tied for 9th with Villanova. That sure sounds like bad news on paper, but consider this: the Bearcats are one game in the loss column out of fourth place. And of the teams tied or in front of them on the schedule, they play six games against them down the stretch.
So many of the season goals are still right in front of them. That said, the time to make the move is here and it won't be easy.
Let's eat ...
--- As for Villanova, an interesting matchup for UC here. Nova found some mojo in recent weeks. They ripped off the best week of the Big East season with wins against Louisville and Syracuse back-to-back.
They're coming off consecutive wins by at least 23 points, though it was over DePaul and USF.
By the numbers, Villanova is third in defensive efficiency and second in FG percentage defense in the Big East during conference play. They lead the conference in two-point percentage defense. With a giant, HOWEVER, though is the fact they rank 12th in 3-point percentage defense. The only hole in their defense seems to be allowing 3s. And, as we know, these Bearcats aren't shy firing up from deep.
For those who like to yell and scream at my Twitter account about shooting too many 3s, please unfollow me tonight. --- In case you missed it, I wrote about the Cashmere Wright situation yesterday after we talked about it at length with Mick. You can read that here.
My analysis before talking to Mick was the same after hearing what the coach had to say: Cashmere Wright is too good and won too many games for this team to not dance with who brought you the rest of this season. You have to believe he will figure this out, he's figured things out through slumps before and this team is too good when he's great to try another strategy.
"He's all heart and he's giving everything he's got," Cronin said on 700WLW. "I feel terribly because he was having an All-Big East year."
--- By the way, always a great listen on the Mick Cronin Show with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Monday's was no different. Between Chuck's story about Chess Pie and Mick's marital advice to UC Chris, it doesn't miss. Here's the podcast.
--- Another topic Mick discussed was the need for defense to create more offense. He's correct. It's been one of the most interesting developments of the season.
Despite how well the Bearcats have played defensively this year, they've struggled to create turnovers in conference play. The irony is that has been a staple of this defense the last few years.
Mick even pointed out with Dan and Chuck nobody dove on the floor during the last game.
What does that amount to? About three to four steals per game. At their current points per possession that equals about three points a game. Think that matters in a year when most every game has come down to the final play? Better believe it.
Tonight will be the perfect time to return to the roots of turning people over. Villanova ranks dead last in conference play in turnover percentage on offense. They're averaging almost 15 turnovers in each of the last three games. They are certainly vulnerable there. --- Scott over at Bearcats Blog decided tobreak down the crunchtime shooting over the last seven games, which most have come down to the wire. Some very interesting, revealing analysis and worth a read.
--- Georgetown might be the best team in the Big East right now. They took it to Marquette last night. Otto Porter is so versatile, he becomes almost impossible to guard at times. But we have the rest of the week to talk about Friday's game.
Still, when's the last time anybody actually watched wrestling in the Olympics? Oh, and understood what was going on?
Sitting in front of your TV, on the edge of your seat, yelling out, "Nearfall!" Yeah, I didn't think so. --- Just when you thought allzombie alerts come from Florida. Good work bored Montana hackers. --- This is what happenson Tuesday nights in Key West. And was probably not even noticed by passersby. Part of the reason I had to move away from there six years ago.
--- The Harlem Shake is happening. And I don't know that we can stop it now. I'm honestly not sure what it is, only that I'm probably too old to do it. Although, I wouldn't mind being an extra in this T-Pain rendition.
As always, I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email with questions, comments or your Harlem Shake video to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
As expected Monday, the topic turned to Cashmere Wright and his offensive struggles since returning from the knee sprain suffered against DePaul.
Wright was 1 of 11 from 3-point land in a loss to Pittsburgh and 6 of 35 since in the first games since returning. He's scored 39 points in the five games (7.5 ppg), that's less than half his season average entering the game against the Blue Demons. The five-game run is his lowest such stretch of the season.
Mick Cronin admitted after Saturday's game the senior from Savannah, Ga., is playing through some pain and it's affecting his game. His toughness is undeniable and the fact he's able to push through what's ailing him a testament to the gritty type of player he's become.
At that concept a conversation emerged as to what should be done, if anything, to help Wright return to his pre-injury form which was arguably the best basketball he's played in his UC career.
Should he rest whatever is ailing him and take a break? Should they work on the technical aspect of his shot? Should more minutes filter to Ge'Lawn Guyn? Or should he be left alone because he's earned the right during one of the best careers of the Cronin era to work out of his slump on his own.
Cronin assured any issues with Wright are not mechanical, rather a result of the extended period of time he was shut down during his injury.
"There's no question he lost his rhythm," Cronin said. "When he was injured he wasn't even shooting around. We had to totally shut him down, the only thing he did was get in the pool a little bit. There's no way you can do that in the middle of the season and have it not affect you. So, he keeps giving us as much as he can give us. Hopefully he's able to get back in some sort of comfort zone down the stretch."
History suggests sticking with Wright would be the correct move. Take a look at this time last year. On this date last year he was
entering the tail end of a five-game stretch where he struggled at 3 for
14 from long range (21 percent). What happened next? He hit 10 of his next 19
sparking a UC run to five wins in six games and double-bye in the Big East tournament.
At the suggestion he should rest a few games to be sure he returns to shape for the postseason would be among the worst case scenarios in the mind of the head coach, who again assured the senior guard is healthy or he wouldn't be playing.
"What happens is when you lose your condiitioning because you are not practicing and you miss so many games maybe you lose your confidence a little bit as well as your rhythm," he said. "He just has to try to get his confidence back in practice. The problem is he hasn't been playing. When you don't play you have no rhythm in basketball."
As for the concept of more minutes for sophomore backup PG Ge'Lawn Guyn, his inconsistencies shooting the ball in games has limited his minutes. He's averaged five minutes the past three games, though contributed a critical three-point play in the second half Saturday. He's 5 of 17 from the field in conference play for 5.45 points per every 40 minutes on the floor.
"He struggles at times defensively off the ball but his on the ball intensity and his on-the-ball defense is really good," Cronin said. "He hasn't been able to knock down a high percentage of open shots. Although, he works really hard on it. In all of our practices and all of our drills he's a high percentage shooter. So, it's been frustrating to see him not be able to get it going from the perimeter as a perimeter shooter because he's a guy that makes them in practice and makes them in drills.
"It's hard to get any kind of rhythm when you are a guy that's not getting a majority of consecutive minutes."
Moral of the story, sure, Cash may be struggling but you dance with who brought you. And this senior has brought Cronin and the Bearcats a plethora of wins over the course of his career. He earned the right for as much as he's carried this team to work his way out of the current slump.
Frustrating for Wright? Yes. Then again, this guy made a career of bouncing back from tough situations and dealing with injuries. If anybody knows how to slough off frustration, it's No. 1. I want to hear from you. Send me your questions, comments and hop in line with theories on how you would help Cashmere Wright by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or hitting me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
An event allowing the Bearcats baseball team to follow the Reds at Great American Ball Park represents a perfect fit not only for both organizations, but for a collection of players enjoying a dream scenario.
Bearcats junior outfielder Justin Glass happened to catch wind UC would play a game following the Reds at Great American Ball Park this season much before Reds COO Phil Castellini took to the podium at the Riverfront Club on Friday night to make the formal announcement of the Reds Collegiate Invitational between UC and Louisville.
Glass couldn't tell anyone. With news of this magnitude, keeping a secret proved harder than hitting a curveball.
"It was tough holding it from my teammates," Glass said. "I think we all dream of playing on a major-league field at some point. To do that in front of this community and we have to do it against Louisville, our rival, too, makes it even better."
The game will take place Sunday, April 6, 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Reds 1:15 p.m game against the Washington Nationals. An idea which originated inside the Bearcats licensing department and caught momentum once Castellini and the Reds took hold of it will be the first collegiate game held at GABP.
When ideas with this many benefits come along, the initial response from nearly everyone connected with its inception sounded like a small variation of the same question: Why has this not happened before?
Two teams who wear the name Cincinnati across their chest serve as a perfect match. A Reds organization that invests as much in the community as any sports team in the country relishes an opportunity to cultivate baseball inside the city. When the Castellini family took over six years ago, they funded nine youth baseball teams. Today they fund nearly 500. In the same respect, the Reds Community Fund grew from $500k to $2 million over the time span.
To continue to connect with the city while drawing more attention to their own elite product only ices the cake.
Having lived in Cincinnati only 16 months, it didn't take long for UC AD Whit Babcock to understand the dynamics of this area. This is a Reds town. They're as beloved and engrained in the fabric as chili on spaghetti. Babcock's been searching for as many ways as possible to forge a partnership.
"Obviously the Reds are so well established," he said. "I really like the energy, I like everything about coming down to the ball park so we want to align ourselves with them. And the big buzz word these days is branding, I want our brand to align with the Reds brand and hopefully they can get some mileage out of it, too, because it's another way for them to give back to Greater Cincinnati."
Babcock even briefly explored the concept of playing a football game at GABP, possibly around Thanksgiving, before the logistics became impossible.
"That would work as long as the field is 85 yards long," he said. "Then we could do it."
In an era of forced events for publicity like shoving the corner of an end zone against the ivy at Wrigley Field or condensation on the basketball court of an aircraft carrier, this combination fits snug. The list goes on: feasibility, beneficial for both sides, promotes baseball, connects the city, grows the brand, helps recruiting and draws national attention to Cincinnati.
Oh, and too often forgotten in the business landscape of college athletics, this event makes for one heck of an experience for a collection of young baseball players.
"You pick up a glove, you want to play in the big leagues," said baseball coach Brian Cleary, the Bearcats all time wins leader with 412. "Most of our guys won't get a chance to do that but they will now have a chance to play in a big-league stadium, same place the big-league guys do, like the big-league guys do."
Of course, that may come with the task of calming down players dreaming of hitting a home run at GABP instead of focusing on the job of beating a Louisville team ranked No. 4 nationally preseason by Baseball America. A great problem to have thanks to an idea Babcock hopes will continue for years to come.
"We try to turn our focus back to the student-athlete experience," Babcock said. "For them to get a chance to play out there will be a great experience. If we can beat Louisville, even better."
I want to hear from you. Shoot me any questions, comments or exaggerated stories of your glory days of youth baseball to email@example.com or on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
In the aftermath of a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh, Mick Cronin and the Bearcats focused on toughness rather than a struggling offense in attempting to dig out of a recent funk.
CINCINNATI -- As the Bearcats worked the ball inside and outside the Pittsburgh zone defense, it eventually kicked out to Sean Kilpatrick standing in his favorite spot in the corner, the defender out of position.
From a spot where he's buried countless 3s during his career at a higher percentage than any spot on the floor hit the rim and bounced into a mob of Panthers.
A possession later, movement inside created a kick out to Cashmere Wright standing at the top of the key, a spot where he's been most comfortable shooting during a season where he knocking down 40 percent from deep.
It slipped in and out.
More triples would follow, some contested, most not. Most were of the high percentage variety into the wheelhouse of this team's best players in positions where they've made a career burying during NCAA tournament runs.
Following the 62-52 loss to Pittsburgh during which UC didn't manage a field goal in the final 9:21 of regulation, walking out of Fifth Third Arena in a frustrated fury muddling about how the offense stinks would be a cop out and lack a deeper introspection.
The Bearcats offense created open shots, maybe as many as they have in weeks. On this night, in the second half, they didn't fall. That happens. Nobody wants it to happen and certainly not in the final minutes of a critical conference game leaving UC (18-6, 6-5) at a crossroads one month from Selection Sunday. Yet, an offense under scrutiny will take undue criticism in the aftermath of Saturday night.
Clearly, Mick Cronin wouldn't buy bad offense theories during a press conference that amounted to the most frustrated eight minutes and 25 seconds we've seen of him this season.
"You can sit there and say, boy Cash and SK had some wide open looks when they went zone," Cronin said. "Yeah, they did. But where I come from you have to win when you don't make shots. Right now we are not tough enough to beat a good team."
Winning without making shots comes as easy as not sticking out in a red shirt among the whiteout crowd. Yet, going the first 15 minutes of the second half without an offensive rebound while so many were available sent Cronin into a speech on his team's need to find a way to finish the job.
Kelvin Gaines, David Nyarsuk and Chiekh Mbodj combined for one offensive rebound among 36 missed shots.
"You got to be tough enough to beat a good team, do whatever it takes," Cronin said. "There's a difference between giving effort and giving the effort required to win the game. Tonight when we weren't making shots the effort required to win the game was for our five man to get a rebound. The effort required was to be perfect on defense. Our effort wasn't good enough to win. That's all I'm interested in."
Certainly, the devil's advocate will shrug at toughness and point to the numbers. And rest assured they are disappointing for UC.
The Bearcats finished Saturday 4 of 25 from 3-point range. They missed their final 14 shots. Kilpatrick went 0 for 7 after halftime following one his most efficient halves of the season to open the game.
Cashmere Wright continues to struggle with his shot since the injury. After weeks spent as the best player on the court every time he took the floor, he's hit just 6 of 35 from 3-point range (17 percent) since coming back. This from a player who was knocking them down at a 46 percent clip.
"Let's just be honest, guys, the kid is giving everything he's got," Cronin said. "He's playing hurt, it's obviously affecting his game."
His struggles filter down to the rest of the team and UC certainly must find a way to convert under the current circumstances. A common misunderstanding would be toughness revolving only around defense. Quite the contrary. A significant part of developing toughness means finishing around the rim and fighting for rebounds, which Cronin focused on after the game.
To contend the offense is a broken mess would mean only looking at the box score and not the film.
"I think our offense was fine today, we just had a lot of defensive breakdowns," Kilpatrick said. "We are sharing the ball, that is all that matters."
February may be the shortest month, but means the most in terms of momentum. Over the past two seasons, the Bearcats found a way to fight out of a funk as the outside tossed dirt on them. Even sitting on a podium five feet removed from the UC backdrop Saturday night, Kilpatrick sounded like a player with his back pressed against directly against the wall.
"There's a lot of teams around the country that tends to fold ... that can't be the case at all," Kilpatrick said. "We got to want it more than the other team and today that didn't happen. We know what we are capable of and we know if we continue to keep playing the way we played the last two games it won't be good. We will get out the trench."
Little time exists for digging. Villanova (15-9, 6-5) and Georgetown (17-4, 7-3) arrive in Clifton for two games in five days and the relentlessness of the Big East shows up like a bullying post move from Steven Adams.
As Cronin referenced before making his final statement of the night and leaving, worrying about wide open misses would be a waste of time. The law of averages will center themselves. Worrying about converting the difficult buckets around the basket and finding ways to claw out victories remain a better use of time.
"You go to find a way to win," Cronin said. "And the answer is to toughen up and get the job done. So, obviously, I got work to do." I want to hear from you. Shoot me your comments, questions and any theories you'd like to offer up to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Going to keep this to three primary points this Friday and let you all get on with your day. Reminder for the weekend: UC hosts Pittsburgh at 6 p.m. on Saturday, it's a white out for those of you concerned with color coordination.
Let's eat ...
Point 1 -- Met with Mick Cronin yesterday and, not shockingly, the conversation of offense came up. There no secret that the offensive efficiency of the Bearcats will decide how far they go. Of late, the concern has been an over-reliance on Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. In the process, Wright has struggled since returning from his sprained knee.
The last four games, he's topped six points only once (17 vs. Seton Hall) and had nine turnovers with nine assists. Far from the same Cash we saw in the two weeks leading up to his injury where he essentially carried the team on his back. Wright is one tough amigo and is obviously playing through some issues right now, likely both physical and mental.
He needs to play better, sure, but he's far from alone. UC just doens't shoot a good enough percentage from the field right now. They've topped 37.5 percent from the field only once in the last seven games. For Cronin, he believes that problem stems from passing.
In the last five games the Bearcats have notched more assists than turnovers only one time.
"Shooting percentage to me is a direct reflection of passing," Cronin said. "That's been a struggle for us all year. The last five games our leading assist total guys are Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and then JaQuon Parker. We have got to do a better job of doing things to get each other open. Whether it is the screen or the pass and understanding the importance of that and not relying on guys to save the day. That really reared its head on us (Wednesday) and has really been our Achilles heel."
The latest talking point revolved around SK and Cash trusting their teammates and not trying to be heroes. That was most evident in the final play Wednesday with Kilpatrick attempting to draw a foul against a double team instead of passing off for a teammate. It's a matter of believing that other players can score and setting them up more often to do so with the pass.
"You got two guys on you, if you are being pressured 20 feet from the rim and there is a guy open tbree feet from the rim, we got to get that guy the ball," Cronin said. "We've all struggled with that. No doubt about it. Too much dribbling -- sideways, too. Too much screening not enough passing."
Point 2 -- Teams lose. It happens. While addressing concerns is necessary and a bigger picture must involve improving offensive efficiency, take a look around college basketball.
Kansas falls against TCU. Florida lost at Arkansas. Indiana beaten at previously struggling Illinois. That's just in the last few days.
Lose a game, particularly in the fashion UC did and the national types love to bail. It's happened before and is happening again. Just take a look at the ESPN Power Rankings with UC all way down at No. 8. Surviving the attrition of the season will tell the ultimate story.
"At the end of the day if could call Bill Self and we could figure out how to make sure our teams don't have a bad night (it would) be a magic formula," Cronin said. "I could just be a coaching consultant. And then I'd be able to sleep. So, you never know. As a coach you are kidding yourself if you think you can win every game and always play well."
All that said, the Bearcats could certainly use a strong showing and victory against a quality PIttsburgh team on Saturday. The Panthers have won seven of their last nine and the only losses came against Marquette in OT and at Louisville. Plus, considering UC went into their building and ran away with a second-half surge for the victory to open Big East play, expectations are they will be coming in hot. "They feel they should have won the game and we outrebounded them in the second half of that game," Cronin said. "I'm sure they are going to come in here ready to play. In fact, I would bet my career on it."
Point 3 -- James White will be in the NBA Dunk contest next weekend. This is awesome on so many levels. White's been dominating dunk contests since he was in high school and even with his team overseas. Watching White sky was one of the greatest aspects of Bearcats basketball in the early 2000s.
With Gerald Green back, the competition will be tough, but once the patented free-throw line, through the legs dunk breaks out it should be goodnight. Funny thing is Green and White actually squared off in a dunk contest before -- Russia 2010 (last video below). You know, where all great dunk contests take place.
Of course, that only means we have to break out the White dunk highlight package. And there's a few of them.