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Observation Deck

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After having a few days to reflect on one of the most successful and challenging seasons in Bearcats hoop history I am left with the following observations as I look ahead to next year.

Mick Cronin can coach and motivate players. I know I have said this before but I am more stating the obvious for those who have had trouble letting go of unfounded criticism of the coach. He has rebuilt; won; gone to back to back NCAA tournaments; advance to the Sweet 16 and maintained the integrity of the University and the athletic program. I hope that no matter where this team ends up next year, you don't ignore these past two years and the groundwork he put in to reestablish this program. More high school recruits are taking notice as well as the national basketball circle.

Observation number 2: Yancy Gates had a successful career at UC. He benchmarked his 4 years with a Big East Finals appearance and a Sweet 16 stamp of approval. Did he dominate the way many of us thought he would? No; not in the way we hoped but he did in other ways. I saw him leading on the floor and on the bench communicating with his teammates. Taking a chance on a university when he had the option to go to a college with a winning program and a veteran coach. He wanted to be part of the turnaround and was. Any excitement you had during this run in the NCAA tournament started when people saw the best player stay home and buy in.

Observation number 3: A large majority of fans came back. After the first of the year, UC averaged over 10K fans per game and the visiting team and broadcasters could tell the difference. Even the players noticed, and that makes them more attractive for those nationally televised games that bring notoriety and other benefits to UC and the city of Cincinnati. What a statement you made about backing your team and they need you now more than ever.

Observation number 4: The Big East is still the Big East. With the departure of West Virginia and the pending departure of Pitt and Syracuse this conference can still lay claim to being one the premiere basketball conferences in the country. It still has brand value and add to that Madison Square Garden, the basketball Mecca, will still be the home of one of the few conference tournaments that actually have a full house during its post season. I know some of the new additions aren't sexy and located in metropolitan areas but they will benefit from the affiliation in their recruiting as well. The reality is UC has a chance ironically to sit atop the conference in football and basketball with Coach Cronin and Coach Jones maintaining their consistency of effort within their programs.

Observation number 5: The Women's basketball program is slowly but surely gaining ground as a player in the Big East and basketball in general. While many of you were caught up in the men's run and rightfully so, Jamelle Elliott is putting pieces in place every chance she gets; and their NIT appearance, first round win and marked improvement are reaffirmations she was the right hire. I hope they can now solve the dilemma that plagues so many women's programs and that's getting people to the games. I have no doubt she will not rest until this team can look the UConn's and Tennessee's of the world in the eye and play on par.

My final observation: The athletic department seems to be in great hand with Whit Babcock. My conversations with him and my conversation with others where his name surfaces have yielded the same responses: very sincere and is genuinely interested in the people who run the programs and how collectively they can make the athletic department better. His presence in the stands at games, at various events and low-key approach certainly allows him angles of understanding many could potentially miss in leadership positions. I think he will grow the program the right way and I hope Cincinnati welcomes his family accordingly.

I am looking forward to the next chapters of sports in UC athletics and all that comes with it including baseball, track and field, golf, Lacrosse, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, cross country and soccer.

It's one for all and all for the Paw! 

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Sweet Repeat

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Congratulations to Mick Cronin and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team for making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time under Coach Cronin, and the first time since 2001.

But what we should also be celebrating as well is the path to consistency that this team is building. This is the second year in a row this team has made the NCAA and they have won at least one game in each tournament, improving with two wins this year. 

How valuable is this success?  A Juco college player is on the verge of signing with UC based on the success of their current NCAA run and as he said "...the fans were crazy at the Notre Dame game" contributed to his decision. Yes you; you showed up in force and as I have referenced in this blog before players try to visualize themselves playing in front of supportive crowds like those he mentioned because they feed off your energy.

UC basketball and football probably bring more attention to this University than all other sports combined and that has a ton of residual value as it relates to attracting students, reconnecting alumni and growing the fan base. When UC wins a bowl game or advances to the Sweet 16 it puts the University in the land of priceless exposure. TV stations, newspapers and online publications around the world are mentioning 16 teams repeatedly this week and one of them is UC, four of them are from Ohio and 7 of them are from the Tri-State.

But even better than that is UC was mentioned last year after knocking off Missouri, and they're being mentioned again this year for beating Texas and Florida State. These are three schools from major conferences that many thought were too tough for UC to compete against and yet they did. 

So while we celebrate the Bearcats ascension to the Sweet 16, lets also celebrate the fact that they are back in the tournament for the second year in a row. Six years ago many thought they would not make it to March Madness at all. 

Today is a good day to be a Bearcat fan; honestly it's been a good week, month, year and even longer to be one if you wanted to be.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Job Well Done...

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It's hard to imagine 6 years ago when Mick Cronin was named the mens basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati, devoid of players and recruits, that this day would come in the eyes of many doubters. While attending the NCAA pairing party at Montgomery Inn last night Mick reminded me that I, while still consulting with Cincinnati Bell, delivered the first batch of cell phones to him and his staff. My how times have changed! I've moved onward and Coach Cronin has moved forward, and his plan to restore this program has come front and center.

UC has their coach and Mick has his school. He is truly a home town guy; he is a Montgomery Inn, Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Bengals, West Side, UC, High School, family and friend kind of Cincinnatian that you find in ample supply around here. And that's why he never doubted what he was doing because his roots reminded him that what he learned from Hep Cronin his dad; from Woodward High School, Bob Huggins and from Rick Pitino would all come together to create a model of success. 

If you've never lived in Cincinnati you might not understand a lot of the thinking that goes into leaving but always knowing you want to come home. That being the coach at home is more prestigious than any of the darling jobs; that looking behind you at the games and seeing your family, friends and a couple of guys you played against nodding their heads in approval mean more than you can explain. 

When the band of haters mounted up their arsenal it was met with resistance not by Mick but by them. When people didn't want to acknowledge his progress it was the hometown team that spoke on his behalf using the truth to uncover the hate. The real question was as this team was progressing why didn't anyone want to accept it? He showed resolve cutting players who were supposed to transform this program. He sat players on the bench who thought they were entitled; and he even reminded them during tough times it's a privilege to wear the same uniform that the great Oscar Robertson wore.

Mick had a plan; and it included his Dad going with him to every game discussing the fundamentals of the game and of coaching. Because no matter how high they jump, how fast they run or how great a shooter they are it's still basketball. And that means the game will always outlast the players. So knowledge is king and Hep has plenty of it; so did Huggins and Pitino but honestly Mick has some of his own too. 

He proved it at Murray State and he has now proven it here. Two years in a row UC is going to the big dance; and this year it's a tank of gas away in Nashville where they'll start their run for the Final Four. If you are a fan or want to see this team in the prime time of college basketball the opportunity is there.

But the bigger opportunity is for you to give Mick his due; admitting that you didn't see the possibility of him reestablishing this program or getting it back to the level you were accustomed to when Huggins was here. But he has; and don't say well he did it two years in a row but not three because last year you said lets see him do it twice. 

Lets see you get on board, like the 10k plus people who got on board at the beginning of the year. That's what recruits see when deciding where they want to play; where they watch on TV and feel the energy that burst through the screen when they played Syracuse and Marquette at home. Where they made a statement in the Big Apple at the Big East tournament and said we belong and you, potential recruit, could be the missing player to take us even further.

This program is moving ahead with all the right pieces in place and needing just a few more. Are you a missing piece? Are you coming back? They've earned your support UC fan, alum and Cincinnatian. You don't even have to apologize or say you were wrong; just say you're on board.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

The Return Of The Fan...

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Since January 4th of this year the UC mens basketball team has been averaging over 10,000 fans per contest and received their highest honor when U of L's Rick Pitino proclaimed the Bearcats had the best home court advantage they've seen all year. And he's seen a lot for a lot of reasons. He is a polarizing coach; winning coach and controversial figure to put it kindly.

But the return of the fan is one more thing Head Coach Mick Cronin and the mens program can cross off their list of things to accomplish as the rebuilding process is near completion. Not finished but certainly very close. One of the last and most difficult task is convince fans you are doing the right thing, especially when they can't see what you see. I am always reminded of the origin of the word fan comes from fanatical which dates back to the 1540's according to dictionary dot com. as to remind me that emotions are a big driver of fan action.

The current action the fans have taken shows they believe they have a reason to cheer, support, yell and proclaim their allegiance to UC basketball again; and opposing teams who have cruised through Cincinnati the last few years undaunted by the scarcity of such loyalist are probably amazed and in awe at the transformation. Many powerhouse schools like Syracuse and Louisville never lose much in fan support regardless of their record but they've never endured the exile of a beloved coach and a complete vacancy of players.

So we move on and chart the future of UC basketball and the Big East minus some of those who gave birth to its successful concept. I listened to Coach Cronin on the radio last week and he's eager to take over the top spot in the conference as the team who can win and stay on top like the outgoing Orange and Pitt Panthers, this season not withstanding, did for so many years. The way Mick sees it, why can't the Bearcats own the league, expand recruiting in new areas where others once had a stronghold and chart some new ones with the addition of new geographic conference members. It's there for the taking and if you know Mick he has probably made inroads one way or another.

What is going to make this easier for him is the fact that potential players and their families who've watched them play since the first of the year saw you Bearcat fans en masse backing the team with authority. Now that Pitino added the icing on the cake with his compliment, the cherry on top will be a strong showing in the Big East tournament and another trip to the NCAA tournament. 

Mick Cronin and the players deserved credit for what they've accomplished but the fans, and you know who you are, deserve a big assist.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Shhh...Keep it to yourself

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UC basketball once again is answering the question about who they are with a convincing win over St. John's on the road and in what some called a revenge game. Any road win in the Big East is critical especially when you give up one at home. But what made this one more of a statement about their growth is they did have payback on their mind but they won being who they are and cutting down on the mistakes.

I think this team is better than many believe and I hope it stays that way because these are the kind of teams that upset the popular ones. While everyone is enamored with Syracuse, Notre Dame and others UC is working to get better and improve their play and it's showing. While the Marquette game is going to be another big test, I think this team has found and embraced their identity. Many are still doubting and that's perfect; Some are waiting for another loss to say ah ha! I told you so and so be it. But some are going to be surprised when the tournament comes and they win and win again.

So until then don't say anything if you're on board; let me people think what they might and at the end of the season enjoy the growth and success of a team coming into its own and understanding they belong in the mix of teams that have a chance. Isn't that all everybody wants?

That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat

UC Has A Love Jones

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He won a share of the Big East after an abysmal season. He has players in the pros and  more on the way. He won the Liberty Bowl and has been acknowledged by some as having the best UC recruiting class ever. More important to his coaching staff is that he wasn't the only one compensated for the teams success. Coach Jones showed his staff how much he valued them as well, which means if someone comes to raid the cabinet it has to be substantial for them to leave and that's how you keep good assistants longer.

I believe Butch Jones wants to build and maintain a top notch, first rate program at UC and enjoy the fruits of his efforts by not leaving anytime soon. I think he sees so much upside that he wants to help cement UC as a football power not just in the Big East but nationally as well. You might think the win versus Vanderbilt was not much to rave about but a win against any SEC team is a big win and a stride not just a step in the right direction.

UC is still looked upon in some circles as a second tier team and Coach Jones is out to change that. The only way you do that is by winning and beating teams that have the label of top tier teams, whether they come from the SEC, Big 10,11 or 12 or, whatever the conferences will be named with all the moving and shifting over the last year.

So between now and 2017 Butch Jones is in a relationship with the University of Cincinnati and he appears to be a one team man. You can't ask for much more than that.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Mick's Mantle

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I was convinced a while ago but I think after the return to the NCAA tournament last year, the rebound from the Crosstown Shootout, the early success in the Big East with major road wins and obvious respect from Bob Huggins, this is officially Mick Cronin's team in your mind, right? If not it should be.

Let's face it many of you had no idea and/or belief in Mick when he first arrived because you believed he was in over his head. Winning at Murray State and nearly knocking off basketball factory North Carolina was just a magical moment and no credit was due the coaches. But as time has gone on and wins have happened in the most unexpected of places like Pitt and Georgetown, you are running out of reasons to say he doesn't belong. He does belong and has also proven to be a relentless recruiter amidst competition steeper than Mount Everest; and he is gaining ground with each win and visit.

I don't think Mick ever got his rightful credit for taking over a team with very few players, little support and no identity they way he should have. He never ask or begged for it, just ask you to be fair in the assessment along the way regarding restoring this successful program. I nearly fell off my seat last year when people wanted to preface UC's return to the NCAA tournament dance with a "but", but it happened. 

When the Crosstown Shootout went spiraling out of control many of you thought Xavier would react the way Mick and UC did, swiftly and decisively and that may have convinced some that he recognized the program is more important than any one or a few players. He even offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb if it meant the program would be best served.

Fast forward to the Big East part of the schedule and they're winning, part of Big East Monday, added another sellout to the ledger and motivated the students and alumni to return exceeding 10K several times. That means more people see, and more important, believe this program is going in the right direction. This by no means is an indicator that the hard part is over with, it's not and Mick would be the first to tell you that. But what it clearly means is this program since Mick assumed the mantle of head coach, is moving down the right path to be a Big East contender and recapture national respect.

I honestly think he should be recognized for what he's done thus far and I'm glad to say this column is my way of doing it. Mick Cronin and his staff have made UC basketball relevant on campus and around the city again. You can argue he hasn't but you would only be admitting your unwillingness to respect the facts, wins and the effort. To that I say C'mon Man!

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Micks And Match

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It's a new year and a new Cattitude on the court at the Shoe and Mick Cronin deserves a lot of credit for yes, how he handled the Crosstown Shootout, but more important how his team has played since then. They have gone 8-1 with impressive road wins at Pitt and Georgetown, and narrowly missed clawing back to beat St. John's at home.

I know so many thought without Yancy Gates and because of the Big East schedule this was going to be a dreadful period of basketball. But thanks to Mick's ability to rally the troops, opening himself up to additional offenses, and giving players the green light, this team has found itself with a versatile style that can fit any opponent. The net result is a more confident team and fan base.

One of the other moves Mick made was the letter to those fans and alumni asking for their support and it seems to be paying off as attendance has been significantly better. UC basketball I think is very close to regaining its market share with fans and high caliber recruits. Winning in the Big East on the road opens eyes and helps players see themselves as the missing piece to a program capable of going further into March where success resides in the form of Sweet 16's and Final Fours.

Whether or not this happens with this years recruiting tally remains to be seen. One thing that remains a constant in all of this is that Mick is willing to put in the work, do the non-traditional and traditional all in the name of long term success. While it may not be happening fast enough for some I think the consensus to those that matters is it is working and that's critical. Getting a vote of confidence is the number one key to recruiting high profile athletes who want to believe you're going to be there by the time they arrive next year.

So I have no crystal ball and can't tell you how things will work out but I can say without hesitation that what Mick has done and had to do because of the obvious challenges is working. I honestly believe it will only get better.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat...

Butch Ball Y'all

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The University of Cincinnati Bearcats have won a bowl game that most people have heard of with their 31-24 win over Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis New Years Eve. But more important if you're a Bearcat fan was continuing proof that Butch Jones has a plan. I think back to many who questioned him last year when his cupboard was bare and he openly said so as if he was making excuses, which he wasn't. 

But now after winning their share of the Big East title with back up and seldom used quarterbacks; the loss of Zach Collaros and rallying the troops after tough losses to West Virginia and Rutgers, Butch and his staff have to be given credit and room to grow. His turning down offers quickly and agreeing to a new deal let recruits know he's serious about staying here which should aid in getting "yes" answers from those who were sitting on the fence.

UC and the new Big East will have some highs and lows but winning bowl games and big games will take care of the nay sayers. Being a consistent challenger for the title will be UC's goal and if Butch has anything to do with it I think his sights are set on pure dominance of the conference and proving they are still a BCS player.

I am excited to see what happens next year not only in the Big East but on campus; Bearcat football should maintain its explosive offense with some returning skill players and incoming recruits but also because they have established expectations courtesy of the coaching staff. To build a program I think you have to set the bar high and challenge the players to raise their level of play to its standard, not lowering the bar to meet theirs. I have no doubt this is already in play.

So with one respectable bowl win over an SEC school, progress has been made in the football vision of Butch Jones. What happens next will certainly add to his desire to make Bearcat football a top tiered program and worthy of major bowl invitations. And the way you supported him with your attendance at the Liberty bowl is the icing on the cake in more ways than one.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

New Year, New U

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It was a great year in review as the UC basketball team not only returned to the NCAA March Madness party but UC football shared a Big East Title and is ending the year at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The University installed a new President, Dr. Gregory Williams and hired a new athletic director, Whit Babcok who is very accessible and engaging; and despite the challenges with the Crosstown Shootout, life lessons were learned when the consequences accompanied the actions. Other UC sports like Volleyball made noise and entered their version of the NCAA tournament as well and the women's basketball program is still growing, little by little which is how you build a program not a season. Kudos to all the coaches in swimming, golf, track and field and more.

So it's a new year and but will it be a new you? Will you, not the already staunch supporters of UC sports, show up this year? UC finally gets back in the NCAA dance and you don't show up this season after you said "I won't go until they get back to the NCAA..." The football team rebounds from a bowl-less season to play for a share of the Big East title and a BCS bid, one play from winning the tie-breaker yet the smaller stadium is not filled to the brim with Bearcat faithful. The Volleyball team is a perennial winner and could use more fans as could the women's basketball team.

If money is the issue, women's hoops and volleyball you can afford; if you have limited money football and basketball on campus is cost effective; and if you're a self proclaimed UC fan you can do them all or, like a boxer, a solid combination of two. But do something!

I hear all the time that we are a sports town but with the Bengals fighting for a playoff spot with an over achieving team, I don't see it. Don't say it's the economy because when you walk by the Apple Store or drive past Kenwood Mall, the argument ends.

I need to attend more games so I will jump to the front of the line. I promised to attend a volleyball game and didn't. So I need to up my game as I'm challenging the UC alums around the region to do the same. 

So with a New Year comes a new U and a new me; I have to do better. Happy Holidays and lets fill up more seats than ever in '12 and prove Cincinnati is a sports town and make exhibit A attendance at UC sports.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat.