Sunday, February 28, 2010

What An Olympic Finish

What a wild finish to the Olympics. The host nation winning the final event in overtime. And that event happens to be the national pastime of the host nation. And it comes down to one of the best scorers in the world shooting at one of the best goalies in the world: Sidney Crosby gunning it past Ryan Miller. And on and on the story lines could go in this one. One minor beef: I don't like the four on four format in overtime of a game this large. I get it for regular season games, and even games in the Olympic tournament. But the Gold Medal game? I don't like changing the most basic rules of the game. You go five on five until you drop. That's how you decide the Gold.

There were some local ties in the big game. Head coach Mike Babcock of Canada used to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. Of course that was before his three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals and his Stanley Cup title with Detroit in 2008. I played with Babcock in a golf outing once, not long before he was bumped up to Anaheim. He's a man's man, very competitive, and got just as mad as I did when he hit a bad shot. I really liked that about him.

Other local ties, with a hat tip to my friend Greg Waddell from the Cincinnati Gardens: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry began their professional careers playing at the Cincinnati Gardens for the AHL Mighty Ducks. Of course Perry had a goal against the USA in the Gold Medal game. Team Canada defensemen Dan Boyle played at Miami University 1994-1998 and was a two-time All-American. Plus Rick Nash currently plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekend Quick Hitters

U.C. played well at West Virginia, but was killed on the boards in the second half. I think Yancy Gates got jobbed on a couple of foul calls, and that helped the battle of the boards go the Mountaineers way. Still, if the Bearcats had shown that kind of life at South Florida, they wouldn't be in this mess. I really believe barring a huge run in the Big East tournament, the Cats need to win the last two to get in. (Villanova at home Tuesday, Georgetown on the road Saturday)

Please, let it be true the Ravens want to sign Terrell Owens. He certainly keeps himself in great shape, and could prove me wrong, but I don't think the Bengals need a 36 year old wide receiver.

They could use a third down back, and I wish they could get Brian Westbrook to fill that role. But I have a feeling Westbrook would want more playing time and more money than the Bengals will offer. But if he can stay away from concussions, and that is a big if, he would lighten the for Cedric Benson.

I haven't seen him throw, but based on all reports out of Arizona, the Cuban Missile just might launch in Cincinnati this season. Aroldis Chapman has been working out and maintaining great throwing shape, so it's not a shock that the hitters would tend to be a little behind him early in camp. But it sounds like his stuff has been overwhelming so far. That and 30 million dollars makes me think there's a good chance he comes with the big club to Cincinnati.

There's plenty of good reasons Xavier coach Chris Mack is firing up his fans to bring it strong to the Cintas Center Sunday. Richmond plays solid defense, and is riding an eight game winning streak. Xavier leads the conference in scoring and has won 30 straight A-10 games at home. With a potential conference title in the balance, this should be intense from start to finish. But with the way Jason Love and Jordan Crawford are playing, I don't see X losing this game, not at home.

Wow! The USA taking the four man bobsled, and the USA also winning medals in the Nordic events at the Winter Olympics. For all of that global warming talk spewed by Al Gore, the USA seems to be getting better and better at the cold-weather games!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where did it go wrong?

The aftermath of the U.C. loss to Marquette has plenty of rabid fans pointing fingers and looking for a head (red head) on a platter. The promise of an improving program in Maui has disintegrated into another futile push to the NCAA tournament, and the more realistic hopes being the N.I.T. Maybe.
Since Marquette is freshest on the mind, we'll start there. I think Mick gave his detractors some red meat in this one. Several pounds of it. I cannot agree that free throws were the main culprit in this one. A contributor, yes, but not the main culprit. I cannot agree with Yancy Gates sitting on the bench the final 7 minutes of regulation and the entire overtime. Gates only had 3 rebounds, but was 6 of 9 from the field. I cannot agree with a lineup that failed to create the mismatches that favored U.C. on the offensive end of the floor. In essence, U.C. ended the game with a lineup that allowed Marquette to stay in a comfort zone on both ends of the floor. I understand there were a couple of defensive lapses, and in a close game you cannot afford them. You also cannot afford to have your best players on the bench down the stretch in the biggest game of the year. So Mick will be hearing about this one. But Mick knows that is part of the deal, just like any coach or manager gets drilled after a tough loss.

Now for the season: I like the defense and rebounding approach, but let's face it, the offense has been abysmal. You can rebound and play defense all night long, but at some point you have to put the ball in the basket. The offense never developed this season. Neither did a go-to guy. Deonta Vaughn was thought to be such a player, but it never happened. Whether it was the early-season clear out plays for Lance Stephenson, or some other reason, Deonta never seemed to have the same swagger and confidence. Stephenson never found a niche in the offense as well. Perhaps too much was put in his young hands too early. Cashmere took quite a while to come around, understandable because he was rebounding from injury. The other option would be the guy who stands 6-9, and weighs 260. Whether he takes plays off or not, this team needed to feed the ball inside more, meaning Gates. Obviously they needed to penetrate more too, creating kick-out opportunities. I know it's not the best shooting team, but that makes getting open looks from the outside and close shots inside more important. Throwing the ball around the perimeter accomplishes nothing. Mick needs to get an offensive philosophy established and be just as much a stickler for that as he is his defense and rebounding philosophies.

I haven't read a single blog or message board before writing this, but I'm sure Mick is getting torched. I'm also sure he knows things have to change. Mick had an incredible passion for this job when he took it. After four years are trying to dig out of a huge hole, Mick needs to tap into that passion to take the next step. I do not want U.C. to panic and give in to those calling for a change at the top. He started from scratch and is trying to build a program that will last. It CAN happen in four years, but those are the rare exceptions. I'm older, so I'm a little more patient. But this is not even close to those dire days of the 1980's, when the only time you talked about bubbles was when you opened up a fresh piece of Bazooka.

Friday, February 19, 2010

When Will He Return?

I like Tiger Woods for his golf ability. Sure, he seemed to be a great guy, and probably still is, but like a lot of us he has his faults. I hope he gets himself right, and I hope his family finds peace. I also hope he finds his way back to the golf course in 2010. But I'm not one of those that feels like I have a right to know everything about his private life. Most of the national shows responded to his statement by concentrating on his apologies to his wife, family, etc. I was impressed that he apologized to kids and parents because Tiger realizes he is a role model. But beyond that, the rest is none of my business. I just want to know when we get to see him back in the game, carving up a tough U.S. Open course and bringing his opponents to their knees. He said this about his return: "I do plan to return to golf one day; I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game."
That's when my ears perked up. I was really hoping he would be back soon, but the man has to make sure he's right for the long haul. Not ruling out this year doesn't sound like he'll be back very soon. As for his behavior being more respectful to the game, I hope he means off the course. I don't want to see him lose the fire he has on the course. I like watching athletes who seem to care, and get upset with themselves when they screw up.
The other thing to perk my ears, his denial of performance-enhancing drugs. Tiger said, "Some people have made up things that never happened. They said I used performance-enhancing drugs. This is completely and utterly false." This stems from Tiger being treated by Canadian sports medicine specialist Anthony Galea. Galea has been charged with selling performance-enhancing drugs to some of his clients. But Galea's involvement with Tiger is said to involve "blood spinning", a process to promote healing. In Tiger's case, it was his knee. Galea denies giving performance-enhancers to any of his clients. He says some HGH he was caught with was for his own personal use. Let's hope so.

One last thing on the Tiger apology, the room setup was quite odd and sterile. Was that blue curtain the same one Johnny Carson used to appear from on the old The Tonight Show set?

After three days, sanity has seemed to returned to the "fire Mick" sentiments of the hardcore UC fan base. The Bearcats really backed themselves into a corner though, and Sunday is a must-win. Then DePaul will be the next must-win. Then Mick and the Bearcats have to find a way to steal one from West Virginia, Villanova, or Georgetown.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nice Guys Can Finish First

I just saw Jamie McMurray's emotional response to winning the Daytona 500 and it was a great moment. First of all, you don't see that from hard scrabble race car drivers. Second, Jamie is truly one of the great guys I've had the pleasure of dealing with. We used to run into him doing a lot of testing down at the Kentucky Speedway. He was always joking, smiling, and asking us about as many questions as we would ask him. He recently teamed up with the Haiti Earthquake Fund, and that didn't surprise me in the least. He is genuinely good people, and I'm thrilled he won the Great American Race. Nice guys can finish first. But why the heck didn't I start him on my fantasy Nascar team?????

Did anyone hear the NBC analyst on the Nordic Combined event? I didn't think so, but it's worth a good laugh. The guy was coming out of his skin as they were coming to the finish line. He made the guys on those carpet outlet commercials sound like they are speaking slowly and in hushed tones. To see a bunch of dudes on cross country skis while some guy is screeching at the top of his lungs had me rolling. But congrats to John Spillane for winning a silver medal, the first medal ever for the USA in the Nordic Combined. The announcer gets a gold.

U.C. is back in the game. UConn coach Jim Calhoun had some good points about the game. Uconn was awful, UC was just as bad, but only in the first half. The second half UC played a solid game, where the players seemed to play within themselves. I don't know how Mick Cronin kick-started them at the half (he told me he told them to start shooting layups), but it worked. For all the detractors of Mick, he has ROAD wins over Calhoun, Pitino and Huggins during his tenure. That's a hall of fame trifecta.

Xavier stuck it to Florida early and often. The inside game really set the tone, and when they are getting that kind of production down low, this is a team you don't want to play, because we know how damaging the Muskies can be from the perimeter. Tops in the A-10 in three point percentage.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Six From The A-10, Six From The Big East

That's the roll call from Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology. He projects Xavier, Charlotte, Dayton, Rhode Island, Richmond, and Temple from the Atlantic 10. Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown, Pitt, and Louisville from the Big East. That should spark some decent debate in this part of the country. If you look at the resumes of the A-10 teams, you can't deny them their spots. The resumes are very similar, but have enough of the kind of wins to get into the tourney. Lunardi has U.C. as his second team out, behind Marquette. In fact, his first five out all come from the Big East. Marquette, UC, Notre Dame, South Florida, and UConn. If this comes to pass, it's time for the Big East to come up with a solution. The football schools will probably be forced to form their own conference, and add 2 to 4 teams in the process. Do I know who those teams are? Nope. But if they want me to go to work on it, I will. I would start by working on some schools that would probably have no interest, but I'd start there anyway. Realistically, it would probably come down to the likes of East Carolina, Central Florida, Memphis, and UAB from CUSA. Perhaps Akron, or Toledo from the MAC, or independent Navy. But back to the reason for this post. The 16 Big East teams beating up one another during the conference season is not working for the teams in the middle of the pack. I firmly believe UC would be in good shape to make the tournament if the Cats still played in CUSA. There were enough quality wins before the conference schedule cranked up. I'm sure the brackets will change quite a bit, and any team with a winning record in Big East play will make the tournament. But that is a tough, almost impossible task, for U.C. at this point. Will a 9-9 Big East record be enough? Yes, especially with a Big East tourney win, or two. But getting to 9-9 is asking a lot at this point. They might have to make it by winning the next four. The schedule ends like this: at UConn, at South Florida, Marquette, DePaul, at West Virginia, Villanova, at Georgetown.

Man, I blew the Super Bowl pick. I didn't think Pierre Garcon's drop in the second quarter would prove to be so costly. That, and the Colts going conservative deep in their own territory late in the first half, after stopping the Saints on fourth down. They should have let Peyton wing it on third down. But that said, give the Saints all of the credit for flashing some major brass ones with the onside kick and picking their spots to bring the heat on defense. This was a game the Saints won, not a game the Colts lost.

In the latest issue of the Sporting News, Tampa Bay slugger Carlos Pena said his favorite teammate of all-time is Jonny Gomes. He referred to Gomes charging in from right field and jumping on Yankee Shelly Duncan after an extra hard slide into second base DURING A SPRING TRAINING GAME! The Rays considered the slide dirty. At the time Gomes said, "I've never played for the Yankees; I've played against them and I watched them growing up, but I know that's not the Yankee way. That's not how they play. Those guys are athletes, they're clean-shaven; you rarely see the Yankees do stuff like that."
Yeah, the Reds should sign this guy. I'm a big fan of binging Gomes back.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Question About UC Has Changed

The question was: Will UC make the NCAA tournament? Now the question is: Will Mick
Cronin survive to coach another season? Some may think that is unfair, but that is going to be the biggest question surrounding UC the next few days, if not weeks. Some heavy hitters behind the program felt this was a make it or break year for Mick. Tournament or bust. A win over Syracuse would have extended UC's chances of making the tournament. The loss in and of itself didn't put the question on the front burner. But a 14-9 overall record with a 5-6 Big East record is not what boosters want in the fourth year of the rebuilding program. Scoring 5 points in the final 12 minutes is hard to explain to anyone. This wasn't Fordham against Syracuse, it was Cincinnati. It may have been hard for anyone to turn things around in four years. The most common excuse is that it would be tough to rebuild in the Big East, and that excuse is common because it is true. There is still time to show some grit down the stretch. I'm still not in the "Mick must go" camp. I still feel stability is big for a college program, and if Mick can get that corner turned, then you are looking at 15 to 20 years of a solid program, maybe longer. That's where I am in the minutes following the Syracuse game. But I know the question is out there. If it's my decision, the question becomes this: Should Mick survive to coach another season? If it's my decision, I owe it to the program to seriously entertain the question.

If I'm Xavier, I'm concerned about the blowout loss at Dayton. I'm not quite as concerned about an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. I see enough wins down the stretch to make the Musketeers an attractive team. I don't see the quality road wins the selection committee seems to covet, but I see enough wins, period. Plus, I still think the Musketeers have enough firepower to win the conference tournament. Lock down the defense, and even though Dayton seemed to blow by the perimeter defense far too often, I think the Musketters have the talent to get it done.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Telling Loss and an Indy Victory

The U.C. loss to Notre Dame tells me this team is not prepared to make a push to the NCAA tournament. This loss was more disturbing to me than the St. John's game. U.C. never got into any sort of flow. It was 40 minutes of chaos. After two impressive showings, Cashmere Wright was a non-factor again, but that can happen with young guys. But senior Deonta Vaughn was off as well. A very important road game turned into a telling loss. Tournament teams do not play this poorly at this point in the season.

Xavier is running into a desperate team in Dayton Saturday. The Flyers are considered a "bubble" team and win over X would be big for their tournament hopes. This should be a great game. It's evolved into an intense rivalry, and with Dayton desperate, it should be a great game to watch. It's a big day in the Atlantic 10, with Xavier at Dayton and Temple at Richmond.

I've come to the conclusion the Colts will win and win bu enough on Sunday. The New Orleans defense does some things well, most notably create turnovers. The Saints feed off turnovers. I don't see Peyton Manning and the Colts turning the ball over five times like the Vikings did. Peyton is too good to allow that to happen in a big game. So, I'll take the Colts -5.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Signing Madness and More..

Wednesday is signing day for college football, and in Cincinnati the past month has been a wild one. There will more than 40 local players signing Division One offers. My cohort Andy Pierce has the number at 44 and counting. Here is Andy's latest list at our High School Playbook web site. U.C. still has an impressive list of locals ready to sign, but the list has changed since Brian Kelly left. The shame is the defections of Jibreel Black, Luke Massa, Dominique Brown, and possibly Preston Brown, will leave the impression that U.C. was poached in a big way. There is no doubt some of the losses hurt, if not on the field, then perhaps in terms of perception. But will the perception override the reality that U.C. still kept eight or so kids in the fold? For the casual fan, probably. Any time there is a coaching change, you will lose recruits. Who knows? If Kelly stays, U.C. still may have lost some players. It happens. I still think this will be a good class, maybe an excellent one, but U.C. still has to recruit twice as hard to win the battles. The excitement of sold out games at Nippert Stadium in November dissolve into glitzy recruiting trips and oversold promises in January. That's where the U.C. football program still has some ground to make up. That's where the practice fields and the indoor facility come into play. That's where the expansion of Nippert Stadium can play a role. Selling the city and the employment opportunities is a plus, but not something an 18 year old is all that interested in. Mom and Dad might like it, but the kid likes being told he can practice indoors during February to hone his skills for the next level. U.C. is getting closer, thanks to some new facilities and a great run of coaches who have worked their butts off recruiting. The Lindner Center and the Big East have greased the skids. The practice fields will be the next step. More steps need to be taken in a never-ending world of keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, the Buckeyes and the Spartans and the Wolverines and the Mountaineers and on and on it goes. The people of Cincinnati have tasted college football success, and it was sweet, Sugar Bowl sweet. Are the people and boosters willing to taste more?

By the way, I met the Reds new shortstop yesterday, Orlando Cabrera. He seems like a good guy with a nice sense of humor and sounds like a guy who loves to play the game. He's well aware there are skeptics who believe a 35 year old shortstop is one or two bad plays away from a rocking chair. he laughed about it and said even his mom tells him he is old for a shortstop. But he said his mom and wife stay on him to make sure he works out and eats right in the offseason so he can keep up with all of the young bucks playing the position. He also said he would change his name to Juan Ocho if it helps him fit in with Cincinnati. His good humor and well-natured ways are already a hit in my corner of the world. Now let's see him play.