Friday, March 26, 2010

One Of The Best I've Seen! And What Could Have Been

What a great game. It was hard for me to think of another game I had witnessed first hand that had more big shots than the Xavier-Kansas State tilt in Salt Lake
City. It was amazing. Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway at one end, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente at the other. Crawford-Holloway won the scoring battle of the guards, 58-53. But Kansas State won the war, thanks to more active bodies on the inside. The Wildcats were just a little deeper there. But take nothing away from Jaon Love, Jamel McLean, and Andrew Taylor. Those guys battled their butts off, with Love finishing with a game-high 15 rebounds and 11 points. He'll leave the Xavier program with his head high, knowing he gave every ounce of sweat in that big body of his.

I was sitting in front of Jason's dad at the game, and I had to tell him afterwards that his son played a heckuva game. Dad knew it. Love played 43 of the 50 minutes in the game. A guy that big going that long, that was unthinkable when he showed up on the Xavier campus as a freshman.

What could have been for the Musketeers. I watched most of the Butler-Syracuse game, and I am convinced that Xavier is playing well enough to take down the Bulldogs. Butler is not nearly as deep as Xavier at this stage of the season, I think Xavier would have a decided edge inside. I'm not taking anything away from Butler's Matt Howard, the dude plays hard, but he needs a little more help. I was really impressed with Butler's smarts, and poise, but I think the Musketeers would have brought too much firepower. So in my book, X missed a trip to the Final Four by losing in double overtime.

After the game Jordan Crawford talked about how most people would think this loss would bum the Muskies out big-time. But Crawford said he can live with this loss, because he knows they left if all out there. Xavier did just that. So did Kansas State. I had to ask Crawford about his future. He was gracious in his response and said he's not thinking about that right now. On this night he wanted all of the focus on his teammates, as it should have been. Of course there has to be some focus on Crawford too. 87 points in three NCAA tournament games is strong, real strong. I still haven't seen his name in the mock drafts, but that has to change, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Xavier Confident, Not Cocky

Xavier had the normal 1 hour public practice on Wednesday, in addition to a more intense and productive practice elsewhere. The Musketeers say they are a better squad than the one that lost by 15 at Kansas State in December. I believe they are, and a neutral court will make a difference. But are they good enough to beat Kansas State? I'm on record believing that they have better than a punchers chance. The Musketeers are comfortable with where they are, and why not, the vets have been here three years in a row. With that comfort comes confidence. I talked with Dante Jackson about that today. They know the stakes are high, but they are still having fun and enjoying the ride. They are confident, but not cocky, knowing full well every team that has made it this far has to be doing something right. Dante said Chris Mack calls this regional the "Salt Lake Invitational." That helps them focus that it's a 4 team, 2 game tournament, winner takes all. Just take care of business here, and don't think about what's on the line. Like the second trip in three years to the Elite Eight. Or better than that, two wins and a trip to the final four. Amazingly, Dante was asked about the "mid-major" tag again. He turned the question around and asked the reporter if he thought Xavier was mid-major. The reporter said no, then Dante admitted that the only way they will quit hearing that stuff is to win two more games. Win the "Salt Lake Invitational", go to the Final Four, and the perception of Xavier will be forever changed. The reality changed a long time ago, and that's why a team from Xavier can enter the Sweet 16 as a confident bunch. Confident, no cocky.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Disgusting Display and Thank Goodness For Teachers!

I'm on my way to Salt Lake City for Xavier and the Sweet 16, but I still can't get out of my head what I saw last night. U.C. put on a disgusting display of hoops on the home floor. How do you come out flat in a tournament game? How does a guy with the physical gift of Yancy Gates throw up a three-pointer that had no chance, and come away with 2 whole points in the game? I'm afraid when he picks up some fouls he's afraid to do anything, and that has to to stop. I'd rather a guy foul out knocking people over to get to the ball and stand around looking helpless. But there is plenty of blame to go around in this one, starting with the coaching staff and right on through the 31 three-point attempts and getting beat on the glass. If I'm Mike Thomas, I would have had a meeting with Mick after the game and made it very clear that things have to change. If that means changing some of the assistant coaching staff, then do it. I know Mick knows this, but I would have been on mad A.D. watching that. It was Dayton, a good team, but not a team that should embarrass U.C. on its home floor. Hopefully U.C. knows it was embarrassed, if not, the problems are bigger than I could possibly imagine. By the way, no more shots at the A-10 conference until you can beat teams from the A-10 conference.

Now for the trip to Salt Lake. I was flying out of Louisville, and when my boarding passes were being printed, a huge roar went up like the bell rang for the last day of school. I was almost correct. A battalion of what appeared to be junior high students descended on the place, and headed to the security gate. I was right in the middle of them. As we are standing in line, a rather long one, a woman comes up to me and says "sir, come with me. You don't need to be in the middle of this." She was a teacher with the group of students heading to Washington D.C. for a field trip. She took to be the front of the line of students, and my nerves were spared. I asked the teacher if I could kiss, and she started laughing out loud. She has plenty of company, I'm sure. Layover in Memphis is over, time to roll to Utah!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Xavier the New Hoyas, And Mom Didn't Freeze!

Jamel McLean and his mother, Velma, were kind enough to pose for this picture outside the Bradley Center after Jamel and the Xavier Musketeers knocked off Pitt. Jamel's mother thankfully wasn't freezing to death. She called on son to check on the Milwaukee weather Friday. Son said the weather was fine, with temperatures in the 50's. What Jamel didn't know was the weather was turning in a hurry. Velma left her heavy coat at home, only to be greeted by snow when she arrived in Milwaukee Saturday. But Jamel's mother was all for forgiveness after Jamel and the Musketeers marched into the Sweet 16.

Wow, can there be any detractors left? Xavier has built a program from the ground up. From Schmidt Fieldhouse to the Gardens to the Cintas Center. I'm not saying Xavier never had a program. The success of the 50's and early 60's is solid. But since the early 80's, the progress is undeniable. It's also the blueprint of how to build a program. No shortcuts, no flashes in the pan, just steady progress. This program reminds me of Georgetown in the 1980's. It has sizzle. Those not lucky enough to see this up close have no idea how it has happened. But those of us in Cincinnati have seen the class acts. If I start naming names, we'll run out of room. But I'll start by using Brian Grant as a shining example because he's done right by his hometown. His hometown is my hometown: Georgetown, Ohio. The radio broadcast team of big Joe Sunderman and Byron Larkin would be the first two guys to pull over and help a stranger fix a flat tire. Before I ask Father Graham for a loan, let's get back to the point. The mid-major tag is ridiculous. It is simply a product of the Atlantic 10 conference, and not a product of the Xavier program. There are programs in the so-called power conferences that would kill to have Xavier's situation. Beautiful on-campus arena and an administration that gets it. I've said it before and I'll say it again. A program is built from the top down. If the President and board aren't behind it, then nobody is behind it. But if it's important to the president and the board, then it's important to everyone on campus. That's what allows you to become one of just two schools (Michigan St.) to reach the Sweet 16 the last three tournaments. Should the Big East eventually break up and the football schools take off on their own, which program out there would be the first to get a phone call to join the Villanova-Georgetown party? The answer begins with X.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pick "em, Another Close Game For X

The odds makers expect another close game. The boys out in Vegas have Xavier and Pitt as a pick'em. It really has the makings of another awesome game in this great tournament. Inside, Kenny Frease is expecting a war. he talked about Pitt being one of the toughest teams in the country. I responded by saying, "so make sure you bring your mouth guard." Frease laughed and said yeah, yeah. Then I could see it in his eyes when he said "or make sure they have to bring theirs." I love that stuff. I also love the enthusiasm the college players bring to this tournament. Jordan Crawford was talking about how "March Madness" basketball is the best basketball in the world. Terrell Holloway says he considers this better than his birthday, or Christmas, or anything else in the world. he called it "the best time of his life." That's what makes collegiate, amateur sports what it is. Sure, these kids are taken care of for the most part, but they love to play, they love to compete, and that would darn near go to war for their teammates and the name across the front of their jersey. Nothing more. They don't play for next year's contract, or dog it so they can get out of their current contract. They play to win every time out. It's why Northern Iowa can jump up and knock off Kansas. It's why even the best teams have a hard time overcoming a bad day in the tournament. And as simple as it sounds, that's what it will come down to with Xavier and Pitt. Who has the better day, because at this point, every team is good.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Xcellent Work

Before we get to the Musketeers, send help: 7th Floor, Milwaukee Hyatt. My floor has been invaded by and infested with........PITT FANS! I think most of them are students. I might need reinforcements here.

Xavier was clearly the better team. There was only one small stretch in that game where I felt Xavier was outplayed, and that was in the first half. It wasn't a long stretch either. It was easy to see the effect Jordan Crawford had on the game. I was really surprised a couple of weeks ago when I checked a bunch of mock drafts on the web to see if they had him going. Not one of them had him anywhere in the two rounds. I'm thinking that changes soon. Whether he actually takes the leap or not, we'll see.
The bottom line on the game, Xavier was more athletic at every position that Minnesota. I was sitting 12 feet from the floor, it was obvious. Someone overlooked in the whole deal was Kenny Frease. He really did a nice job settling down the inside issues of Xavier, and actually gave Minnesota something to think about. As coach Mack said after the game, Kenny has a Big Ten type body. We were running around getting evrything ready for the early shows, so I did not see Pitt dismantle Oakland. I wish I could have seen it, but I'll see plenty Sunday when Xavier gets a rematch of last year's Sweet Sixteen game.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Almost Game Time

The great thing abougt the NCAA tournament, well, there are a lot of great things, but one of the great things is the fact you never hear anyone say "well, we treat it as just another game." They might say, "take it one game at a time" but you never hear a player or coach say it's just another game. There are numerous games throughout the season that players and coaches alike use the just another game cliche. the crosstown shootout comes to mind. But here, every player talks about how these are the games they dreamed about playing since they were little kids. Not one player or coach in the Xavier or Minnesota locker rooms pretended this waasn't where it's at. And it is.

Both teams appeared loose and ready. Xavier is really confident with the way the team has bounced back from previous losses. I think their depth at guard is something that the XU players feel could be an advantage. Dante Jackson cited guard play as something that gives this year's squad an advantage over last year's Xavier team.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Milwaukee and Ready For NCAA's

We've made it to the first round sight of Xavier's game with Minnesota on Friday. The public practices at the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee take place Thursday. The real practices where the teams get down and dirty with their game plans, etc., take place elsewhere. Xavier players and coaches will be discussing the big game around 1:45 EDT, and their practice will be at 2:30-3:10. Then it's locldown time until Friday's game with Minnesota.

It will be good to hear from Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. A class guy who I remember patiently answering questions on St. Patty's day several years ago with Kentucky in the NCAA. Finally Tubby said something to the effect of, "ok, is that enough for you guys, I mean, you have to have something else to do. It's St.
Patrick's day, go get some green beer."

I'm really surprised at the Vegas number on this game. Currently a pick 'em, I saw Minnesota favored by 1 Tuesday night.

Did anyone else get a bad feeling when U.C.'s huge lead over Weber St. melted away with 8 minutes to go? It worked out, but I still say pound the ball inside fellas, quit falling in love with the three. The second round matchup with Dayton should make for quite a game. Monday night at 9 p.m., Fifth Third Arena.

By the way, I'm in a real rut when it comes to jinxing teams. If I visit a high school, they lose the next game. If I pull a team out of the blue to praise, (like So. Florida in previous post) they lose at home in the first round of the NIT. I'm not sure the jinx is in place for teams covered on a regular basis, like Xavier and U.C., but since I'm in Milwaukee, the Musketeers better hope they are immune to this Schleprock type spell I'm casting. It wasn't my call to come here, so don't blame me if something goes wrong in the opening game. I just wanted to get it off my chest, I have been a true jinx.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NCAA Musings and Stats Stink. So Does The RPI

I really believe Xavier has a solid chance to be in the sweet 16, if not beyond. The conventional thinking says if Xavier had to struggle at home to beat Richmond, then lost to the Spiders in the A-10 tournament, the Musketeers aren't going anywhere. But Richmond is not the Richmond of old, especially with a coach that makes Doogie Howser look like Jerry Garcia. (look it up kids) You look at Xavier's path, and you see teams the Musketeers can beat. Will they? Who knows? It's March Madness baby! But I think they have an excellent shot at knocking off Pitt. Oh, yeah, first there is Tubby and the Golden Gophers. Why the heck are they in the tournament? I'm serious. You want a joke. Look at that resume. A win over Butler early in the year and a win over Ohio State in Evan Turner's second game back from injury. Solid wins. Oh yeah, Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney. (i swear sometimes Izzo just wants his team to get some rest) And then a win over the God-awful Robbie Hummel-less Purdue Boilermakers. And that's your at-large team. Wow. Nice job selection committee. Way to keep a "power" conference happy. Anyway, Xavier and Pitt should be as much fun as last year's NCAA match up.

I saw XU Athletic Director Mike Bobinski tonight. He is part of the selection committee and the tournament is better for it. I wish I would have had time to ask him about Minnesota, but our conversation was about the Xavier-Pitt match up in the second round. He swears, and I believe him, that they try to avoid these kind of re-matches. But there are so many other constraints on keeping conferences from matching up, and re-matches from the regular season, that the XU-Pitt rematch from last year's sweet 16 was too far down the list to move them to different regions.

Now for the Stats Stink and So Does The RPI part of this post.
For starters: South Florida has an RPI of 71. There isn't a team with a seed above 4 that would want to mess with the Bulls right now. According to the almighty RPI, South Florida has a strength of schedule of 62. They had one terrible loss, and it was brutal, to a Central Michigan team that Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, and Dan LeFevour couldn't save. But 10-10 in the toughest conference in the country is a plus and should hold a little more weight than a somewhat crappy non-conference schedule. I'm telling you, the Bulls would beat a lot of teams in the tournament. The RPI is a fraud we swallow just as easily as we swallow federal withholding taxes.

I've looked at so many stats on these NCAA bubble teams, etc., it made my head hurt. You can't come up with anything solid. I'm excited about Baylor. I think the Texas-Wake Forest match up is hilarious. They didn't know what to do with these two badly fading teams. Texas was 18-2 at one point this season. The Longhorns were 6-7 in the last 13 games. Wake lost five of its' last 6. It doesn't matter. The committee got this one right. The winner gets devoured by the World Wide Wesses. Sorry Kentucky fans. I pay taxes in your state, I live here, but that's the way I see it.

PS-Good Luck Charlotte. You just offed a good coach, perhaps the best you'll get in awhile, a long while.

I don't know where I stand or what happened in the case of Jim Leavitt's firing at South Florida. But if South Florida counter-sues Leavitt for impersonating a football coach after mid-October of each season, the administration wins.

Friday, March 12, 2010

U.C. Tougher and the Missile

The Bearcats performance at the Big East tournament was a display of toughness. Yes, I said this bunch of maligned players showed excellent toughness, and that's a start. Weeks ago critics had said Mick lost the team, he doesn't know how to make them play hard, and boy, they'd never play that way for Huggs. The Bearcats were a mystery, and there were times I thought they didn't play as hard as I would like. (early second half at south florida still sticks in my craw) But that can't be said of the U.C. team in New York this past week. They played as hard or harder than West Virginia. They did a much better job attacking the basket on offense, and while there were some wild shots, it was better than standing around and settling for jumpers. Plus, it makes the other team work that much harder on defense. I think the young Bearcats learned something this week. I have a lot more hope than a week ago that this team is getting there. We'll know more when the N.I.T rolls around.

I wonder if Rashad Bishop will be back. I have no reason to think otherwise, but I can't say U.C. missed him.

Should Aroldis Chapman keep it up, this is going to be something. The Reds have not had this kind of buzz about a player since they traded for Ken Griffey Jr. The Reds have to hope this turns out a little better, and it should since Chapman doesn't have 10 years of running around on AstroTurf under his belt. I may be the first one walking into G.A.B.P. with a missle shaped hat on my head for the "Cuban Missile."

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Not a good time for the Bearcats to lay another egg after my impassioned defense of Mick and the direction of the program. At least I don't have to listen to donors complain, but I'm sure A.D. Mike Thomas is hearing it. One day after Thomas says Mick is coming back next season, U.C. plays perhaps its worst second half of the season. That's saying something when you think about the second half performances against South Florida and Syracuse. I cannot defend leaving Ibrahima Thomas in the game after he picked up his third foul early (18:02 on clock) in the second half. Just nine seconds later he picked up foul number four. It may not have mattered, since the only guy playing well was Stephenson, and to a degree, Thomas. This was a setback, and on these days it is hard to believe in my "success is not a straight line" theory. Besides the basketball, Mick needs to temper, or quit altogether, comments about referees, playing in the Big East, and how much easier it would be in other conferences. U.C. is in the Big East, that's the hand you are dealt, so find a way to compete. I still believe in my theory, but Mick just gave another several pounds of red-meat to his detractors, and a fan base that is losing faith faster than that three point deficit at Georgetown turned into a 27 point blowout.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sick Of Mick Getting Bashed

I'll take the bullets. I'll take the bashing for being a homer and kissing up to a local head coach. But a lot of the bashing I'm hearing about U.C. head basketball coach Mick Cronin is making me sick. I usually consider the source of the bashing, so I can blow off some of the know-nothings that see another close loss at home and fail to consider Villanova was the ninth-ranked team in the country and coming off a beat-down at Syracuse. I, like many, see the inability of this team to finish off close games. Over half of the 13 losses have been by six points or less. Three of those losses were overtime games. (Double overtime in the case of Xavier) It's fair to question some of the late game strategies, like Gates being benched for the final 12 minutes of the overtime loss to Marquette. I think the big guy could have made a difference, and I said as much at the time. I was also disturbed by the late meltdown at St. John's and the lack of focus at South Florida that resulted in what I consider the worst loss of the Big East season.
But think about what is going on here people! Seven of 13 losses by six points or less. They are close. They were close to beating Bob Huggins and 8/10th ranked West Virginia on the Mountaineers home floor. Bad calls happen, and they happened in that game and may have cost U.C. the game. You can't lay it all on that, but Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals certainly felt the same way when their bus pulled out of Morgantown this season. They were close to beating Villanova, and may have pulled it off if a couple of upperclassmen had made their wide open three-point shots late in the game. Notice I said "wide-open." If this team could shoot, the offense would look a lot better. I still don't feel they penetrate enough or pound it inside enough. I feel they need to do it more because of the poor outside shooting that plagues this team. But I digress, we're talking "Big Picture" here.
Big Picture: Four years ago U.C. basketball was a nuclear wasteland. Plenty of radiation and very few living human beings, especially ones that could play basketball. It was a very toxic situation, with the NCAA breathing down U.C's neck for academic progress issues. Remember the scholarship that was yanked? There was a threat of losing a couple more if things didn't turn around. It's funny how that's always forgotten when complaints are heard about the lack of progress in four years. But here are the Bearcats, four years later, losing by four points to the ninth ranked team in the country. And here are some supposed backers of the program who want to see things get better by unfurling a banner that says "Mick's March Sadness". I wonder what potential recruits think about that kind of support? I know what I think: Money can buy you nice seats at the game but it can't buy you class. I agree that the late season records for Mick are poor, but this is the first season he's had enough bullets in the chamber to fire for an entire season. No coach is perfect and few, if any, make a program successful on a straight, upwardly mobile line. Should U.C. get run out of the gym at Georgetown and lose in the first round of the Big East tournament, it's going to get ugly. But I'm giving Mick another year to shake off the rest of the radiation sickness and while he does that, send the bullets my way.