Monday, March 28, 2011

Big Blue Now The Favorite

First off, a big thanks to Kentucky fans for not tearing me up because of my Ohio State prediction. Honestly, if I had known William Buford would be held to, or clang his way to, a 2-16 performance from the field, I would have taken the Wildcats. All kidding aside it was a terrific game, as good as could be expected. The Wildcats backed up that performance by taking out a good North Carolina team. Kentucky hacked its way through the toughest path to the Final Four and is now the favorite to win it all. While that is my opinion, the boys in Vegas feel the same way. They have it Kentucky, then UConn, followed by Butler, then VCU. Kentucky is a slight favorite over UConn, with the Wildcats an early two point fave.

By the way, VCU taking down Kansas like that was huge. Too bad we don't get to see a similar scenario in December with football. Of course it would not be feasible to have the same type and number of Cinderella candidates in a football playoff, but you could have one, maybe two. But instead we cling to the outdated, old school, can't upset the sponsors, gee that's the way we've always done it bowl system that makes absolutely no sense. They tell me the money wouldn't be the same for a playoff. I'll tell you what, give me a playoff system to sell and I'll double any money being made right now. Heck, ask UConn how great the bowl system is. The Huskies lost
$1.8 million dollars going to the Fiest Bowl!
Anyone want to bet that wouldn't happen in a BCS Playoff game? I'll take every dime you have on that one. By the way, a lot of friends, colleagues, and media members I respect still champion the bowl system. I don't think they are idiots, I don't think they are fools, but I do have a feeling they are all driving a
Model T!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Border War Comes To Cincy

If you walk around the Greater Cincinnati area you are going to see the signs. Some of those signs are Kentucky Blue and some of those signs are Ohio State Scarlet and Grey.
Most of the collegiate gear in town has something to do with U.C. or Xavier, but there’s enough of the other to spark more than one sports bar argument in Cincinnati on Friday.
Ohio State and Kentucky meet in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in Newark, New Jersey, at 9:45 p.m. The Buckeyes are the odds on favorite to win the whole shooting match while the Wildcats are talented enough to fire a fatal blast. It’s an intriguing matchup between equally intriguing fan bases.
Kentucky fans think basketball first. Ohio State fans think football first. That might be where the differences end. Both fan bases have made their program the dominant collegiate sports program in their state. Both aren’t afraid to travel long distances to support their team. Both pour huge amounts of money into their program through donations and ticket sales. Both expect to hang banners every single year. Both know how to tailgate with the best in the country. Yes, basketball fans tailgate at NCAA Regional games.
So which fan base will celebrate Friday night with hopes of a Final Four? This is going to be a close call. Ohio State is coming off a dominating performance against George Mason on Sunday. The Buckeyes dropped 16 shots from long range and won 98-66. Senior David Lighty made all seven of his three-point shots. Lighty teams with fellow senior Jon Diebler, junior William Buford, and freshman Aaron Craft for perhaps the best perimeter play in the country. But the man who has turned Ohio State into a national title favorite is freshman Jared Sullinger. The 6-9, 280 pound freshman man-child is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game. If he gets it down low, it’s over. Fellow forward Dallas Lauderdale is 6-8, 255 pounds
But Kentucky is able to match that beef with Senior Josh Harrellson and freshman Terrence Jones. Harrellson has turned into a fan favorite and is nicknamed “jorts”, a reference to a picture of him in jean shorts while attending a U.K. spring football game. He’s worked himself into the starting lineup and grabs close to 9 rebounds a game. He can also score if he’s called upon. But the freshman Jones has been handling most of the scoring load for the big men with 16 point a game. Like Ohio State, the Wildcats have some guards with big-time game. Freshman Brandon Knight leads the way with 17 points a game. Freshman Doron Lamb is pitching in with 12 points per game, while juniors Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins score 11 and 8 respectively.
The fans are even, the players are even, but the Wildcats have a better pedigree in the tournament with 13 Final four appearance and 7 National championships. The Buckeyes can boast 10 Final Fours but just one National Title. However, the Wildcats have never beaten Ohio State in an NCAA Tournament game. The Buckeyes are 5-0 against Kentucky in the tournament play, with the last meeting coming in 1987.
So again, we are back to even. Because I live in Northern Kentucky and work in Cincinnati, I should claim complete neutrality in this game and say it is “too close to call”. But what fun would that be? The Buckeyes only lost twice in the regular season while Kentucky suffered eight defeats. On first blush, I really felt the Buckeyes had the edge. After taking a closer look I don’t think that edge is insurmountable. I’ll go out on a limb and say the experienced Diebler hits a very late three point shot to win it for the Buckeyes. Either way, there will be plenty of fans cheering, celebrating, and backing their teams at Cincinnati establishments. That’s a win for everyone in the border town of Cincinnati.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

U.C. Exits Tournament As Walker Drops 33

It was the Kemba Walker the U.C. Bearcats feared. Walker exploded for 33 points in the Saturday night’s NCAA tournament game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and the Connecticut Huskies huustled away with a 69-58 win. The Huskies end the season for U.C. by winning their seventh game in a row. Senior Rashad Bishop led U.C. with 22 points.
Cincinnati seized early momentum behind a hot shooting Bishop. Bishop had 10 of the Bearcats’ first 15 points after buring back to back 3-point shots. U.C. jumped out to a 17-8 lead. That lead melted away in a hurry. UConn responed with a 16-3 run to take a 24-20 lead. After the Bearcats steadied the ship, the Huskies extended the lead with a four point possession. Justin Jackson was called for a questionable flagrant foul on Walker. After Walker made both free throws Charles Okwandu hit a jumper to put the Huskies up by 9. Connecticut took a 36-28 lead to the halftime locker room behind Walker’s 15 points.
The Bearcats went toe to toe with UConn in the second half. U.C. scored the first six points before Walker made a jumper to stop the bleeding. The Bearcats eventually took the lead 43-42 with 11 minutes remaining, but the Huskies went on a run behind the play making and shooting of Walker.
U.C. finishes the season with a 26-9 record after making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.

Friday, March 18, 2011

U.C. Means Business Now

After entertaining the media with an "Afternoon at the Improv" on Wednesday, the U.C. locker room was more business-like Friday afternoon. This team always seems to have fun, but they were hyper-fun for 48 hours, and feel a need to dial back a bit and take a shot at the Sweet 16. Larry Davis said the plan is to bear down in D.C., then have fun when they get back to Cincinnati. To really have fun, the Bearcats will have to overcome one of the hottest teams in the country. Connecticut won five games in five days to claim the Big East tournament title, then destroyed Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was just about three weeks ago when UConn beat the Bearcats at U.C. by a score of 67-59. All-Everything guard Kemba Walker had 16 points in that game, many of those points coming in a key second half that put the game out of reach, But while beating UConn might begin with stopping Walker, it doesn't end there. Freshman Jeremy Lamb led UConn with 17 points that day. As Darnell Wilks says, you can't let Walker get his teammates going. When that happens the Huskies become a multi-headed monster. Should U.C. be able to play Saturday night with the same energy and efficiency that was shown against Missouri, the Bearcats have a chance. The U.C. players claim they are still looking for respect. They will get that and more with a win Saturday night. They will earn the school's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001.
By the way, the bad blood between Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun and U.C. head coach Mick Cronin seems to be gone. At the Big East tournament Calhoun called out Cronin for being the only Big East coach not to vote for Kemba Walker as part of the All-Big East team. But there was a problem. Cronin said he did vote for Walker and Mick returned fire by saying if Calhoun wanted to know who Cronin voted for, Calhoun should have asked before making public accusations. Today Calhoun said he called Mick and this is no longer an issue.

U.C. Withstands 40 Minutes

Yancy Gates was right. So were Larry Davis and Biggie McClain. Gates said the Bearcats had seen it all in the Big East Conference, so the “40 Minutes of Hell” coming from Missouri would be nothing new. Davis and McClain said Missouri better worry about the 40 minutes of hell the Bearcats were preparing for Mizzou. U.C. responded with an emphatic 78 to 63 win over the Tigers Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament opener.
After the win U.C. head coach Mick Cronin talked about the lack of respect he feels his team was shown throughout the season. He doesn't expect that to change as the Bearcats advance to meet Connecticut in the next round. The players agreed withe their head coach, but claim it has fueled a fire they think has propelled them to this point. This point is a place the Bearcats haven't reached since 2005.
Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the Bearcats were off to a tenative start against Missouri. Then U.C. awoke to outscore Missouri 37-19 the rest of the way in the opening stanza. U.C. slapped a zone defense on Missouri in the first half that stifled the Tigers as the Bearcats took a 39-28 lead to the locker room.
Missouri made several runs in the second half, once cutting the U.C. lead to six. But the Bearcats responded each time with a flurry of layups and three-point plays. Things went so well for U.C. that Gates canned two 3-point shots in the game, one in the first half and another in the second. After the game U.C. Head Coach Mick Cronin laughed when I jokingly asked him if Yancy now had the green light. Cronin laughed out loud and said, "It's the worst thing that could have happened." Gates led all players with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Dion Dixon had 16 points while Cashmere Wright handed out a game-high 7 assists.
The Bearcats will have the late game again Saturday night. They are scheduled to tip off against Connecticut approximately 9:40 p.m.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Game Day For Bearcats

U.C. fans have been waiting since March of 2005 to see their team play another NCAA tournament game. That day is here. With the late starting time tonight almost all of those fans waited until today to make their way to Washington, D.C. Of course they hope to stay for the weekend but the Bearcats have to withstand the pressure of Missouri. Sometimes the U.C. guards take care of the basketball and other times there have been issues. The fact that Cashmere Wright has had several days to rest up a problematic knee should be a plus. Wright will have to play a lot of minutes and carry the ball handling load against the Tigers. Where U.C. really needs to win this game is on the defensive end. The defense was solid for an entire season until the meltdown last week against Notre Dame. That would have to be the scary thing for U.C. fans going into this game. Missouri has a very capable shooter who can hurt a team from the perimeter. Marcus Denmon averages 17 points a game and is better than 45% from three-point range. Mizzou's entire starting five averages double-digits in scoring. Outside of the Notre Dame fiasco, the Bearcats have found ways to deal with teams that can score. They'll have to find a way to get that defensive edge back tonight. But U.C. should really exploit the rebounding category. Missouri simply stopped doing windows down the stretch. Granted, the Tigers lost the rebounding battle in their final five games, and lost four of those games. Kansas won the rebounding battle 49-29, including a whopping 16 offensive rebounds. Texas Tech had 15 offensive rebounds against the Tigers in the Big 12 tournament, but the Mizzou found a way to win that one. From the first time the U.C.-Missouri match up was announced, the rebounding battle seemed to be a big key. It still seems to be the big key for U.C. fans hoping to see the Bearcats play their second NCAA game since 2005 on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The D.C. Comedy Club

That's what the U.C. locker room turned into Wednesday afternoon before the Bearcats practiced at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C. During the season we don't get as much of a chance to learn the guys personalities and how they interact off the court because everything is really structured. But when you are in a locker room with some guys and they have some time to kill you can learn a little more of what they are all about. Fun and at ease with each other is what the media was treated to Wednesday afternoon. Teammates egged on Sean Kilpatrick to do imitations of everyone on the team, and everyone around the team. Most of the time was spent imitating adults, like the coaches, trainers, and even team doctors. Everyone laughed, including the targets of the jokes. Darnell Wilks stepped up and did a nice imitation of head coach Mick Cronin throwing his coat, then turning to the bench to grab a player (Biggie McClain) and send him into the game. Larry Davis pitched in with some of his own imitations, including one of Cashmere Wright that Cash captured on video. Davis also lifted the camera from our videographer John Tapogna then trudged around the locker room and trainer's room sticking the lens in everyone's face. They really stole the show and had a nice audience of onlookers. We were able to also get some insight into the game. Wright and Dion Dixon know they'll have to take care of the ball, and Gates is confident the Bearcats can withstand the "40 minutes of hell" Missouri likes to deliver with its frenetic pace on both sides of the ball. Yancy cited Louisville, St. John's, and Marquette as teams that try to make you play at a wild pace. But for the most part, it was a lot of laughter for a team that has known a lot of disappointment and derision over the years. These guys have been looking forward to the NCAA Tournament for a long time. Now they plan to make the most of it. Some might say the team was a little too loose, but I remember the same being said about a Bearcat team in the 1992 tournament. That's not to say this team is Final Four bound, but as long as you know there is a time for fun and a time to get down to business, everything will take care of itself. And if I go to the D.C. Comedy Club tonight, I will not see a better show than I saw this afternoon in the U.C. locker room.

D.C. Just A Sunday Drive Away

Or in our case, a Tuesday drive. We made it to Washington, D.C., in about 8 and a half hours, and we weren't even pushing it. It's not a bad drive at all. We stopped twice for gas, then had about a 15-20 minute stop to check on the driver of this car.
The young lady driving the car was okay. A bumped forehead and she complained of abdominal pain. She ran smack into the back of this tractor:

The young man driving the tractor was fine, just a little shaken up by the ordeal. It happened on Route 50 in southeastern Ohio just east of Athens. We rolled up on it less than a minute after it happened. We waited for the Ohio Highway Patrol and the paramedics to arrive. Once that was under control we were back on our way.
The route we drove was out of Cincinnati on Route 32. Then 32-50 through Parkersburg, West Virginia. Then Interstate 79 North to Interstate 68 East. We followed that to I-70 East, the I-270 South into D.C. There were no traffic hangups and no construction along the way. Just a clean, straight shot through the foothills of the Appalachians. We'll be looking for fans and looking for the U.C. coaches and players Wednesday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Bearcats conduct their public practice at 4:25-5:05 p.m. If you are on the fence about coming, I highly recommend it. But check on hotel space. We had a little issue Tuesday night, and it does set you back some bucks. So check ahead, but don't let the drive keep you from coming. There's plenty to do and see in D.C., including a heavy dose of March Madness.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Was Billy Packer Right?

Billy Packer fired a few shots at the TNT NBA analysts that will now be calling NCAA tournament. Charles Barkley then ripped Packer in a funny rant. Then, on the CBS Selection Show, TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith gives Packer some ammunition. Smith calls Xavier the dreaded Eggs-Zavier and star guard Tu Holloway Tu Holiday. Xavier and Tu took it well though. Here is Kenny and some reaction from X coach Chris Mack and Tu.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bring On The Tournaments... Please!

Thank goodness its tournament time because maybe people will quit talking about Charlie Sheen.
The local teams are all playing better and better. Ohio State destroyed Wisconsin Sunday and looks like the number one team again. U.C. and Xavier appear to be safely in the top half of the bracket. Kentucky finally got the kind of road win in the SEC that should inspire some confidence. Louisville found a tough way to lose at West Virginia Saturday, but the Cardinals still own the 3 seed in the Big East tournament.
Xavier has the A-10 Player of the Year (Tu Holloway) and Coach of the Year (Chris Mack), so it will be an upset if they don't win the A-10 tournament. Of course one bad half of basketball can sink you, and that's why these tournaments are so exciting, anything can happen.
Yes, anything can happen. Just look at the final stretch of six games by the men of Clifton. The Bearcats won five of those games. Three weeks ago Yancy Gates was seen as the poster child for the problems in Clifton. Now he is the poster child for what is right. His numbers don't really reflect the effect he has had on these games but his numbers are solid. When it comes to free throws, his numbers are staggering. Buoyed by his 10 for 10 performance from the line Saturday, Gates is 27-34 from the line in the final 6 games. That's 79 per cent. Before the recent spurt Gates had made just 36 free throws the entire season! His FT percentage was 48. So I submit that the young man has found a peace of mind and a new-found concentration that has translated into production on the court and wins for the Bearcats. And it happened just in time for the tournaments.

Carson Palmer's home in Indian Hill has yet to be listed. At least one of the breathless reports last month said it would be on the market March 1. Sometimes I think Palmer is sitting back and laughing about the whole uproar. But most of the time I think Carson is wishing the whole thing would just go away and he would land with another team. Someone told me recently Carson's wishes to leave Cincinnati are more about the way he has been treated by the city lately. If that's the case then he doesn't have the mettle, the guts, the steely interior to be a leader on a championship team. I remember Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson lying on the field injured as fans cheered that he would be leaving the game. He dusted himself off and two years later won an NFL MVP award while leading the Bengals to a Super Bowl. I really hope and really doubt it is just the fans running Carson off. It could be a part of it, who knows? He still isn't saying anything. It could be the front office, it could be the coach, or coaches, it could be some annoying teammates, it could be the fans, it could be his wife doesn't like it here, or it could be a combination of all of these things. I've heard all of the above. This week someone will probably tell me he doesn't like the streetcar proposal. That's how silly it is, and that's how silly it will continue to be until Carson finally tells it like it is.