Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gates Opens Door For U.C.

It's not all Yancy Gates, but he is a symbol of U.C.'s recent step back from the brink of a lost season. Yancy was on the floor Wednesday night, scrapping and coming up with a loose ball. Did anyone see that coming 12 days ago? Yancy was ripping away rebounds from a Georgetown team that in the past could take rebounds from opponents with little more than an evil stare. 12 days ago Gates was getting the evil stares from a Fifth Third Arena crowd as he sat at the end of the U.C. bench looking somewhat befuddled at best, and disinterested at worst. It was at this point when it appeared Gates would never be the player Cincinnati thought he could be. He just didn't have the fire, the passion, and the hustle to succeed at a high level. Then came a productive, honest talk with coaches and perhaps a little heart to heart with himself. Talk about immediate dividends. During his first shift against Louisville Gates was playing with obvious passion, fighting for position, fighting to get the ball in the post, fighting to find open teammates, fighting to do those selfless things that don't show up in the box score. He received a nice ovation after that shift. The applause hasn't stopped. Neither have the Bearcats. They are back to the hard-nosed, take no prisoners approach that allowed them to raise expectations while blasting their way through a weak non-conference schedule. Most of the guys kept playing that way, but it works a lot better when everyone plays that way. Everyone, including Yancy, started playing that way just in time to save their season.

After the Georgetown win, U.C. has an RPI at 34 or 33, depending on the mathematician. A lot of people believe they have sealed an NCAA bid. Maybe, probably, but goofier things have happened. They have three more chances to make it a given, so why leave it to chance? Go worst case scenario and say U.C. loses its final three regular season games and the first game in the Big East tournament. That would not look good. But if U.C. keeps playing with the same fire, they shouldn't have to worry about that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Final Month Is Wide Open

College basketball is as wide open as ever heading into the final weeks of the regular season. While there is an upper-echelon of teams including Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Texas, and an array of suspects from Big East, there is no safe bet to get to the Final Four. There is no safe bet to get to the Elite Eight. There may not be a safe bet to get to the Sweet Sixteen. It is that wide open. It's bubble teams? Good luck sorting that out.

On paper, the Bearcats toughest game left would be the one Wednesday night at Georgetown. None of the games left are easy. Should they continue to play with the urgency displayed against Louisville and most of the Providence game, U.C. will make the NCAA tournament. Two more wins, and the 'Cats are a lock. The two home games offer the best chances for wins, (UConn and Gtown) but stealing a game at Marquette next week would be huge. One win, and they might still make it. But they would have to win at lest one game in the Big East tourney. Cashmere Wright and Yancy Gates will continue to be the key.

Xavier did the right thing by not forcing Tu Holloway into another triple-double. The game against LaSalle was long put to rest, and how bad would it have been if Tu grabs that tenth rebound and suffers a high ankle sprain int he process? 15 assists is an eye-popping number by itself. Wow! 15 in a college game. That is tied for second most in school history. Keith Walker had 18 in a game back in 1980. Earlier this season Tu had 14 in a game against Wake Forest. It was good to see X come out an claim this game from the get-go. Every team has a clunker or two and Xavier had one of those letdowns against Fordham Saturday night. It didn't happen against LaSalle as the Musketeers jumped out to a 38-6 lead. I don't care what team you are playing, you jump out 38-6, you are playing some serious basketball. Once again the Muskies are peaking at a good time.

Really? No franchise tag for the Bengals? Does this team just not care about winning at all? Sorry, but I just don't buy the line that the cost for Johnathan Joseph of Cedric Benson is "prohibitive." What a cop-out. Sure, Joseph has struggled with injuries and I understand being leery of that. I'll cut the Bengals some slack if the end up using a transition tag. But it's funny everyone else in the AFC North is using their franchise tag. But not the Bengals, because things are just going so swimmingly well for them. Gimme a break.

While on the subject of franchise tags, it is hilarious that the Browns used their tag on kicker Phil Dawson. I didn't understand when the Bengals did it with Shayne Graham (how did that work out?) and I don't get it now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bailout Plan For Bengals, Palmer?

The battle lines are drawn. On one side there is a quarterback who doesn’t appear to be interested in playing for the Bengals, and on the other side is an owner who doesn’t appear to be interested in moving forward. This will do the Bengals no good in building a competitive team for 2011 and beyond.

Former Bengals player Solomon Wilcots has a plan that will do the unthinkable. It will make Carson Palmer a happy quarterback and Mike Brown a celebrated owner (at least for a week). But Brown and the Bengals need to act quickly.

Wilcots is now an analyst for NFL games on CBS and also hosts a show on Sirius NFL Radio. On his show Thursday, Wilcots laid out the following plan: The Bengals take their fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft and send it to the Philadelphia Eagles for their pick at 23 in the first round plus quarterback Kevin Kolb and the Eagles. At the same time trade Palmer to the Seattle Seahawks for their pick at 25 in the first round. Presto! The Bengals get a starting quarterback in Kolb and have two first round picks.

I would even settle for a second round pick from the Eagles. It all makes too much sense. “They (Eagles) will not turn down the fourth overall pick in the draft,” said Wilcots. “And the Bengals will not find a player at the quarterback position better than Kevin Kolb in this draft.”

The Eagles were set to make Kolb their franchise quarterback as he entered his fourth season in 2010. But the gunslinger from the University of Houston suffered an injury early in the season. That opened the door for Michael Vick, and the way Vick lit up opposing defenses left the Eagles no choice but to try and find a new home for Kolb.

Wilcots has talked with coaches for the Eagles about Kolb. “They love him. They just love Mike Vick more," he said.

Wilcots agrees with the Eagles enthusiasm for Kolb and thinks he is a perfect quarterback to lead the Bengals into the future.

The second part of the equation makes as much sense as trading for Kolb. Trading Palmer to Seattle would reunite him with Head Coach Pete Carroll. Carroll was Palmer’s coach at the University of Southern California when Palmer won the Heisman Trophy. Palmer often expresses affection for his old coach, so it might be too good to be true.

But the Bengals need to act before the stalemate begins and the Bengals appear to be backed into a corner.

“You should be proactive before the value falls,” said Wilcots.

Proactive and Bengals have not appeared in the same sentence for a long time. But the time has come and the Bengals need to strike before the real battle begins.

No Bluffing At Palmer's Poker Table

If Carson Palmer puts his house on the market next month, it’s another raise in his high stakes poker game with Mike Brown.

Carson opened with his trade demand to the Bengals president. Brown called Palmer’s bet by making a public statement that he will not consider trading his veteran quarterback. I have a feeling this is going to get ugly and drag on for quite some time.

We still haven’t heard anything directly from Palmer. But once his house hits the market, Palmer could be raising the stakes that he is not coming back to Cincinnati. It could also mean Carson’s wife and kids are not coming back to Cincinnati, and Carson will rent a place during the season.

But there are too many signs that Carson is not bluffing and he is content to sit things out. The problem for Palmer? Brown is not bluffing either, and Brown holds the most chips.

There are people close to the team that feel there is little or no doubt Brown is all-in on this hand. Carson can make demands, he can move out west, but he can’t change teams until 2015 without Brown’s blessing.

It’s not a good plan to threaten Mike Brown with a holdout or retirement when you still have four years remaining on your contract. Especially when you consider Brown has an investment in Carson. Two playoff appearances and no playoff wins in seven years is not a sizable pot when you consider the chips Brown has tossed Palmer’s way over the years. I will be shocked if Brown folds his hand before Palmer sits out at least one season.

Should Palmer go through with the threat, he is really backed into a corner. First of all, if he really retires and sits out the rest of his contract, there are reports he would be passing up close to $50 million. That is not a good plan for any portfolio, even one as impressive as Palmer’s.

Would he really come back to Paul Brown Stadium after sitting out a season, a game, or a training camp? If he or his family were upset with some boos last season, how will he be received after all of this? The only positive for Palmer is that he is so sick with how the Bengals run the organization that he has to leave to keep his sanity. If that is the case, he has a lot of company with the same people who were booing him last season.

For the sake of the franchise, Brown should cut his losses and move on. He should have done that with Chad Ochocinco a few years ago. It’s not like Palmer has played at an elite level recently. Based on his play the past few years, I would be looking to unload a big part of his remaining contract on a team starving for a quarterback.

But that’s me and I’m not the guy holding the biggest part of the chips in this game. Mike Brown holds the chips. Carson seems bent on finding that out the hard way.

Monday, February 7, 2011

So, Was It Super?

You bet it was, and for one reason: FOOTBALL!  It was too bad the Steelers shot themselves in the foot, but it was an entertaining and interesting game to the final minute.  I thought the television production was well done, and I thought the game MVP was awesome.  Aaron Rodgers is the reason I really enjoyed the game.  He has negotiated quite the crazy path to superstar status.  He wasn't highly recruited out of high school because of his size, he had to live a draft day nightmare, then had to endure an awkward transition as the Packers did everything but hook a tow truck to Brett Favre's Wrangler jeans so the young guy could get his chance.  Through it all, not one harsh word from Rodgers.  He saw Alex Smith go number one in the draft ahead of him.  Heck, even fellow collegiate quarterback Matt Jones was drafted ahead of Rodgers, and Jones was drafted as a wide receiver.  All captured on ESPN while Rodgers sat alone in the Green Room at draft headquarters.  The same fans dancing in the streets of Green Bay Sunday night were belittling Rodgers not that long ago because he could never be the legend.  Perhaps not, but he has brought as many titles to Titletown as the legendary Favre.  It doesn't mean he's as good as Brett, but it does mean  this guy has some big-time guts.  Aaron Rodgers has endured a lot over the years, and not a harsh word.  No drama, no off the field headlines, just FOOTBALL!  WINNING FOOTBALL!
Now for what I didn't like.  The National Anthem.  I'm not much of a pop culture guy so I don't know a lot about Christina Aguilera.  I just know she butchered the Anthem.  Please NFL, rotate the Anthem between the choruses of the Armed Forces.  Please?  But Christy, thanks babe for stopping the anthem when you did.  I was able to cash my ticket for under one minute, 54 seconds. (she made it by about .6 seconds)
It's also time to dump the halftime show.  Who needs all of that baloney in the middle of a football game?  I don't care if it's the Peas, The Who, that guy with Janet Jackson, I don't need it in the middle of the biggest game of the year.  It just ruins the whole feel of the game, and having a 40 minute halftime or whatever interrupts the flow of the game for the players too.  I would rather have frisbee dogs in the background while we get some good football talk than watch a bunch of people dressed like Star Trek rejects dancing all over the turf.  It was awful.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bengals Play Arena Ball

The reaction to Jay Gruden coming to save the Bengals offense is lukewarm, at best.  I like the move.  Maybe he wasn't my first choice, but he is a guy I find very intriguing.  It's easy to take swipes at Gruden.  He doesn't have the track record most NFL coordinators but he does have a knack for being around winning teams.  Albeit mostly in the Arena Football League.  But at least this is a new brain and a new sets of eyes that have seen things done in different ways.  It's not a recycled guy with close ties to the Bengals.  Marvin Lewis indicated Gruden is a take-charge kind of coach like defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.  He needs to be just that and willing to tell the rest of the offensive staff that things will be coached his way.   I'm skeptical that he'll have the means blow out some coaches who don't buy in.  If he doesn't, then it wouldn't matter who they hire.  He needs to have plenty of authority and Marvin indicated he will have it. We'll see.  But I see Gruden able to draw upon lessons learned, whether it be with Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville, his brother Jon in the NFL, or under his own watch in the AFL.  He has a 93-61 record as a head coach in the AFL, so he was doing something right.  The Gruden hire is by no means a home run, at least not yet. It is a move to go in another direction.  It's up to Gruden to prove it is the right direction.

I shouldn't be so stunned that Xavier lost at Charlotte, but I am.  For years in Conference USA that place was a snake pit for U.C.  Conference road games can be a bear.  I could see the games at Duquesne and Dayton becoming stumbling blocks.  But Charlotte?  That was a bad loss for the Musketeers.

U.C. is up against it Saturday against Pitt.  The Bearcats have lost six of their last seven against Pitt, and haven't won a game at Pittsburgh since joining the Big East.  I wish I had better news for Bearcat fans but I've seen nothing since the Big East schedule started that leads me to believe the Cats will be stealing a big win on the road Saturday.  I'm still looking at 9-9 in the Big East.  The could make it to 10, but I'm more convinced of 9 wins in the conference.  Then it will take a win, perhaps two, in the Big East Tourney to get them in the dance.

One last thing about the Reds Caravan and how the Reds continue to win the fans over.  If you were in line for an autograph and were unable to get one because the caravan had to pull out, you were given a voucher for a free ticket at a Reds game for the upcoming season.  Nice.