Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Quick Take On Marvin and Dalton and Rey

Marvin Lewis says publicly his quarterback and his middle linebacker need to take control of their respective units.  As Marvin put it, sometimes they need to be more of a, well, it's a nickname we often hear for guys named Richard.  I would think that is a reasonable thing to expect out of the traditional leadership positions of the offense and the defense.  But it doesn't always work out that way.  It is ideal, but not necessary to a winning football team.  Kenny Anderson is an example of a successful quarterback who didn't need to call out teammates.  But the successor to Anderson, the mega-opinionated Boomer Esiason, was quite the opposite. (By the way, I'm not calling Boomer a, uh, a Richard.  But he took control, called out teammates, and was a joy for the media to cover)  Marvin may absolutely, positively feel that Andy Dalton and Rey Maualuga have to become better leaders for this football team to succeed. But if that is the case why didn't he feel that way about Carson Palmer?  We all watched Carson walk around like a robot for 8 seasons and I never recall once Marvin Lewis questioning Carson as a leader.  But was Palmer a leader?  If he was it was a very well-kept secret at Paul Brown Stadium.  Meanwhile Chad OchoJohnsoncinco was allowed to act more like "Who-Dey" the mascot than a "professional" football player.  Maybe Lewis has learned from all of that.  Maybe Lewis is looking to kick-start a team with a season teetering on the brink of another season like 2010, and so many others before it.  Maybe Lewis is shifting responsibility for the teams woes to the players since the performance on the field seems to be getting worse with each game.  The apparent regression of this team opens the door for criticism of the coaching.  That is why a cynic would find it awfully convenient for Lewis to start naming names at this time.  But it wasn't like Marvin came into his weekly news conference with an agenda to shift blame.  It was one of the final things he said in his news conference after being somewhat pressed on the Bengals lack of progress on offense.  So this cynic is going to believe Marvin is genuine in his statement that Dalton and Maualuga can help their teammates by developing a harsher edge when needed.  I guess you can learn to be more harsh but it is somewhat rare to develop it without teammates seeing right through the phoniness.  That is going to take one heck of a coaching job and will require Marvin to sometimes be a Richard.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Big Letdown

The Colossal Collapse In Chicago, Blowing it in the Windy City, whatever you want to call it, it was ugly for the USA at the Ryder Cup on Sunday.  I'm still stunned they blew this thing.  12 singles matches,  the USA needed to win 4, and halve one,,, and the Americans couldn't do it.  Ian Poulter was the catalyst for the Europeans.  He closed with a rousing victory on Saturday to keep hope alive, then nailed his match on Sunday to finish with a 4-0 record in matches he participated in.  Meanwhile, Tiger Woods looked about as excited at I would at a Cello recital. 

The Bengals looked good.  A nice, solid, no nonsense win on the road.  Jacksonville isn't very good and the Bengals should dispatch them.  The same thing should happen to Miami at Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday.

U.C.'s big win over Virginia Tech made some nationals noise.  It also vaulted the Bearcats into one national poll and knocking on the door of the other.  23rd in the coaches poll and 26th in the A.P. voting. The Cats should be 6-0 heading to Louisville at the end of October.  But I still maintain, watch out for Zac Dysert and Miami next Saturday night. 

Big Sunday

The Bengals are thin at defensive back.  So thin they had to call up practice squad corner Chris Lewis-Harris.  Nothing against the youngster, but it is comforting to know Blaine Gabbert is still completing barely 50 percent of his passes.   I still like the Bengals chances.  Jones-Drew may get his yards, and may get a couple touchdowns, but the Bengals are still the better team in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Nothing against the NFL, I love it!  But Keegan Bradley versus Rory McIlroy is must-see TV.  The USA has a 10-6 lead going into the 12 singles matches at the Ryder Cup on Sunday.  Coverage begins at Noon on WLWT-TV/NBC. (Bengals are at 4:05, so there's time to drink in some of what the Cup has to offer)  This thing has been awesome.  I love Bubba teeing off on the first hole while the fans are cheering loudly.  Ian Poulter played along with that Saturday, and Poulter is turning in a masterful performance this weekend.  The USA cannot blow this lead.  This is going to be fun.

Anyone in Cincinnati still on the fence regarding UC football?  Yep, there's a bunch of you and I don't get it.  Embrace this program.  It is achieving the best wins-per-dollar than perhaps any BCS team in the country.  Cincinnati loves blue-collar, right?  Coach Butch Jones has come in like Popeye after a can of spinach and whipped the Bearcats into a football version of Pete Rose.  Have you seen them finish plays, finish halves, and finish games?  These dudes are tougher than the gristle I used to eat in junior high when school lunches were really "school lunches."  But old views and stereotypes are tough to break.  I get that.  I don't get staying on the sidelines when you can support a team that grinds, digs, and fights for 60 minutes to beat a decent Virginia Tech team.. The game winning catch by Damon Julian was spectacular.  Munchie Legaux ain't perfect, and sometimes ain't pretty, but he displayed a serious bit of moxie in that final drive.  There should easily be a full house at Nippert next Saturday for the Miami Redhawks.  And don't sleep on Miami. Zach Dysert is one of the best collegiate quarterbacks you are going to see.  He can beat you so many ways.  How about 6 touchdown passes and over 100 yards rushing in Saturday's win at Akron.  Ridiculous.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reds Go Out With A Bang

The final regular season game sent the fans home with a good feeling.  The Reds have been good at these kind of wins.  They are 11-8 in walkoff wins and 29-19 in one run games.  The 2-run rally in the bottom of the 9th ended a couple of droughts.  The Reds had gone 16 consecutive innings without a run, and Todd Frazier belted his first home run since August 21st.  Frazier credited a tip he received this morning from Reds manager Dusty Baker.  Dusty paid another visit to the clubhouse today and the players said he was looking good and very upbeat.  Maybe that is the best news today, and the second best may have been the comments of Mat Latos.  He had another strong outing, and he claimed he didn't come close to having his best stuff.  But he gave a lot of credit to Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and assistant coach Mack Jenkins.  Latos said they've taught him how to pitch, and not just throw. 

The goal for the Reds is to stay healthy for the next 6 games.  Interim manager Chris Speier allowed you want to make sure guys get their at-bats and are as sharp as possible heading into the playoffs.  But nothing trumps making sure the team is healthy.

Jay Bruce would like to know as soon as possible who the Reds will play in the first round of the playoffs.  Todd Frazier is just the opposite.  Todd says if he looks at too much video and clutters his brain, the worse he is at the plate.  Sort of like many of us on the golf tee.

Back to Dusty.  He yelled at me on the street Wednesday afternoon.  He said, "Hey man, I just saw you on television."  He sure did.  About 45 minutes earlier I had run an update on his condition during our noon news.  He looked and sounded great, and the pickup he was driving is best described by one of Dusty's favorite phrases: "Big Time!"

You knew the real refs would be back quicker than you can say "Touchback,  err  Touchdown!,, err we don't know for sure, but let's just stick with something and hope no one really notices."  The whole nation noticed and the NFL had to do something pronto!  Cincinnati gets Ed Hochuli.  He's had plenty of time to get pumped for this season.

U.C. can elevate the football profile "big-time" with a win against Virginia Tech this weekend.  I think the Bearcats can run on the Hokies, and I think the Bearcats think they can run on the Hokies.  I know Va Tech is favored, but I think its more of a tossup. If I were sure the U.C. defense will continue to hold up, then I would boldly predict a victory on Saturday.

By the way, I'm told former UC linebacker J.K. Schaffer had tryouts with the Bengals and the Patriots this past week.  Both teams like what they saw, but it's still a numbers game.,  I look for J.K. to be with someone soon.  

The Bengals could use some help on the defensive side of the ball.  They brought back safety Chris Crocker Thursday.  Safety and linebacker seem to be the positions where better production is a must.  I'm not sure they have the personnel on hand to make it happen, but if they do, this team could end up making another run to the playoffs.  Andy Dalton appears to be taking that second-year stride that is so important to young players.  The wide receivers are showing big play ability and tight end Jermaine Gresham continues to emerge as a reliable weapon for Dalton.  The young guards on the offensive line appear to be getting it done.  Benjarvus Green-Ellis looks to be an excellent pickup.  How is that for a dose of "Bengals Optimism"?  Seriously, this team could be 5-1 going into the home game against Pittsburgh.  But if the defense doesn't get shored up, the wheels could come flying off this thing in a hurry. 

It's Ryder Cup time.  I know it can be a little confusing with the different formats but this thing has become a big deal.  Catch some preview action on the Golf Channel for a little perspective.  I watched the "War by the Shore" special earlier this week.  It's about the 1991 Ryder Cup when this thing really took off and the players started playing for blood.  I'm not sure they are going to replay it, but it was good viewing and allows a greater appreciation of the event. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Notre Dame Leaving Big East Means What?

The Irish are off to the A.C.C. and the Big East is minus another institution.  How badly does this damage the Big East?  It certainly damages the conference in terms of public perception.  There could be real damage as well.  There is merit to the argument that the Big East should have told Note Dame years ago to go all-in with the Big East or take a hike.  I felt that should have happened the first time the A.C.C. raided the Big East when Boston College, Va. Tech, and Miami took a walk.  What did the Big East gain by kicking the Irish can down the road?  It's not like the Big East needed the Irish to keep the conference relevant in basketball. But by allowing Notre Dame call the shots and decide when to walk the Big East gets a kick in the teeth at a most inopportune time.  The Big East is embarking on the most important television contract talks in the history of the conference.  The survival of the league depends on these talks.  NBC has the Irish locked down for home games until 2015.  How nice would it have been for NBC and the Big East to build other games around the Irish football games with N.D. still a quasi-member?  It would have been especially attractive if Notre Dame would have agreed to play a few more games against Big East teams.  Even if it were only three games instead of the five games the Irish will play against A.C.C. teams, it would still give NBC perhaps 10 games of the Notre Dame schedule.  That would have been very attractive.  And that would have given the Big East a nice little return for allowing Notre Dame to use the conference as a dumping ground all of these years for basketball and other non-football activities.  The Big East held out those hopes but I can't blame Notre Dame for bolting after the recent trauma suffered by the conference.  Perhaps if Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia were still on board, the Irish would be too.  So now the Big East will have to hope NBC looks at the Big East the same way it did 24 hours ago.  The network should still be looking for games to put on the main network and certainly will be looking for inventory for the NBC Sports Network.  But it's not the nice, tidy package it could have been with Notre Dame in the Big East.  And public perception aside, that's the real reason the Big East should be concerned with this move.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bengals In For Long Season

They won't be sneaking up on anyone this season.  Last year the Bengals got off to a good start in the first half of the season and were the surprise of the NFL.  There is plenty of time to right the ship but based on game one in Baltimore the ship has a lot of leaks.   The Ravens came out and attacked the Bengals with a serious passion.  To the Bengals credit, they withstood the initial onslaught and still had a chance at halftime.  But oh, that second half was brutal.  This team has problems.  The defense was shockingly poor.  That was a common theme and a major disappointment.  The Ravens found guys wide open, Ray Rice found enought running room to push the ball forward, and Joe Flacco looked like the real deal.  The Bengals appeared to be little more than spectators as the Ravens ran their new no-huddle offense.  The best thing for the Bengals is the schedule.  With Cleveland at home next Sunday the Bengals have a chance to work on that defense.  The Browns offense appeared as inept in its opener as the Bengals defense appeared Monday night.  It is too early to call it a must-win for Cincinnati, but it really is a must-win.  If the defense doesn't improve in a hurry this season will get ugly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Anyone Else Worried?

I jokingly (maybe half jokingly) have said repeatedly on our "Sports Rock" show that I lay awake at night worried about the Bengals offensive line and running game.  Obviously the two go hand-in-hand and with the three different interior lineman from last season I'm holding my breath.  I still think the defense will be ok, but there is a little concern there as well.  But when your guards are a rookie and a second year man, and the center is a rookie or a new guy, you can only wait until the real bullets start firing to make a sound judgement.  But I remain concerned.

Apparently Dez Wells will land at Maryland and we wish the young man the best of luck.  But the curious case of Dez may never be completely settled in my mind.  I find it incredible that fellow students would sit on a a board and vote to expel Dez from school based on the available information.  The statement from Xavier left open the possibility that perhaps there was more to this than what was heard by the grand jury.  That could explain a lot, but we may never know for sure.  And it is unfair to speculate on the issue publicly but Xavier left that can of worms open.  Sadly, because of the way this went down publicly, there could be negative recruiting in the future.  Kids will be told if you go to X you better live like a monk.  Otherwise you could become a potential target or scapegoat.  That is not good for anyone.  Not the program and not the potential recruits who would be missing out on living and growing in our fine city.  I'm not sure what Xavier's next step should be, but I am sure there had to be a better way to handle the situation.

I'm sticking with September 25th as my date for the Reds to clinch the National League Central Division.  As soon as it happens, we can starting complaining about the idiotic playoff schedule that puts the team with the better record on the road for the first two games of the series.  Imagine that, a 5-game series, you have the alleged advantage, but you have to go in someone's house and pull out a win or be squarely behind the 8-ball.
Like I said, plenty of time to worry about that later.

U.C. opens the football season against Pitt on Thursday night.  Two things, Munchie Legaux and the middle of the defense.  To me those two items will be the biggest determining factor in U.C.'s success this season.  Munchie is the quarterback and that is the most important position on the team.  He handles the ball every offensive snap and he is expected to the on-field leader of the team.  The middle of the defense lost stalwarts Derek Wolfe and John Hughes at defensive tackle, and middle linebacker J.K. Shaffer.
Another thing to look for, a crowd.  If it's not a sellout I'm told it will be very, very close.  Fan support is huge for college athletics so it's time for U.C. football to consistently fill Nippert.  The team has played more than well enough since joining the Big East that it should be considered money well spent by local sports fans.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dog Days? These Days Are Great!

So August brings about the dog days but in Cincinnati these are some big days.  The Reds continue to tear it up and the Western and Southern Open brought a blur of action from morning to night.  If you think about the things this city has going for it from a sports standpoint, it's mighty impressive.  This year has been incredible.  The usual events plus Barry Larkin going into the Hall of Fame last month and several ties to the Summer Olympics in London.  A guy like me had plenty to do this year and that is a good thing.

And what about those Reds?  Look, I was first in line saying I wanted to see Aroldis Chapman become a starting pitcher.  But it appears he's become such a force in the closer role that it will be hard to take him out of that role.  Especially if the Reds keep getting this kind of production from the starting staff.  And give Dusty credit, he has brought in Chapman before the ninth inning when it has been warranted.  I wasn't sure that was going to happen.

Just when you thought the Big East was dead!  Hiring Mike Aresco from CBS Sports as the news commissioner could be a Godsend to the conference.  Having Aresco shepherd this conference through the upcoming television contract negotiations is huge.  You have to give U.C. President Gregory Williams a ton of credit for helping make it happen.  Aresco is a guy who used to sit on the other side of the table, who knows all of the tricks, knows what the deals are worth, and knows how to make them worth even more.  The Big East is facing the most critical media contract negotiations any conference has faced.  It will make or break the future of the Big East.  The Big East has to be feeling a lot better about that now than it did a week ago.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back In Business

Or I should say "Welcome Back" to myself.  If you can through our website WLWT.COM you noticed some changes.  Our blogs were down for awhile, then the whole Cooperstown thing came with Barry Larkin, and I'll be brutally honest, I forgot the blogs were back up and running.  I'm forgetful like that. 

While diving back into this, I must publicly send my condolences to Ken Broo and his family.  Ken lost his wife, Jackie, after a four and a half year battle with cancer.  Jackie was always friendly and upbeat and quite a media-savvy person in her own right.  Our community lost a great asset and citizen, so please keep the Broo family in your thoughts and prayers.

A couple of other notes that pale in comparison to the previous paragraph.
This isn't going out on a limb, but I really believe the Reds will be in the World Series.  No way they can keep up the recent pace of piling up wins, but they have come of age here lately.  Ryan Ludwick has broken loose and Drew Stubbs is putting the ball in play.  Will that last?  Maybe they stay red-hot, but the pitcing staff and the return of Votto should overcome any downturn.  There is mild concern here for the pitching holding up, but with the hammers they have in the bullpen, I love the chances.

I had a chance to see a basketball practice in Clifton last week.  The Bearcats basketball team is going to surprise some people.  The highly respected Mike DeCoursey has the 18th in The Sporting News early rankings.  After what I witnessed, they could be better than that.  Many local folks think it is rebuilding time with Yancy Gates gone.  He was the best inside weapon offensively the past few seasons.  But they have more than enough scorers elsewhere to pick up the slack.  They will run and gun and go 10 deep.  Add David Nyarsuk as an August pickup for depth and I see a team that can cause a lot of headaches. 

The Bengals get it going with a preseason game this weekend.  This team should improve, but how much?  I think they will need to improve to make the playoffs again because the schedule appears stout.  Usually you don't learn a whole lot in preseason, but I think we might be able to pickup a little about this team in the practice game.  If the linebackers get better and Taylor Mays is really the answer at safety, I can see this team making a nice run.  Marvin is right about the wide receivers.  Yeah, maybe they don't have a clear-cut stud at number two, but receivers 2-6 have a chance to be very good, giving the team a lot of options for Andy Dalton as he progresses through his second season.

Yeah, I know, a lot of optimism this time.  I'll try to come up with something negative in the next day or so.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Life Without Parole For Penn State

Ok, so it's not the "Death Penalty" for Penn State, but it is darned near as harsh. This is going to cripple the program for years. Four years without a chance to play in the postseason. Players can immediately transfer without having to sit out. So why would any player stay who can find a ride with another program? They won't. I haven't figured out the full affect of the scholarship limitations but on the surface it appears crippling. Walk-ons could be playing key roles. All of a sudden the Golden Gophers of Minnesota may not be the worst team in the Big Ten. The knee-jerk reaction is to think the Nittany Lions program will never be the same. However, it is not knee-jerk to think the program will be crippled for at least a decade. And forget getting back to the days when Penn State was a feared program. They had to build a protective bubble around State College, Pennsylvania, to make that happen. Fortunately that protective bubble was ripped away. What we found inside was ugly. Thankfully that bubble appears to have received the death penalty.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

$10 Buys Bengals A Lot Of Grief

I feel all of the pain that comes with the Bengals over the past 21 years.  I understand how people feel about Mike Brown and the way he runs the team.  I'm still mystified that he continues to be stubborn when it comes to an indoor practice facility.  We could go on and on and on and on.  Over two decades of poking eyes and knocking noggins like The Three Stooges has brought us to the point where Mike Brown and The Family can do nothing right, even when they do.  The reaction to this pep-rally to kickoff training camp at Paul Brown Stadium is Through the Looking-Glass.  Season ticket holders were invited and the entry fee is 10 dollars.  That's just a little more than season ticket holders pay for one beer at a game.  Fans who pay up will hear an address from head coach Marvin Lewis and some players, hear a local band play music, and see a fireworks show.  No one is forcing anyone to do anything.  If it sounds like it is worth $10, then fine.  If not, then find something else to do that evening.  But this outcry that the Bengals are fleecing their season ticket holders is borderline lunacy.  The best thing about the outcry was a column by The Enquirer's Paul Daugherty that brought about some hearty laughs.  I may not agree with the overall message but there was some excellent comedy in that piece.  But that piece also reflects what is really the root of the issue: Mike Brown Fatigue.  It reared its ugly head in earnest about 12 years ago.  The hiring of Marvin Lewis was supposed to cure Mike Brown Fatigue, but it was nothing more than a children's aspirin for a concussion.  There has been so much damage over the years that there may not be a cure.  But there is no sense in finding issues where none exist.  There's plenty to slam Brown about over the years, but this is not one of them.  Consider that a one-day ticket at Redsfest is $17.  The pep-rally is hardly Redsfest but it is a nice start by the organization.  Just be patient fans, Brown will probably give you something legitimate to complain about soon enough.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Baker Falls Into Closer Trap

It's happened.  Thursday night in San Diego was the perfect example.  Aroldis Chapman is no longer being used when the Reds need him most.  He is being used like a traditional closer.  In other words he comes in almost exclusively when the Reds have the lead and need three outs to end the game.  That is a waste of talent, and not just any talent, but one of the best arms in major league baseball.  Some of my friends will give me the old "Mariano Rivera did it for 15 years with the Yankees" routine, and in recent years that has been the case.  But not in earlier seasons when Rivera was a young buck.  And do the Reds have the lead late in the game as often as some of Rivera's Yankees teams?  The Reds need Chapman pitching an inning or two in a tie game instead of hoping like heck the Reds get the lead and then have a chance to use him.  Plus, he is already warming up several games he doesn't appear in.  So what the????   Dusty Baker needs to use his best weapon in critical points of the game.  If that's the eighth inning, so be it.  The best arm in the league does you no good sitting in the outfield bullpen while others are costing you the game.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chapman A Closer? Only On These Terms

So it's painfully obvious that Sean Marshall is not the man the Reds should be trusting in the ninth inning.  It's also painfully obvious that if Aroldis Chapman is not going to be in the starting rotation then he is going to be the best relief pitcher in baseball.  But if Dusty Baker insists on making him a closer, he better make him a non-traditional closer.  By that I mean not saving him every game until the ninth inning.  Continue to use Chapman in the most critical junctures of the final three innings.  He is the fireman, he is the hammer, he is the man to snuff out rallies and put teams in a sleeper-hold.  If Chapman is only going to come into games when the Reds have a lead in the ninth inning, then it is a waste of talent.  I've never seen the complete value of having your best relief pitcher only come into a game when you have a lead in the ninth inning.  What if there is a situation in the eighth inning where you have two men on and one out, and you are nursing a one run lead?  Shouldn't your top dog be in the game to put out that fire?  That's how it used to be when they called the top relief pitchers firemen.  Now most, if not all, managers, Baker included, save that guy until the ninth inning and the team has a lead of three runs or less.  Occasionally they dip into the closer when it is a tie game in the ninth, but rarely if ever to put out fires in the eighth.  And in the seventh?  Are you out of your mind Sparky?  Why, a closer come in a snuff out a rally that early?  The book doesn't call for that anymore.  With a guy named Chapman in the bullpen the book should call for that.  Aroldis can finish some games, but if there is trouble in the seventh or eighth, call him to the mound to get past the trouble.  Dusty needs to buck the trend, step outside the safety net of current managerial protocol, and make the kind of call that will benefit the Reds the most.  Chapman can close, but only if there aren't other fires along the way.  And if he has to pitch the eighth and the ninth, so what?  Let the big man, the best relief pitcher in baseball,  have at it. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Can Big East Football Survive?

Perhaps.  More than likely.  Yes, but it may not be the conference a lot of the current and future members want it to be.  Here's what I know: Louisville is begging to go to the Big 12.  Some in the Big 12 are begging for Louisville.  I'm told one of the power schools in the Big 12 is firmly behind bringing the Cardinals in because they feel they have West Virginia hanging out on the vine all alone.  Duh!  The conference is just now figuring that out ?  So now they are looking for an island to hop so their non-revenue sports can make a stopover at Louisville on the way to Morgantown.  Amazing!  Amazing that the guys who make these kind of half-baked moves in the first place have anything above a grammar school education.  The move of West Virginia made little sense for the Big 12 and for the Mountaineers.  Except money, of course.  The Big 12 needed another school so it had enough games to fill it's television contract obligation.  West Virginia freaked out with the loss of Pitt and Syracuse and grabbed the first empty seat and that seat comes with some extra television contract cash.  But it also comes with very little natural recruiting base.  Some of the ill-informed like to point to the same issues with Boise State and San Diego State joining the Big East, but that is a football only move.  The Aztec women's volleyball team won't be making any cross-country trips to Storrs, Connecticut. Regardless of the insanity I have a strong feeling Louisville will be gone.  Heck, the Cardinals are saying it to other members of the Big East.  They're saying it to their football recruits.  They are saying it to anyone who has sobered up since Derby Day.  Just a hunch, but the only thing that can possibly keep the Cardinals in the fold is quick movement on a hefty Big East television contract.  With a new commissioner on the way I'm not sure that can happen.  The loss of Louisville would not be a kill shot, but it's another blow.  It leaves behind a conference that has U.C., Boise, and UConn as the only schools that have scored a spot in a BCS bowl game.  That is not good.  I still subscribe to the theory that ESPN is more than happy to see Big East football go the way of the dodo bird.  But here's where the Big East has a nice trump card: Basketball.  It's not nearly as lucrative as football, but ESPN has a lot of time to fill during basketball season and nothing gets the eyeballs that time of year like Big East basketball.  The best news for Big East fans are reports that the basketball schools want to keep it together.  Should ESPN lose that inventory, and say NBC Sports Network makes a big play, then things could break the way of the Big East.  But that is best-case scenario thinking.  Worst case?  ESPN already has the other 5 power conferences locked up and is more than content to see those as the only schools that will have a realistic chance of being included in the future BCS Bowls.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bengals Hit Needs Again

For the second year in a row, the supply met the Bengals demand. Last year the Bengals hit pressing needs in the first two rounds with wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. This year the Bengals hit three needs in the first two rounds thanks to the two first-round picks on Thursday night. The argument could be made that the Bengals needed a safety, a wide receiver, or a running back in the second round instead of the defensive tackle they drafted. But there were no safties on the board good enough to take with a pick that high. There were a couple of wide receivers that could have been rated in that range, and the same with running backs. But Devon Still was too good for the Bengals to pass up. They needed another defensive tackle to add depth to the four-man rotation they like to play inside. They had great success with that type of rotation early last season. The knock on Still is inconsistency which is the knock on a lot of young guys. Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes suspects the fact Still had to play every down accounts for some of the issue. Somewhere in the draft the Bengals were going to grab their man to fill out the DT rotation. They jumped on a guy who is ready to play now. Wide Receiver and Safety would appear to be the most pressing needs as the draft trudges on. With cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round, a defensive tackle in the second, the Bengals have hit their needs. Did they hit those needs with capable players? You can never be sure on draft night but this observer is liking what the Bengals are doing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bengals Draft Presents Options

    In the good old days the Bengals, as much as any other team, would adhere to drafting the best player available.  But it is becoming much more apparent that teams are drafting for need more often than not.  This seems especially true in the early rounds.  Last year the Bengals needs and the best players available were one in the same.  A.J. Green and Andy Dalton were the perfect one-two punch in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFl draft.  It's doubtful the Bengals will ever find better fills for their needs with their first two picks.  But we will try to help them along, especially since their first two picks this year reside in the first round.  The Bengals get the 17th (Mike brown should offer at least one more thanks to the Oakland Raiders for this) and the 21st overall picks.
    For a team that made the playoffs last season the Bengals seem to have a healthy amount of needs.  The most pressing in my opinion happen to be offensive guard, safety, wide receiver, cornerback, and running back.  The Bengals signed a couple of veteran guards through free agency but a young stud is needed.  The Bengals are very thin at safety but the only one apparently worthy of first round status, Alabama's Mark Barron, is expected to be gone by the time the Bengals pick.  The Bengals have a home-run hitter in Green at wide receiver but now they need a good hands, good route man to work the intermediate zones.  Cornerback is another position where the Bengals signed a couple of veterans but an infusion of young blood would be a wise move.  Running back is not quite as pressing of a need with BenJarvis Green-Ellis on board.  But Green-Ellis has only once broken the 200-carry barrier in a season.  Cedric Benson broke the 200 barrier each of the past four seasons in Cincinnati.  So with all of that with a backdrop, this is what makes the most sense for the Bengals on draft day.
   With the 17th pick the Bengals should draft:
    Offensive guard David DeCastro out of Stanford.  He is reportedly a perfectionist with a bit of a nasty streak.  He could be the perfect piece to help anchor an offensive line for years.
    If DeCastro is gone the Bengals would do well to grab cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.  Guys who are 6-foot-2 and have the skills to play corner in the NFL are gold mines.  Kirkpatrick could help lessen the blow of the Bengals huge mistake of letting Johnathan Joseph get away before last season.  If Kirkpatrick is gone, do not, I repeat, do not draft cornerback Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama.  Way too many red flags waving are waving around Jenkins.  He was kicked out of Florida and is seen as a high risk in the character department.  I do believe in fresh starts and second chances, but never, and I mean never, with my first round picks.
    If DeCastro and Kirkpatrick are gone there is a chance wide receiver Michael Floyd will be around.  If he is, he's pulling on a tiger-striped helmet this season.  For years I have preached against drafting wide receivers too high.  Then along came a guy who goes by the initials A.J.  Floyd is seen as a perfect fit for a west-coast type of offense and could be the perfect compliment to the skills Green has brought to Cincinnati.
    If DeCastro, Kirkpatrick, and Floyd aren't around, is it too much to ask for linebacker Luke Kuechly to be around?  Almost assuredly, but if he is around he could be a guy that is way to good to pass up even if the aforementioned players are around.  The for Cincinnati St. Xavier and Boston College star has been described as the "cleanest" prospect in the draft.  By "clean", they mean no character or injury issues and no weaknesses in the game.  Give me the hometown kid is he's on the board.

With the 21st pick the Bengals should draft:
    Well, a lot of that depends on pick 17.  Let's suppose DeCastro wasn't taken at 17, then the Bengals should take guard Cordy Glenn out of Georgia.  He may not be quite the mover and puller that describes DeCastro's game, but the dude can play.  He is mammoth, 6-6, 345 pounds, and moved well enough to play some games at tackle for the Bulldogs.  He grades very well in the passing game and can be a mauler in the run game.  The Bengals would be well-served by taking this guy.
    If they drafted DeCastro at 17 there is a slight chance that corner Stephen Gilmore is on the board.  Doubtful, but possible.  If Gilmore is there and the Bengals need a corner, presto!  If Gilmore is not there and Jenkins is still available, I'm still passing on him.
    Should all of the above be off the board, I'm confident the Bengals can fill that wide receiver need here.  Kendall Wright of Baylor would be the best, and the best fit of the wide receivers that might be left on the board.  He can be a burner, but he is also decribed as fearless over the middle with great hands.  Wright is a guy who finds the holes to get open and can become a reliable outlet for a quarterback in trouble.  He also isn't afraid to block.  Wright would be my choice but Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech and Rueben Randle out of LSU would be good alternatives.  Randle especially seems to be a guy who would fit well across from Green.  Hill seems to possess a lot of the things Green brings to the game but perhaps not what the kind of game the Bengals need opposite A.J. 
    Let us not rule out a trade at this spot.  I'm skeptical of that but the Bengals are in a good position heading into the 2012 draft.  If drafting for need worked so well in 2011, then as Bill Cosby and his buddies once said in that movie released back in 1975, "Let's Do It Again!"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here Come The Cardinals

While the opening series is always big in Cincinnati this year I have caught myself looking forward to the second series of the season as much as the opener, maybe more. It's the St. Louis Cardinals coming in. The minute the schedule was released I noticed there were two series against the Cardinals early in the season. It may have caught my eye, but it certainly didn't catch the attention of veteran Scott Rolen. Rolen claimed he had no clue what was happening after the Marlin series. I thought he might be putting me on since he likes to mess with the media a little, but I think he was serious. He and a lot of the players make it a point to not look past anything. That is a great stance for them to take. But I always look forward to the Cardinals coming to town. In the 1970's Cincinnati had what St. Louis has now. I keep waiting for Cincinnati to yank back the title of "best baseball city in America." Maybe the commitment to players like Votto and Bruce is a step in that direction. But the Cardinals never stand pat. Lose and Albert Pujols, bring in a Carlos Beltran. It's an organization that always gives itself a chance to win. I think the Reds are setting themselves up to be that kind of program. There are still plenty of vibrant players at the minor league level who could pan out in the coming years. The Reds not only draft well, they sign well. They are not afraid to invest in young talent. So far it has brought them from the dark ages to a team that has won a division title. Staying on this path will deliver a team that is more than a one-hit wonder. After years and years of frustration it's fun to see the Reds on the right path. It's the same path the Cardinals have been on for decades.

 By the way, I absolutely loved the Masters this year. I know, I get into it every year, but there was something crazy every day. I know golf hasn't quite emerged from the age of "if Tiger isn't in it, I'm not interested." But maybe people who say that should wake up. There is crazy play in these tournaments every week. Keegan Bradley is a young guy who has shown an ability to hit wicked shots. Nothing more needs to be said after what Bubba Watson did Sunday. You want fearless? Bubba's shot out of the woods and hooking around the bend to the green in sudden death took more guts than a bungee jump on an old rubber band. Bubba went for it, and his reward was a Masters title and his first green jacket. It may not be his last the way left-handers are ripping through Augusta these days. Five of the last ten titles have been won by lefties. Mike Weir started the run in 2003, then Phil Mickelson won three, and along comes Bubba. By the way, for more on Bubba and his guts, check out this video Bubba appears in that was released last week. The more people watch this thing on Youtube, the more money will go to charity. By the way, Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, and Rickie Fowler display a lot of guys for their appearance in the video too. Crane seems like a crazy dude. By the way, Bubba is the one in the bib overalls. Beautiful!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reds Opening Day A Blast

Not just the game, but the entire day was a blast. It was like something I've never seen. The Banks was actually opn for business and serving Reds fans with an incredible atmosphere for pregame and post game festivities. If you were there, you know what I mean. The street party on Joe Nuxhall Way was like The Taste of Cincinnati meets Opening Day. It was incredible and is something this city has been starving for since the stadium tax was passed in the mid 1990's. So finally a Reds game doesn't mean show up near game time and vacate the premises as soon as the final out is recorded. A game can be an event, night in or night out. And what a game for the Reds. Jay Bruce had an awesome at-bat that led to a sacrifice fly and the Reds first run of the season. Bruce later hit a blast 442 feet off the batter's eye in center field. Good stuff. Newcomer Ryan Ludwick drove home a run with a double, and Chris heisey almost matched Bruce with a home run to center. Hesiey rattled the fence by the Reds bullpen with an RBI pinch double in the 8th inning. And what about that pitching? Johnny Cueto served notice that 2011 is the real Johnny. he three 7 shutout innings. Aroldis Chapman had two strikeouts in one inning of work. Sean Marshall finished off the 9th in his fiorst appearance with the Reds. A tidy 4-0 win. It was a big day all the way around. A crows of 42,956 was the largest to witness a regular season game at Great American Ball Park. The changes at the stadium were a hit with me. The new scoreboard graphics, the new video board in the concourses, and best of all- the flames that shoot out of the smokestacks in center field after a Reds pitcher records a strikeout. The flames are very cool. The Castellini's should be proud. The city should be proud. The Banks, the Findlay Market Parade, and the Reds provided local fans an incredible experience. It's just the beginning, but there are signs the whole season could be a blast.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bearcats Boot Big Chance

After trailing by 12 points at halftime, the Bearcats returned to the feisty ways that got them to the Sweet 16. They came all the way back to take a 4-point lead over the Buckeyes. U.C. had the momentum, and then as quickly as that found it, they lost it. Give Ohio State credit, the Buckeyes got their hands on the ball just about every time a Bearcat put it on the floor. But the careless Cats are not the same Cats that ended the season as a very tough out for any team inthe country. No one had a real answer for why the turnovers came. When you have mmomentum and have the lead, you take care of the basketball first. The Bearcats failed to do that. Give the Buckeyes credit, but the Bearcats feel like they kicked and fumbled this one away. Could they have won anyway? It would be hard for me to say that when the final score was a convincing 81-66.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bearcats and Buckeyes Brace For Boston Battle

Ohio State expected to be here. The Buckeyes have been among the top ranked teams in the country for the entire season. Not so much for Cincinnati. As junior guard Cashmere Wright says, “if you could take a poll at the beginning of the season, no one really expected us to get this far. “ But the Bearcats are here in Boston play the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s not like the Bearcats have shocked the world by being here. The team showed improvement throughout the season, culminating with a win over Syracuse in the Big East tournament and a spot in the conference championship game. Still, respect has been hard to find. “We have been underdogs to teams we beat three years in a row,” said U.C. senior guard Dion Dixon. “We’re used to it and we don’t pay any attention to it.”
What does get the Bearcats attention is the next opponent on the schedule. Ohio State (29-7) is a battled tested bunch from a Big Ten conference that has matched the Big East with four teams in the Sweet 16.
Sophomore Jared Sullinger is the headliner. The 6-9 Ohio State sophomore averages 17 points and 9 rebounds a game. Sullinger will matchup with U.C.’s Yancy Gates in a highly anticipated matchup. Even Gates is looking forward to it and said, “I play basketball because I like different challenges, and this is going to be a different one.” Sullinger sees it the same way. The two big men met on the floor once in high school. Sullinger has noticed a different Gates, especially since coming back from a six game suspension earlier this season. “He really changed his game around. He really is about the team and it really shows with his demeanor,” said Sullinger. “He’s playing hard. He’s playing fantastic for them right now.”
The battle of the big men may the marquee matchup but there will be battles all over the floor. Both big men are surrounded by talent. Ohio State has the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in guard Aaron Craft. “He’s really good at stripping the ball and he’s really good at playing his man on the ball,” said U.C. sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick. Then there is Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas. He scored 31 points in the NCAA tournament opener against Loyola Maryland. William Buford had 29 points in a game earlier this season and Lenzelle Smith had 28 in a game against Indiana. The Buckeyes can come at you from all angles.
The Bearcats feel they can do the same, with a confidence that is bolstered by 9 wins over teams that were ranked in the Top 25. “We know we got talent in here and we know we can beat anybody,” said Dixon. “We can play with anybody in the country as long as we come and do our job.”
The last time these two schools met in tournament play was the 1962 Championship game. Cincinnati won it 72-59. The Bearcats expect a closer outcome this time. “They’re a great team. They have guys that can score and they can also play defense,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s going to be a grind it out game.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bearcats Join Ohio Invitational

The U.C. Bearcats made it four Ohio teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. U.C., Xavier, Ohio State, and Ohio University make up 25% of the field that is left competing fopr the Nastional Championship. Throw in Kentucky, Louisville, and Indiana, and that's almost 50% of the field with heavy tri-state followings. That is simply amazing. And so was the performance by the Bearcats in Nashville Sunday night. U.C. outslugged Florida State 62-56. That sets up a match between the Bearcats and Ohio State. They'll meet Thursday night in Boston in the round of 16. After the game U.C. players downplayed the upcoming battle with the Buckeyes. There will be a few days to hype that. But the performance Sunday night should get top billing here. At times, the only guy U.C. had on the court that was taller than any of the Florida State players was Ysncy Gates. Gates slugged as best he could, and while he did the slugging it was 6-foot 3-inch JaQuon Parker doing the rebounding. Parker hauled in 11 boards, the most by anyone on either team. After the game head coach Mick Cronin acknowledged the guts of his team. He also expressed hope that people will finally start to give his team for having some talent. That talent was on display when Sean Kilpatrick hit a couple of huge three-point shots down the stretch. It was on display when Parker hit a nice pull-up jumper in the lane. It was on display with 1:30 to play when Dion Dixon made a nifty steal, and didn't need a dribble to make a two-fisted power dunk to give U.C. the lead once and for all. We can't overlook 19 of 23 from the free throw line for the Bearcats. The slugfest could not be overlooked. But Mick is right, the talent should not be overlooked either. U.C. makes it to the sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. Now it's onto the battle of Ohio. And the Bearcats will have plenty of Ohio company.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Game Day In Nashville

We hit the streets of Nashville and saw plenty of Cincinnati fans on the getting ready to roll. They are bonding with Ohio Bobcats fans to cheer against the two teams from Florida tonight. U.C. plays Florida State while the Bobs go against South Florida. We checkled out the U.C. Alumni party. It's happening on the Broadway strip at a place called Big Bangs. Considering it was more than five hours before game time, the turnout was good. The band and cheerleaders were there to liven things up. Not to beat a dead horse, but some fans are still sore about the starting time. I talked with two different people who originally were going to have other fans joining them in Nashville, but the late starting time messed that up. As for the game, the Bearcats need turnovers. Florida State turns the ball over a lot, and U.C. is adept at creating turnovers. I feel Justin Jackson is going to have to stay out of foul trouble and give the Cats some quality minutes. They need his length and athleticism against the taller Florida State squad. Jackson is from Florida and knows a couple of the Seminoles players well. He says he gave the coaches a good scouting report on those players. Cashmere Wright is worried about rebounding and the pace of the game. He says Florida State is methodical and he doesn't want the Seminoles to get offensive rebounds that will lead to long possessions. As Cash says, "then you're play defense for a minute and 10 seconds and nobody wants to do that!"
It's an excellent matchup and one that is too close to call for a lot of experts. The latest lines have the Bearcats a 2 1/2 point underdog.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Late Starting Time Draws Foul Call

When the NCAA bracket was released last weekend, it appeared to be the perfect weekend trip for U.C. fans. Just head to Nashville Friday morning, catch the Bearcats game at noon, and if they win, stay in town for the second game Sunday afternoon. Then its just a drive home Sunday evening and you are back in plenty of time for work on Monday. Perfect. And too good to be true. The NCAA released a starting time of 9:40 p.m. Sunday night for U.C. Bearcat fans and Florida State fans were forced to take action. Beg for an extra day off of work, drive home after midnight Sunday, or just dump the tickets and head home to watch the game on television. At least one of my friends became part of the latter category because of a Monday meeting that could not be changed. Another fan we talked to called his boss and was able to get the day off. Even U.C. head coach Mick Cronin made a plea to Cincinnati bosses during his television interview. Mick is asking the bosses to be sympathetic and grant the fans a day off on Monday. It's a real shame the NCAA allows this to happen. I'm told by one TV industry insider that there was an issue keeping the U.C.-Florida State game from conflicting with the Xavier contest and the Florida Gators contest. Based on the times of those games, U.C. could have tipped anywhere from Noon to 4p.m. without a conflict. But no. So once again the paying customer takes it in the wallet. It's a real shame that more and more there is less and less regard for the people who make the trips and buy the tickets. Honestly, think about this. For years I have moaned about paying $32 to see a Reds game but getting little or no replays on the big high-definition board at Great American Ball Park. I get hosed by getting off my butt and paying for a ticket while some schlep who can't get off his couch can see all of the replays on Fox Sports Ohio. It's enough to make you feel like a fool. I really hope the crowd isn't down for Sunday's session here in Nashville. But sadly, I think it will be a low turnout. The best games of the season with the most on the line and the NCAA makes sure there will be few people there to see it. In my book, that is a foul. A flagrant foul.

Friday, March 16, 2012

U.C. Shows Belief and Experience

With under four minutes to play Cincinnati found itself in a tie game. This, after blowing a 19 point lead in the second half. As the U.C. players looked around for answers, they found veterans ready to make big plays. A steal by Sean Kilpatrick, a score by Yancy Gates, a nice drive and layup by Cashmere Wright, then a jumper by Gates to give the Bearcats a 6 point lead over the Texas Longhorns with just over one minute to play. The players say they never panicked, but JaQuon Parker admitted after the game he would be lying if he said he didn't breathe a sigh of relief. Parker was quick to point out that U.C. is prepared for moments like the one it faced Friday. "Battle tested" is what head coach Mick Cronin calls his bunch. They maintain that the rigors of the past two months has them ready for anything, especially tight ball games. As Parker says, it's not often you have a 19 point lead in the Big East. So, should U.C. fans worry that the Bearcats lack a killer instinct to put teams away? Not so fast says Cronin. He maintains Texas is loaded with talent and capable of making the kind of run the Longhorns made in the second half of Friday's game. Cronin also reiterated his belief that he has a team equipped to win in the tournament. Cronin believes. His players believe. Belief and experience can be huge in the NCAA Tournament. That belief and enough experience carried the Bearcats past a Texas-sized comeback on Friday.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cronin Says U.C. Can Win It All

This afternoon UC coach Mick Cronin didn't flinch when asked if the Bearcats could win the whole shootin' match. He says his team has proven that when the Bearcats play the right way, they can beat anybody in the country. The trick is getting his team to play the right way. Cronin has gained supreme confidence in his ability and the ability of his team to do that. It didn't happen against the Louisville Cardinals in the Big East title game. But he believes his team learned a thing or two during the Big East Tournament. Now he has to hope that knowledge is put to good use in the opening match of the NCAA Tournament. Like many teams in the Big East, the Texas Longhorns have a gunslinger that will need some special attention. J'Covan Brown averages 20 points a game. The junior guard will be counted on by a team that starts three freshman. Three other freshman get playing time off the bench. After a recent injury to senior Alexis Wangemane the Longhorns have 6 freshman in their 8 man rotation. That is a lot of youth and it is something the Bearcats should be able to exploit. At least that is the plan. Brown will probably get his, but the Bearcats should be able to get theirs too. It says here the Bearcats will win the first round game. As for the whole shootin' match? I

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Coombs Gone, But Why?

It's not just the money. Like the rest of us, Kerry Coombs enjoys a bump in pay, but heading to big budget Ohio State and a bigger payday isn't the sole motivator in this move. Coombs has been a huge booster of Cincinnati sports from day one, and that includes the Bearcats. It also includes the Reds, the Bengals, (where his son is now employed) food, people, and anything else that comes from Cincinnati. So why drag his C-shaped heart and Bearcat growling voice up I-71 to the Buckeyes? Kerry hasn't told me this but based on what I think, Kerry feels this is his only avenue to ever become the head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Let's say Butch Jones leaves in the next year or two, would U.C. Athletic Director Whit Babock bump Kerry to the head coaching job? You've heard the criticisms of his resume. I've hear them myself. Such as, "He hasn't been a coordinator at the collegiate level yet." "He's only been a head coach at the high school level." Sometimes to get what you want in your own backyard, you have to leave the neighborhood for a while. It almost happened when Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame. Kerry was invited along but he couldn't tear himself away. He knew a stint at Notre Dame as an assistant coach would help the resume of a guy looking to become a head coach some day. Just a couple of years ago Miami University was on Coombs' radar but the Redhawks opted to go with Don Treadwell. Treadwell had been an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level for years. Just recently U.C. lost a co-defensive coordinator in Tim Banks. It may have helped Coombs stay put if he would have been bumped to co-defensive coordinator. But John Jancek was named the sole defensive coordinator. So, I believe, Kerry felt the only way to climb the Cincinnati ladder was to take a step in another direction. In a couple of years the Coombs resume will look more attractive to a school looking for a head coach. Three years under Brian Kelly, two seasons under Butch Jones, and now he will be working with Urban Meyer. That is a tremendous tutelage in the "University of Head Coaches." The leaders of the U.C. program feel they will continue to recruit the area well and have already had a lot of inquiries about the position. Butch Jones and Urban Meyer have a great relationship and from what I'm told the move was completely above board. Ohio State had a need for someone to coach cornerbacks and Urban Meyer had a need for someone who knew the recent track record of the recruiting scene in the midwest. The opportunity for Coombs to learn the workings of another BCS program was too good to pass up this time. Coombs is gone from Cincinnati. He will gamble that he's not forgotten if the need for another head coach arises at U.C.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's Not Over Yet, But What Has Happened To Xavier?

The record for Xavier since the Shootout is now 10 wins, 11 losses. Since the trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, the Musketeers are 3-6 in true road games. Starting with the Diamond Head Classic, Xavier is 4-8 in games away from the Cintas Center. The numbers are bad for a team considered by some to be a dark horse to make the Final Four. When a season goes this awry it has to be more than one thing. It has to go beyond losing "mojo" and "swagger" after the embarrassing fight with U.C. The overtime win at Vanderbilt gave the impression this team could win on the road. Next came the feat of wiping out a 19 point deficit against Purdue. It appeared nothing could stop the Musketeers after a double digit win at Butler and a total dismantling of U.C. The aftermath of the Shootout fight may have started the downward spiral, but I cannot buy that is the sole cause of Xavier's issues. Jeff Goodman of talks about a lack of leadership and the appearance of the Musketeers "clearly" not enjoying playing with one another in this article. The most disturbing thing about this? Goodman is close with Xavier head coach Chris Mack, so I don't think there is any way Goodman is reading too much into this. I feel those issues would have eventually eaten away at the Musketeers, it was just a matter of when. You can mask those issues for a while, especially while winning, but the first sign of adversity brings those issues to the surface of a team. But it is even more than that. Xavier appeared to be back on track while reeling of four straight wins, three by double-digits, to start the Atlantic 10 portion of the schedule. Then came more losses, and more reason to wonder what was happening to the Musketeers. A part of it has to be lack of scoring from the front court. Wednesday night St. Louis kept Tu Holloway from getting to the rim, and getting to the free throw line. Holloway had just 6 shots the entire game, and made just one. If your top guard is going to have a night like that, you are in big trouble. Part of it may have been Tu, and part of it was the Billikens strategy. St. Louis cut down the drives and made the forwards do the work. Frease came through with 8 points in the second half but the rest of the front court went 0-6 after the break. That's not exactly taking the game to your opponent. Another part of the equation is the Atlantic 10 itself. The bottom of the conference has risen. It's not just Xavier having issues on the road in the A-10. The loss at UMass hurt, but the Minutemen are 13-1 at home. The only shred of good news for Xavier is that a very squishy NCAA bubble still gives the Musketeers hope. A win over Charlotte and a run in the A-10 tournament could still get the Musketeers in.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hoops and Roy In No Hurry

It comes down to the final four games for U.C., and the final three games for Xavier. Both teams can control their own destiny. Both teams can also thank other bubble teams fading down the stretch and leaving the door wide open. But the Bearcats can blow the door down with wins over Louisville and Marquette at home. I don't care what the out of conference schedule is ranked at that point. Xavier might need to win two of the last three and a decent showing in the A-10 tournament to make it. But again, with the way the bubble has gone the past two weeks, backing-in is an option for Xavier. Because of the out of conference schedule, backing-in isn't a very good option for U.C.

There is one thing I'm failing to understand here. The idea of a basketball team is to get better as the season goes along. Sure, U.C. should never have played all of those lesser programs. But a loss to Presbyterian three months ago should not have as large of an influence as it seems to have on a lot of these bracketologists.
If it happened last week, then yeah, that is a much bigger deal.

So Roy Oswalt may pull a "Clemens" and sign with a team during the season. Not a bad way to go for Oswalt. Pitching issues pop up with contenders year in and year out, so I can't blame Oswalt for taking his time and playing the field.

It sounds like the Steelers will make keeping Mike Wallace a priority. I figured that would be the case. When the Steelers deem someone necessary, they usually figure out a way to get it done. This also means they don't have someone waiting in the wings to take the place of Wallace. The Steelers have also shown the courage to not overpay and let guys leave if they have someone else ready to take the position. In other words, the Steelers do things right.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bubble Time

And down the stretch they come! Xavier and U.C. are both on the NCAA tournament bubble. They can ill afford many slip-ups the rest of the way. Both teams have five games left in the regular season. The Musketeers are to the point where they may not be able to afford one more loss in the regular season. At one time it would have seemed ludicrous to think Xavier would be in this position. But after an 8-0 start, the Musketeers have stumbled to an 8-9 record in the past 17 games. There are daunting road games ahead at Umass and St. Louis. Just one more loss means the Musketeers will finish 20-10 at best. Cincinnati would appear to need at least three more wins in the last five to have a chance at getting in. Four wins in the last five would clinch a spot. But with road games at South Florida and Villanova, plus home games against Louisville, Marquette, and Seton Hall, four wins seems like more than a stretch. If the U.C. guards don't get it together on both ends of the floor then three wins is a stretch. There is that awful strength of schedule ranking for the Bearcats and based on the way the committee has judged that in the past, U.C. could have some issues there no matter what happens in the final five games. The projection for U.C.'s strength of schedule at the end of the season is 105. Ouch! The one thing going for both teams is the strong possibility other teams on the bubble will lose. They also will have a chance to make impressive showings in their conference tournaments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You Have A Cool Job!

At least that's what I hear from a lot of people I run into. I almost always reply, "yeah, I do." Sometimes, though, there is a lot of work and time involved and you can get bogged down in the day to day doldrums. Then along comes a weekend like last weekend. I was at the Super Bowl and ended up in a lot of situations that make this a very cool job. Running into former Bengal and current Denver sports talk host Alfred Williams was cool. Talking radio with Baltimore sports talk station owner and former Ravens coach Brian Billick was cool. Interviewing Garth Brooks was cool. Being around the buzz of a Super Bowl city was cool. Seeing the Super Bowl game from the corner of the top deck at Lucas Oil Stadium was cool. Getting on the field right after the game was cool. My pride and joy was running into this picture of Eli Manning leaving the field after the Giants big win. I wish I would have had a good camera with me, but it was still cool getting this shot:

Then there was this interview I didn't expect with New York native and Giants fans Flavor-Flav:

Our field crew also took the time to get a couple of shots on the field when the night was done.  Photographers Kevin Luginbill and John Tapogna shot all of the interviews, celebration, and got our live shot form the field on the air.  I was along for the ride.  Our photographers and engineers never get the credit they deserve for getting the video and getting us on the air.

A young Giants fan wanted to be a part of our live shot and throw confetti on me. So what the heck:

 And the picture below proves we did some work. Greg Rahe is in the foreground. He was running our satellite truck and keeping us on the air. He was hopping all week, along with our on-site coordinator David Rosch. I'm in the background driving producers fits by committing numerous typos in a script. John Tapogna is busy editing one of our stories, and on the right is Sheree Paolello hard at work getting a script written for the next newscast.I swear she is not shopping on the internet!

I'm serious, we were very busy all week long. John London, Brian Hamrick, Alison Montoya, photographers Ron Schmidt, John Massey, and Jason Sperry kept busy the entire time they were in Indianapolis. It was a blur. But in the end, yes, it was cool!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Ups than Downs This Weekend

At least so far... The biggest downer was U.C.'s basketball team playing an awful game at Rutgers losing 61-54. The offense against a zone defense is extremely troubling. The veteran guards are in a terrible slump. No doubt, UC looked as bad at Rutgers as the Bearcats looked in early December. UC has 9 games left. The Bearcats probably have to win at least 6, maybe 7 to get in the NCAA.

Xavier had to hold its breath at Charlotte, winning 74-70. Xavier can take solace in Brad Redford drilling 3 of his 5 three-point attempts. Dez Wells reemerged with 7 rebounds and 6-8 shooting for 12 points. The fact was Xavier had to win this one. A loss at Charlotte would have been the bottom of what has been a lot of lows in the past couple of months.

UC football got a boost from Isaiah Pead. He was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl. He helped the North squad to a 23-13 win with a couple of impressive punt returns, one for 60 yards and another for 38. Pead's total of 98 yards returning punts is a Senior Bowl record. Notes from Mobile claimed he was impressive in practice all week. It's safe to say Isaiah's stock is going up. UC defensive lineman Derek Wolfe was a late add to the Senior Bowl but I'm told he showed he belonged, and played well.

It will be fun to watch four Bengals in the Pro-Bowl. You never know how much they'll get to play, but I would think AJ Green will get plenty of chances to go yard in a game that is usually wide open. You can watch it unfold on WLWT-TV 5 in Cincinnati, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

Maybe the biggest UP for the weekend is the Reds Caravan. If they are as good during the season as everyone seems to think they are during the caravan, then it should be a bang-up year. Dusty Baker says its the best team he has had here so far. So that means no less than a Central Division Championship should be expected!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Madson and More

What a wild last 30-31 days it has been for Cincinnati sports. Now comes word the Reds are signing closer Ryan Madson. This is a huge signing, but I'm still not one of those who feels you have to overpay for the position. Initial reports say the Reds will pay more than 8-million dollars for one year of service. Not out of whack with the market, but a big chunk for Cincinnati. Does this mean the Reds are content with Chris Heisey starting in left field? If they are content with that, then this signing is fine. My guess is they have looked at available talent at the position and figure they are just as good with Heisey as they are the other candidates. This appears to be true, and I am more than happy to see the Reds give Heisey the chance as opposed to overspending for Cody Ross or Ryan Ludwick. But Heisey a bit of a strikeout issue, and the lineup could be overloaded with k-candidates again, especially if Juan Francisco ends up playing a lot of third base. At least the Reds are doing something and not standing pat like last season.

Now back to the crazy past 30-31 days. Think about it. Starting with the Crosstown Brawl, there has been a major story every week. Maybe two major stories every week. The brawl, the Mat Latos deal, the U.C. bowl game, the Bengals to the playoffs, the Bearcats start winning basketball games while Xavier starts losing them, and Barry Larkin elected to the hall of fame. Even a week before the brawl we had Redsfest and two northern Kentucky schools (Highlands and Holy Cross) winning state titles in football. All big stories, and all big reasons why Cincinnati remains a b ig sports market. I know our attendance will lag at times, and for very good reasons, but the appetite for sports information in this area remains at a very high level.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thanks BCS

...for an absolutely horrific LSU-Alabama Part 2. Yeah, it would have been a real shame to have Oklahoma State and it's powerful offense spice up the Championship game. Nope, we don't need a playoff, the BCS has perfected boring. I would almost suggest an LSU-Alabama part 3 to really settle the score since they are 1-1. But that would be considered torture. There were a lot of good, exciting bowl games. Too bad the biggest one turned out to be a snoozer. But, I think we could have predicted that.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Post Game From Houston

You saw the game and you know the score. 31-10 Texans over the Bengals. The Texans made the big plays and the Bengals didn't. The Texans did a nice job attacking the Bengals with the two running backs, Foster and Tate. The Bengals locker room was not overly subdued. They talk of youth and how much more they can grow. That is how they have to look at it. Marvin Lewis talked about how the Texans came together by growing up while adding players along the way. He sees the Bengals as the same way, just a little behind. There is a lot of truth in that. But a lot of irony too. The Texans spare no expense to make this team better. In fact, it was the Bengals losing a promising young cornerback to the Texans. Now Johnathan Joseph is heading to a pro bowl. The Texans have a stadium with a retactable dome, but they don't practice there. The practice facility is across the street, compelete with outdoor fields and an indoor bubble. So if it rains or gets cold, the players aren't spending their time trying to stay warm or dry and comfortable. No, they are spending their time learning and working. The Bengals could learn a lot modeling themselves after the recent ways of the Texans. Defense, running game, and support. We saw the difference Saturday on the field and across the street.

Game Day In Houston

Game Day is here and the Hoston fabs are tailgating en-masse. We went to the stadium for some morning live shots and there was a line of pickup trucks a quarter-mile long waiting for one of the lots to open. Many of them were pulling big grills behind them. Apparently Houston has some serious tailgating. One fans claims reseasrch has shown Houston is ther number one tailgating site in the NFL. I haven't been able to get confirmation of that from the commissioner's office, but one quick eyeball check will tell you these folks are serious. As for the game, it's the usual dilemma: stop the run. The Texans can run the ball as well as anyone. But the Bengals did a terrific job stopping the Houston run last month. But the recent problem of big plays against the Bengals run defense could be an Achille's heel. Not allowing big plays on the ground will be critical to the Bengals' chances.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Morning

The Bengals are set to arrive here later this afternoon and they will be greeted by some pleasant weather. It has been in the mid to upper 60's since we arrive Thursday afternoon. We checked out the scene around Reliant Stadium last night and I was surprised to see the old Astrodome still standing. It is about 100 yards away from the new stadium. It appeared rundown. like the kind of place that would be full of rats and bats and other critters. A very eery looking place especially considering all of the history there and that it was once the Eighth Wonder of the World. We're entering Katy, Texas as I type. It is the hometown of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. We'll check back in after we see a few fols here!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No Problems

We made it to Houston with no issues. My new titanium neck whizzed thrugh security at the airtport, Delta gave our crew the red-carpet treatment(I think because Sheree Paolello is with us, although maybe it was photographers John Tapogna and John Massey!)and our flight could not have been smoother. Our crew could not notice when we were flying in that across the street from Reliant Stadium is a....... practice bubble! So they have a stadium with a retractable roof and a bubble. And it's about 65 degrees down here. I'm not saying that matters Saturday, but during free agent season it certainly does.

Heading To Houston

Our crew is getting ready to shove off to Houston and follow the Bengals in their quest to beat the Texans and advance to the second round of the playoffs. My first personal hurdle is getting through airport security. I had neck-fusion surgery back in October, so I have some new hardware in my neck. It's a titanium plate with 6 screws. Here's an x-ray view of it from the back:

I had cadaver bone placed between the C-4 and C-5 and the C-5 and C-6. (I believe Peyton Manning had his just below, between C-6 and C-7) Basically my discs had collapsed and the vertebrate were squeezing some nerves. So Dr. Jaideep Chunduri and Dr. Ian Rodway of Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine pried them apart, put in the cadaver bone, and it is all growing back together to make one nice, solid bone. Hopefully the special card they gave me to show the TSA agents will get me through the gate if/when they see the following on my body scan!