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.