My Letter To Reds CF Billy Hamilton

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 07: Billy Hamilton #6 of the Cincinnati Reds runs to steal second base in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ball Park on September 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Los Angeles 4-3. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI, OH – SEPTEMBER 07: Billy Hamilton #6 of the Cincinnati Reds runs to steal second base in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ball Park on September 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Los Angeles 4-3. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton is considered the fastest man in baseball. He leads the league with 49 stolen bases as of August 1. But there’s a problem: Billy doesn’t get to first base very often. Only 27.1% of the time, to be exact. Meaning most of the time, Billy uses his long, lean legs to jog back to the dugout.

If only there were a more effective way to get on base…

Oh wait, there is: Make more contact, foul off tough pitches and hit more line drives. And draw a few more walks.

But how can Billy get better at those things? I suggest emulating one of baseball’s all-time greats.

Here is the letter I mailed (100 Joe Nuxhall Way) to Hamilton, manager Bryan Price and hitting coach Don Long, along with a printout of a picture.

Attn: Bryan Price, Billy Hamilton, Don Long

Ty Cobb had the highest batting average in baseball history. So why hasn’t anyone adopted his unorthodox batting grip?

Cobb placed his hands about six inches apart on the bat. This allowed “The Georgia Peach” better bat control to place a line drive into an unoccupied area, or, if he desired, Cobb was able to shift his top hand further down the bat at the last second for a surprise bunt.

Now: If you’ve got blazing speed, lashing more line drives would be the focus. I never saw Cobb play, but I’m guessing he smacked a ton of line drives. How else would you hit .366?

One explanation for hitters not modeling their approach after Cobb’s was that Ty was not considered a power hitter. But that’s not true. Cobb led the league in slugging eight times. He did not belt many home runs, but nobody did during his era. Cobb played in the “Dead Ball Era” through his first fifteen seasons in the majors. Case in point: He led the league with nine bombs in 1909. He slugged .621 two years later.

As you can see, Cobb’s unique grip didn’t cost him any bat speed.

Other possible explanations: 1) Cobb was a devilish racist and a despicable person, so nobody wants to emulate him. 2) The widened grip isn’t what we grow up doing, so it’s too much of a switch to make.

Frankly, nobody I’ve asked can come up with a good reason why nobody’s at least tried Cobb’s wide-grip approach.

Is this the dumbest idea ever or a genius notion?

The only way to find out is to try it against live pitching.

Give it a shot. You never know.

Good luck,                                     
Justin Berg                                     
Deer Park, OH    

cobb

 

Bearcats 2014-15 Season Recap + 2015-16 Preview Podcast

It’s been a helluva ride this season. Thanks for coming along with me.

2014-15 Season Recap Podcast + 2015-16 Preview (19:16)

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Bearcats Hang Tough With Kentucky, Eye Deep Run In 2015-16

coreyukThey went down, but they went down swinging. They lost the game, but they didn’t lose the fight. The Cincinnati Bearcats, the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, hung tough against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats all the way until freshman guard Tyler Ulis dropped a 3-point dagger with 4:33 to go, eventually falling by the final score of 64-51.

As a Bearcat supporter and fan, it was one of my proudest days.

Kentucky starts two bulky seven-footers, a 6’11” forward and two 6’6″ guards. But the Bearcats drove the lane hard and posted up strong on offense, ferociously sent back numerous shots on defense and attacked the glass fervently on both ends. It was The Bearcat Way: We don’t care who you have on your team, we’re here to fight you to the end and impose our will.

When it was all said and done, the Bearcats snatched down seven more rebounds than the Kentucky trees and held UK to just 37-percent shooting (they usually shoot 47%). And really, when you look at the 2014-15 edition of the Cincinnati Bearcats, other than 6’9″ 275-pound Coreontae DeBerry, this is not a team with a lot of beef. Shaq Thomas, Gary Clark, Oc Ellis, Farad Cobb, Kevin Johnson, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Sanders……no big pipes, no broad shoulders. But led by the no-back-down mentality of Ellis and Caupain, UC took the fight to UK, and that’s a testament to the architect of the current program, head coach Mick Cronin.

We’ve Come A Long Way, Huh?

mick cThink back to that butt-awful 54-49 win over Eastern Illinois in the 3rd game of the season. After, during his postgame interview, Mick said: “The expressions on our kids’ faces when we make a mistake are unbelievable. We look like somebody stole our dog. We need to develop some toughness, and in a hurry.”

A few games later, Ole Miss bullied the Bearcats in a 66-54 loss. NCAA Tournament, we thought, this team? I’m not seein’ it. But wait: An overtime home win over No. 18 San Diego State. Okay, okay, that helps.

But then: Cronin goes down with a vascular condition, the kids find out an hour before a Saturday home game versus VCU. VCU 68, UC 47. Oh shit. This season might be over.

But wait: A 76-60 bashing of NC State in Raleigh. And then: A 56-50 Bearcat Grinder Special over Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs. Hmmm, NCAA Tournament hopes still alive

But then: What? A 50-46 loss down at East Carolina? Are you kidding me? But THEN: UC goes down to Dallas and fugging completes the sweep over SMU! Holy shit. Up goes the RPI. I think we’re gonna make this tournament!

But hold the phone: A buzzer-beating home loss to TULANE? A three-game losing streak? Uh oh.

And THEN: UC is struggling, down 10, in the first half at last place Houston when Oc Ellis gets ejected. It’s over. We’re gonna lose to HOUSTON. But wait: Enter Shaq Thomas. A career-high 18 points later, UC wins that game, goes home to crunch UCF, gets revenge over Tulane in New Orleans, goes down to Tulsa and owns those fools, and then sends Jermaine Sanders off with a win on Senior Day over Memphis.

The Bearcats are in! 5 straight NCAA Tournaments! (Only 10 other schools can say that.)

That toughness Mick was pining for back in November? Consider it developed. It was on display in a World War 3 loss to UConn in Hartford. It was there when the Bearcats faced a seven point deficit with 48 seconds to go versus Purdue. And that toughness reached its crescendo when Ellis, Caupain and the ‘Cats took it RIGHT TO the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in Louisville.

Lemme quickly yell this: I LOVE BEING A CINCINNATI BEARCAT FAN!!

On The Brink?

troygwIf you’ve paid close attention to this 2014-15 Bearcat group over the course of the season, you’ve seen improvement on offense—a longtime area of weakness for UC. You’ve seen an identity formed: We’re going to punish you inside first and that’ll create space for driving lanes and open 3-point looks for the wing players.

It’s worked. UC has three low-post threats, two of which can pass the basketball. Caupain led the conference in 3-point field goal percentage, Cobb had room to operate and his firepower was the difference in several key victories, and down the stretch, Shaq found his confidence and identity and played an integral role in helping his team survive and grab the program’s fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Overall, the team shot 45.3% from the field this season. That’s up from 42.5 last season and 40.3 the year before.

As we look ahead to 2015-16, other than departing senior Jermaine Sanders, everyone else will be back, and you’ve gotta believe that these guys will be extremely hungry to get after it this offseason on the heels of an opportunity to measure themselves against the nation’s best and finding out that they can hold their own.

The 2015-16 Bearcats will feature four seniors (Ellis, DeBerry, Cobb and Thomas) and two juniors (Caupain and Johnson). Gary Clark started every game as a freshman and was, in the words of associate head coach Larry Davis, probably asked to do too much, but Clark did more than enough anyway and showed that he may end up being an all-time great Bearcat. GC will be a sophomore next year and will likely add 10-15 pounds of upper body strength this summer.

With the emergence of DeBerry this past weekend and the experience gained by the rest of the group, Mick and Larry will have a solid core heading into next season. And then consider the two incoming freshman guards being added to the mix…

Yes, it’s a good day to be a Bearcat fan.

That was quite a season. I want to thank you for reading my blog, listening to my podcast and sharing both with other fans.

Enjoy the rest of March Madness!

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Cincinnati Bearcats Nearly Beat Mike Tyson (UConn) With Broken Controller

caupainpgDid that game feel fixed to you? It felt fixed to me. But we knew that would be part of it. After all, it was Cincinnati, with an interim head coach, playing at the XL Center in Hartford against Connecticut, the defending national champs. If UConn gets knocked out early, who the hell’s gonna fill the stands for the semifinals and championship game, right?

Now before I get deeper into this, I’ve got to throw some credit UConn’s way. Ryan Boatright made the game-winning shot. He did it. Nobody made it for him. He jumped up and made it. My hat’s off to that kid. Phenomenal player. Closest thing to Allen Iverson I’ve seen since Allen Iverson. Also, the Husky coaching staff and players deserve credit for taking Cincinnati’s hottest player, Farad “Big Shot” Cobb, out of the flow of the game. Cobb finished just 2-for-8 from the field with 7 points.

That said, this game reeked of a stacked deck against UC.

Let me interject (can you interject in your own article?) with a quick explanation of the headline I chose to use for this post for those of you who have never played Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!! for Nintendo. Punch-out!! is a game in which you, a challenger named Mac, have to win 13 fights, moving up from easy to moderately tough to difficult, until you get to Mike Tyson. And as you can imagine, Tyson is as difficult as it gets.

The Bearcats having to play a desperate UConn team (they need to win the whole American Conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament) on the Huskies’ home floor is basically equivalent to trying to beat Tyson in Punch-out!!

Now, when you battle Tyson, in order to not get knocked out in the first thirty seconds of the fight, you better have a game controller in working order, because you’ll need to be able to dodge haymakers and then recover quickly enough to sneak a couple of uppercuts in before the next haymaker’s a-comin’. But, if your controller isn’t working properly, it’s damn near impossible to survive the first round, let alone actually win the fight.

In my opinion, the way that game was officiated on Saturday night equates to a broken controller. The “benefit of the doubt” was so far swayed in UConn’s favor that your mind couldn’t help but drift into “Is this game fixed?” territory.

I hate to be That Guy who complains about the refs when my team loses. And look, we knew the Bearcats (and the Bearcats themselves had to know) that no calls would be going UC’s way in a game like that. Also, it’s not like the Bearcats didn’t make some costly mistakes. But dude, the disparity between things going UConn’s way and things going UC’s way was eeee-normous.

Off the Top of My Head

Here’s what I remember on the morning after…

– Troy Caupain had three drives to the bucket that resulted in turnovers: 

1) First half – Troy drove down the right side of the lane, jumped up, a defender slid under him, he made the shot, the baseline official began to make the signal for a blocking foul, but before he could make the call, he was overridden. And we knew some other official was calling a charge. Hoop wiped off, UConn ball.

CACfoH1UQAAe8Io.jpg-large2) Second half – Two in a row. Troy drives right from the left wing, Rodney Purvis (my least favorite non-Xavier player in college basketball right now) grabs Troy’s shoulder, the ball comes loose—no call. UConn gets the loose ball. Next play, Troy drives to the hole, 7-footer Amida Brimah meets him in the air with his arms down and a big body bump, gets the ball clean up top—again, no call.

That’s a potential seven points UC could have had.

– The old “shot fake and drive from the 3-point line” travel call:

You know this one. In college, when a guy catches the ball, pump fakes and then drives the ball, it’s at the referee’s discretion as to whether the player shuffled his feet before putting the ball on the floor. UConn had 5 or 6 of these types of drives in the game, yet miraculously never once walked! They just must have superb footwork, huh? And then, late in the game, Caupain pulled the same move, but of course HE traveled. Get the fu** outta here.

– Gary Clark posted up late in the game, the entry pass was made to the middle by Kevin Johnson, Gary sealed off Daniel Hamilton who went for the steal, then wrapped his arm around Clark. Clark caught the ball, Hamilton then blatantly reached in. No call on either action. Clark, a strong bull for a freshman, gathered and went up strong, finished the bucket amidst MORE contact, this time on his arm as he released the shot. Still no call. Three fouls on one play, none whistled.

– Shaq Thomas came up with a sweet chase-down block on Purvis, which was ruled goaltending. Replays showed that it sure was not goaltending.

The ‘Yeah Right’ List

This is a list of stuff that made you say “Yeahhh RIGHT!”

1) UConn only had THREE turnovers, huh? Seemingly every time UC got a deflection on defense, the ball bounced directly to a Husky player. Sure it did.

2) All UConn did all night was chuck threes. 30 of ’em to be exact. At the 12:22 mark of the 2nd half, Purvis hit a 3, and then UConn made 5 of their next 6 from distance. Sure they did. (But still UC answered that barrage of bullsh*t (Tyson haymakers) and hung in there. That’s a good sign and a testament to the Bearcats’ toughness.)

3) Caupain banked in a 3 with the shot clock running down midway through the second half. Lucky, maybe, but in the overall scheme of the world as Bearcat fans know it, Troy’s banked 3 was probably UC’s first banked 3 after at least ten banked 3’s by opponents. And the way this game was going, it seemed like “yeah, we f***ing deserve one of those.” Like it didn’t even feel cheap in any way.

But could we enjoy it? Of course f***ing not. Because with 3 minutes to go in a tie game, with the shot clock at one second, Daniel Hamilton banked in a 3 from even further out! Annnnnnd, for the record, Hamilton had already f***ing banked in a 3 against UC THIS YEAR.

Can’t make this stuff up.

But Still, UC Showed Major Toughness

Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavious Ellis (#2)

Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavious Ellis (#2)

In a game like that, the Bearcats were able to get several leads and answer haymakers. Oc Ellis was extremely physical down low. Shaq Thomas was all over the glass—-all 10 of his points were second chance points. Freshman forward Gary Clark, who was a non factor in the regular season game in Hartford (except for that big right-handed hammer all over Boatwright’s family), showed good toughness, putting up 9 points and grabbing eleven rebounds.

UC did not win the ballgame. In that kind of situation, the Bearcats probably needed to play well enough to win that game by double digits in order to win by a bucket. In reality, if we’re being fair, UC played well enough to win the game by probably 5 or 6 points, and with the way things went, that wasn’t enough to get the W.

But I think we need to applaud UC’s effort, toughness, resiliency, and refusal to back down. The Bearcats were up against a force larger and Higher than they’ll ever be able to realize. UConn goes on these postseason runs. They’re improbable, they’re impressive, and in a way, these postseason runs appear to be divine. I mean really, how many times can a UConn guard make a step-back game-winning jumper? 50? 75? A million?

Did the Bearcats make mistakes on Saturday night? Sure they did. 11 turnovers isn’t a ton, but four or five of those were pretty careless. Although the defense was stout (UConn shot 38% from the field), there were a few times when Bearcat players left UConn shooters wide open and paid the price. And then there was the curious substitution late in the first half of freshman Quadri Moore, which played a factor in UC going scoreless for nearly the final 3 minutes of the half.

That said, even a blind man could tell that something wasn’t right in that game. Yet despite all the quote-unquote bullshit, the Bearcats fought hard, hung tough, traded haymakers and showed that although it’s a young team (in Division I college basketball years), this UC team will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, the Bearcats may lose in the first round, but it’ll take a monumentally strong effort from the opponent and the breaks not going UC’s way for that to happen. I’m riding with Gary Clark and Oc Ellis. I’m going to war with Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb. I’m walking into the lion’s den with Coreontae DeBerry and Shaq Thomas. I’m showing up for the bout with Jermaine Sanders and Kevin Johnson in my corner. And I’m sleeping well at night as Mick Cronin, Larry Davis, Darren Savino and the rest of the staff draw up the battle plans.

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Bearcats Podcast: Regular Season Recap + Postseason Preview (16:09)

With the win at Tulsa, it looks like the Cincinnati Bearcat program has earned its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. (“From sun up to sun down, and it’s clockwork, and it don’t stop.”)

Check out the BergOnSports Podcast for reasons to be optimistic heading into this year’s postseason.

Regular Season Recap + Postseason Preview Podcast

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Cincinnati Bearcats: Good And Bad Potential 1st Round NCAA Tournament Matchups

ncaaA 22-9 record, including six wins vs the RPI Top 50 (three on the road), should warrant a fifth straight ticket to The Big Dance for the Larry Davis-led Cincinnati Bearcats.

(What a difference a few weeks makes, huh?)

The American Conference tournament next weekend in Hartford, CT opens up the postseason, but with UC’s resume and a five-game win streak down the stretch, it’s not a do-or-die situation. So let’s turn our attention to the NCAA Tournament.

As I figure it (and most “Bracketologists” agree), the Bearcats have earned at best a 7-seed and at worst a 10. There’s a chance UC could be slotted as an 11-seed, but it’s slight.

I’ve sifted through the rest of the teams expected to be seeded in that 7-10 range and will lay those teams out for you in categories based on the confidence level I’d have in UC advancing past that first game. (I’ll use Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings – http://www.kenpom.com )

Before I do that, though, lemme say this: I do feel pretty damn confident in UC heading into this postseason, mainly because unlike the past couple of seasons (when the Bearcats failed to win an NCAA Tournament game), this team is tough to scout on offense. It’s no longer a matter of shutting down Sean Kilpatrick. If you’re an opposing coaching staff, what do you take away? UC has four capable three-point shooters (two of which can make plays for others), three capable (and versatile) low post scorers (two of which can pass the basketball) and an athletic, long, experienced wing player gaining confidence of late.

You’ve got to be able to score efficiently to advance in March, and UC has begun to do just that, averaging just under 70 points per game over its last five. And with Cincinnati’s top shelf defense (5th in nation in points allowed), if you give Troy Caupain and his boys 70, smell ya later.

That said, oftentimes, teams make runs or get knocked out early due to favorable (3-seed Florida State in 2012) or unfavorable matchups (7-seed Creighton in 2013).

Teams I Wouldn’t Mind Seeing Matched Up With UC

caupainpgOhio State Buckeyes (22-9, No. 19 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Payback and spite. The Buckeyes ended UC’s season in the 2012 Sweet 16, and, as die-hard Bearcat fans know, Ohio State simply refuses to schedule games against teams in Ohio that have a chance to beat ’em. Last year, one of those teams, Dayton, knocked the Bucks out of the NCAA Tournament.
  • One-Man Show. Sure, OSU’s one man is a very talented man, a 6’6″ freshman named D’Angelo Russell. A projected NBA lottery pick, Russell averages 19 points, 6 boards and 5 assists. But with the way Cincinnati usually takes away the opponent’s first option, I’d like UC’s chances against Thad Matta’s squad.

Davidson Wildcats (23-6, No. 26 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • While Davidson can clearly score (ranking 5th in Adjusted Offense in the nation), the Wildcats have a hard time stopping anybody (142nd in Adjusted Defense). With the way UC has been executing on offense and taking away what opponents do best, the Bearcats would likely be able to get enough stops to move on.

Michigan State Spartans (21-10, No. 20 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • A chance for Cincinnati to knock out a blue blood program. (And maybe the AD’s would hit it off and cultivate a home-and-home in the future.)
  • Michigan State is just not that good. 55th ranked defense, no real explosive scorers, not much down low on either end. It’d be an ugly game, but a game UC could pull out.

Indiana Hoosiers (19-12, No. 56 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Tom Crean’s team is by far the worst defensive team with a chance for an at-large bid. 225th-ranked in the nation to be exact.

Ole Miss Rebels (20-11, No. 45 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Continue the end of season Payback Tour. The Rebels crunched UC back in November, 66-54.
  • Andy Kennedy’s team has no defensive identity whatsoever, ranking 135th overall.

VCU Rams (22-9, No. 39 KenPom)

Same as Ole Miss except VCU’s problems have been on the offensive end.

BYU Cougars (24-8, No. 29 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • 136th-ranked Defense
  • UC would have a significant toughness and athleticism advantage

Teams I Don’t Want To See UC Matched Up With

5x15_OuchGeorgia Bulldogs (20-10, No. 38 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Five double figure scorers = a very tough scout
  • Played Kentucky tough both times

St. John’s Red Storm (21-10, No. 33 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Remember when St. John’s used to beat UC at 5th 3rd Arena on a regular basis back in the Big East days? The players from those teams are now juniors and seniors (D’Angelo Harrison = yikes).
  • Elite shotblocker down low: Chris Obekpa 3.2 blocks/game
  • UC would not have quickness, athleticism, length or size advantage

Dayton Flyers (23-7, No. 42 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • One reason: Archie Miller. That dude can flat out coach, as he showed last year when UD advanced to the Elite 8. UC would have a depth and size advantage, but Archie is just one of those coaches you don’t want to face.

Texas Longhorns (19-12, No. 21 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Although the ‘Horns have been quite underwhelming this season, UT was ranked in the Top 10 at one point.
  • NBA talent + big-time size down low
  • Elite defensively

Boise State Broncos (24-7, No. 35 KenPom) 

Here’s why:

  • Boise’s best player is one of those guys who has the potential to come out of nowhere and make a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament. Derrick Marks, the 6-3 senior from Chicago, averages just under 20 a game and wets 46% of his threes.
  • BSU has won 14 out of its last 15, including a sweep of San Diego St.

Teams That Would Get A Neutral Reaction From Me

Oregon Ducks (23-8, No. 49 KenPom) – Dana Altman’s team plays Swiss cheese defense (123rd AdjD) but senior guard Joseph Young (20 ppg) scares the pee outta me.

Colorado State Rams (26-5, No. 63 KenPom) – For some reason, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Larry Eustachy’s team as a firm 10-seed in his Bracketology. CSU has home wins over San Diego State and Boise State, yes, but nary a win anyone gives a rat’s tush about in the non-conference. Either way, I have not seen this team play so I have no idea what kind of matchup this would be for the ‘Cats.

NC State Wolfpack (19-12, No. 36 KenPom) and San Diego State (24-7, No. 28 KenPom) – UC beat both of these teams already this season, but it’s always tough to beat a similarly-matched opponent twice.

Like I said, I’m confident that UC can beat any of these teams. But the NCAA Tournament is about matchups. I’d feel extra confident against the first group of teams I broke down and I’d make the same face Joey Tribbiani is making in the picture above if the Bearcats draw a team from the second group.

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Part 2 of 3-Game Payback Tour Complete; Bearcats Backhand Tulsa, 56-47

Yak-yak!

Yak-yak!

Can I get a scowl, a left-handed fist pump and a “That’s what I’m talkin’ about” from you? Farad Cobb, Larry Davis, Mick Cronin and the rest of the Cincinnati Basketball program deserve those three things right about now.

Fifteen years after the Tulsa Golden Hurricane knocked UC out of the NCAA Tournament (the year Kenyon Martin broke his leg and the Committee saw fit to relegate the Bearcats to a #2 seed matched up with 7-seed/#12-in-the-country Tulsa in the second round!), UC may have in effect done the same to Frank Haith’s team Wednesday night.

Led by your boy “Farad Salad” (Cobb), who poured in a career-high 22 points (with 2 steals and nary a turnover), the Bearcats went down to Tulsa and suffocated the first place team in the American Conference in front of their home crowd. The final score was UC 56, Tulsa 47, but it should’ve been worse for the Golden Hurricane because seven of Tulsa’s points came on unplanned bank shots and the referees negated an Oc Ellis tip-in on suspicion of goaltending. So, the adjusted score would be UC 58, Tulsa 40. Beat Down.

Lock Down

Yet another Cincinnati road win over a tough opponent due to squeeze-the-life-out-of-you defense. Remember the post I wrote looking back over all the big road wins in the Cronin Era? Add this one to the list. Tulsa shot a wiggy-wack 34 percent from the field, and its two best players, James Woodard and Shaq Harrison, shot 7-for-28.

Balance & Options

In addition to Cobb’s diabolical double-deuce, Davis received strong contributions from Ellis (13 boards, 4 get-that-shit-outta-here’s), Troy “Clyde” Caupain (12 points, 6 boards, 2 dishes and no turnovers), Gary Clark (3-3 FG, 7 points, 8 snares and 2 helpers) and Kevin Johnson (8 points, 2 offensive rebounds and just one giveaway).

Dancin’?

This was an opportunity for the Bearcats to pretty much prove their worth for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Coming into the game, UC’s RPI was right around 50, a precarious number if history serves as any indicator. Well, after dispatching of Tulsa on the road, that ranking is currently in the mid-30’s, and UC now has six wins (three on the road) over the RPI Top 50. (Ohio State has only one, by the way. One. And they’re ranked!)

Is UC a lock for The Dance now? Perhaps. But Davis and his crew don’t care about that. One more leg on the Payback Tour to complete: Sunday at noon (EST) vs. Memphis (regular CBS!). The Tigers shellacked the Bearcats way back when, 63-50. It’s Jermaine Sanders’ Senior Day and it’s a chance for more payback. The way this team has been focused on scouting reports on defense, attacking on offense and extra effort on the glass, you’ve gotta like UC’s chances of a victory in Maine’s final home game as a Cincinnati Bearcat.

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Cincinnati At Houston: It’s Do Or Die Time

caupainpgWhen I looked at the schedule before the 2014-15 season for the Cincinnati Bearcats, I immediately circled Feb 21 At Houston. Reason being, it’d be the game right after the Crosstown Shootout. And as you know, the Shootout is the absolute height of emotion and intensity for these college kids. Win, lose or draw in that game, the following game, especially if it’s against a lesser opponent, will be difficult to get up for. Factor in that the game is on the road and you’ve got yourself a tall challenge.

But now, after losing three straight, including at home to 171-in-the-RPI Tulane, the Bearcats are squarely on The Bubble for the NCAA Tournament, meaning one more slip up and somebody else will get that ticket to The Dance. And wouldn’t ya know it? Houston is the last place team in the American Conference.

UC now treads water at No. 53 in the RPI, after sitting in the 20’s just a few weeks ago. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has the ‘Cats at 57th. Guess what Houston‘s RPI number is: 259.

Yep. It’s Do or Die Time.

Ahh, but Houston only has one conference victory, you say. It’ll be tough because it’s on the road, you continue, but UC should be able to handle ’em.

I agree. UC should be able to get this game. The Bearcats, after all, have handed the first place SMU Mustangs their only two league losses, including one down in Dallas. If UC can beat the first place team twice, they should be able to do the same with the last place team.

Which is why this is Life or Death in NCAA Tournament terms. The Selection Committee expects the Bearcats to win this game. We expect UC to win this game. The players and coaches expect to win this game.

But it’s gotta be tough on the players. After completing that sweep of SMU, the wheels have fallen off the train. Temple exacted revenge in a big way, Tulane avenged a buzzer beater from two decades ago and then, of course, that team in the blue jerseys from a few miles down the road lobbed in a late three-pointer to keep UC on the skid. Nothing’s going these kids’ way. The pressure’s on.

Meanwhile, for the host, pressure isn’t even on the radar. And the Cougars have talent, they have athletes, they have a coach who’s led a team to the Final 4, and they have home court.

Turn on ESPNU at 9:30 tonight. Let’s see what our boys are made of.

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Avoiding the Crosstown Shootout: Sparing the Universe a Boatload of Negativity

Instead of watching UC-Xavier, I'll think about Keri Russell from 7-9 and then watch The Americans at 10:00 on Wednesday (FX). Much better way to spend the evening.

Instead of watching UC-Xavier, I’ll think about Keri Russell from 7-9 and then watch The Americans at 10:00 on Wednesday (FX). Much better way to spend the evening.

If you’re like me in your sports fandom, you possess visceral hatred for your team’s rivals. You hate the opposing players, the fans, the broadcasters—-deep down, you even hate former players from that team that end up playing for your team, even if they help you win.

In Cincinnati, this means you have a sworn vendetta against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the St. Louis Cardinals and then either Xavier or UC (University of Cincinnati) basketball, depending on which college team you pull for.

We’ve spent many-a day and night watching a Bengals-Steelers game, or a Reds-Cardinals game, and more often than not, it’s an unmeasurably aggravating way to spend the ever-decreasing precious moments of your life. Take the Reds-Cardinals “rivalry.” First of all, it ain’t no rivalry. The Cardinals OWN the Reds, and have for nearly two decades. Anyway, you sit down to watch a Reds-Cardinals game, and it’s a big ol’ hate-fest. You hate St. Looie’s leadoff hitter, the #2 hitter, the 3-hitter, the clean-up hitter, and everyone else in the entire lineup and on the bench, regardless of who it is. And as the game wears on, you start to yell at your own Reds players: “Come ON!” “Why would you throw him a fastball??!!” “Nice #$%@ing at-bat.”

And more often than not, the Reds lose to the Cardinals. Swirling around in your brain: “Why did I watch that!!!!????”

Same thing with the Bengals. The Steelers urinate all over the Bengals nearly every time the two franchises meet on the gridiron. And you know that urine is a-comin’. Especially in a merciless night game in the Steel City. Yet you still plan your day around the game! And then the game starts and you’re just locked in a rage, hating this guy and that, getting angry with your team’s players, being way too sensitive about what the broadcasters say about your team (even though it’s all a billion percent true).

When it’s over, and your team has lost, you wonder: “Why do I keep watching this sh*t!!??”

But you keep watching it. (I don’t.)

Same thing the Crosstown Shootout. If you’re a Bearcat fan that is. In 1996, Xavier knocked off #1-ranked Cincinnati on a Lenny Brown game-winner (after Charles Williams dribbled the ball out of bounds!) then did the same thing in 1999 (when UC had Kenyon Martin). From the Lenny Brown game until now, Xavier has won 12 out of 18.

Regardless of the result of the game, all I do is sit there on edge, blood boiling, spewing hate at all things Xavier, at the refs, at the broadcasters—-and expecting perfection out of my team. There is absolutely no joy involved whatsoever.

crazysportskidFor me, after mulling it over for years, now, when the Reds play the Cardinals, I’m somewhere else. Baseball ceases to exist in my world. No thank you. Bengals-Steelers? Sh*t, try Bengals vs. ANYONE. Why put myself through that aggravation? And starting this year (tonight), I will no longer be participating in the UC-Xavier Crosstown Shootout. I’m out. I originally thought I’d DVR the game, check the score later, and if UC wins, I’ll go back and watch. But I decided I’m out. Out on the whole deal. And in doing so, I’m sparing The Universe a mountain of negativity. Not to mention keeping my sanity, taking care of my heart and blood pressure and best of all: I won’t ever have to watch another one of Xavier’s nebs celebrate nebbily ever again.

Call me a poor fan or tell me you’ve lost respect for me (like my boss just did). You’re entitled to that stance. You do what you gotta do, I’ll do what I gotta do.

Watch the game if you want. But don’t waste your time calling or texting me. My phone will be off and in my world for a few hours, college basketball will cease to exist. You’re welcome, Universe.

Hall-Of-Famer Larry Brown Can’t Figure Out Cobb, Bearcats

I heard a rumor that after his No. 23 SMU Mustangs lost to the Cincinnati Bearcats (for the second time this season) Thursday night, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown mistakenly ordered a “Farad salad” at a Dallas diner.

The waitress, reportedly a bubbly, buxom brunette with a nose full of freckles, replied, “You want a what-now?”

Brown looked down at his menu and pointed to his meal of choice.

“Oh, a Cobb salad,” the waitress realized.

“What’d I say?” Brown wondered.

“You said ‘Farad salad,'” the cute server replied. “What’s a Farad?”

Brown forced a smirk and then dropped a couple of seltzer tablets into a glass of water as the waitress jiggled back to the kitchen.

(Okay, that story isn’t true. The truth is, I recently asked my buddy Schmidt: “Do you think when it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be called a ‘Farad salad?'” His reaction was the same as most people’s when my brain does that sort of thing: “You’re out of your mind.”)

Farad Cobb, sometimes known as “Farad salad,” torched a stout SMU defense (20th nationally in points allowed) Thursday night in Dallas, just as he did back on January 3 in Cincinnati. Cobb poured in 18 points in Cincy, and followed that up with an efficient 14 at Moody Coliseum. Overall, “Salad” is 11-for-19, including 6-for-12 from downtown, against the Mustangs (18-5, 9-2).

“Larry Brown’s gonna have nightmares about Farad Cobb,” Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis joked.

While Cobb was a big reason why UC (16-6, 7-3, No. 25 in ESPN RPI) was able to grab an improbable road win Thursday night, a handful of other Bearcats were vital:

1) Troy “Clyde” Caupain

It’s no secret that as Troy goes, the Bearcats go. The 6’4″ point guard came up large against UConn last Thursday, sticking 8 of his 9 field goal attempts and finishing with a career-high 20 points in UC’s romp. On Sunday, Caupain only had 4 points and 2 assists in a shocking loss at East Carolina. He wasn’t aggressive at all in that game.

But Troy came to play in Dallas. He drove the lane and popped in a floater for UC’s first hoop, then confidently nailed a 3 and found Jermaine Sanders for a right-handed lay-up to give the ‘Cats an early 7-5 lead. Caupain finished with 14 points (wetted all three of his 3-point attempts), 4 rebounds, 4 assists and only two turnovers.

That’s a big-time performance out of the sophomore from Midlothian, VA.

2) Jermaine “Far Rockaway Style” Sanders

jermaine sanders cincinnati

Senior Jermaine Sanders has been key in latest UC surge

Speaking of big-time performances, how about ‘Maine Sanders? The lone senior in the rotation led UC in points (15), rebounds (9) and deflections (?), and yak-yak’ed a gigantic 3 from the corner to extend Cincinnati’s lead to 7 with 4:47 to go.

Since being inserted into the starting lineup six games ago, Sanders is averaging right around ten points and five boards per game. UC’s offensive efficiency has gone through the roof in that span. Scoring less than one point per possession for the season, the Bearcats are at 1.114 over the past six games, a clip that would rank 13th in the nation in offensive efficiency according to Teamrankings.com if that was a season-long pace. (UC is at 0.998 and ranks 153rd overall this season.)

Davis explained what Sanders brings to the table:

Click Here to Listen to Dan Hoard mention me and Larry talk about Jermaine before the East Carolina game.

3) Octavius “Oc” Ellis

After 14 points, 14 boards and 3 swats against East Carolina, “Oc” followed that output with 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 blocks against SMU on Thursday night. Brown believed Ellis was more of a factor than the numbers showed…

4) Shaq Thomas

Hip hop hooray for Shaq! The kid’s had an up-and-down season to say the least. He lost his starting spot six games ago (likely because he’s got 33 turnovers and only nine assists this season). But the New Jersey native hit three huge shots against SMU (while also contributing his customary 1-for-2 from the foul line), including an absolute heartbreaker:

UC had built a seven-point lead but saw the Mustangs cut it to three with just under 2:00 to play. With the shot clock running down, Thomas launched a 25-footer from the right wing………and canned it! Dagger! 

Coach Davis also praised Shaq for being in the right spot on offense while playing a new position (the 4 spot). Big contribution off the bench for the redshirt junior.

5) Gary Clark & Coreontae DeBerry

Clark struggled at times Thursday night, only playing 18 minutes and picking up three quick fouls to begin the second half. But the freshman still managed to grab five boards, dish out 4 assists and Bill Walton a 12-footer off the glass from the right baseline in the second half.

DeBerry, meanwhile, only logged four minutes. But the 6’9″ 280-pound behemoth was productive, converting an important jump hook late, blocking a shot and grabbing two rebounds.

Overall, the big key for UC was an encouraging display of MENTAL TOUGHNESS, adhering to the advice of Coach Davis before the Bearcats took the floor. “I wrote it on the white board before the game,” Larry said. “I knew mental toughness would be more important than physical toughness in an environment like this.”

What was head coach Mick Cronin’s advice to Davis before the game? “Defend and rebound,” Mick texted, likely using a shortcut key on his phone to send those words. The Bearcats did both: UC out-rebounded SMU 32-25 and held a team shooting nearly 50% on the season to 36.5 from the field (and 3-for-14 from deep).

Big, huge, enormous bounce back road victory for the lesson-learning Bearcats on Thursday night. According to ESPN’s calculations, UC now sits at No. 25 in the Daily RPI, putting themselves back in the picture for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. If they can pull it off, it’d be the fifth straight appearance for the program.

Next up: Saturday vs South Florida (8:00), then Tuesday at Temple (7:30). Both games will air on CBS Sports Network.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend!

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