February 2014

SK Has Come A Long Way

I will never forget the first time I saw Sean Kilpatrick in action.

He stunk.

Kilpatrick dunk

It was Sunday, January 18, 2009 and Sean had already signed to play for UC the next fall.  The Bearcats were scheduled to play at Providence the following night and Sean’s prep school team took part in a showcase event in Boston that afternoon.  I was living there at the time and Mick and Hep Cronin planned to drive up from Providence to meet me at the game.

Unfortunately, a massive snowstorm made it impossible for the Cronins to make the one-hour drive and I was one of maybe two dozen people who showed up at Chelsea High School for the event.

My timing was as lousy as the road conditions.  The night before, Kilpatrick scored 28 points in a game played in New York City, but his entire team (including Sean’s roommate and future Syracuse standout James Southerland) appeared sluggish in the loss I witnessed to Bridgton Academy.

“That was a long day,” Sean recalled when I asked if he remembered the game.  “The bus ride up there was hectic because of the snowstorm.  It was crazy.  It was interesting to see you there because I didn’t think anybody was going to make it because of that snowstorm.  You weathered the storm.  You’ve been following me since I was in prep school and that is something that I’ve always appreciated from you.”

And while I didn’t see him have a good game, Kilpatrick’s coach assured me I would not be disappointed when he got to Cincinnati.

“You didn’t see much of a performance today, but Sean’s basketball ability is not a concern,” Notre Dame Prep head coach Ryan Hurd told me at the time.  “The kid performs.  We’ve played 19 games now and this is maybe the second time he didn’t play well.  I have no doubt that he’s going to go to Cincinnati next year and put up really solid numbers.”

Not a bad call huh?

(Listen to radio call of Kilpatrick scoring 2000th career point)

In Saturday’s loss to Louisville, Kilpatrick joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in school history to score more than 2000 points.  Sean finished the game with 28, making it the 16th time this year and 33rd time in his career that the fifth-year senior has scored 20-or-more in a game.  In Cincinnati’s last eight games, he’s averaging 25.3 points.

“We often talk about his leadership and what kind of person he is, but there’s not enough talk about his raw ability and what kind of basketball player he is,” said Cronin.  “He has evolved into a big-time player.  I’ve been around some guys that were drafted in the Top 20 and dominated college basketball, but he’s as good a guard right now as I’ve ever coached in my 18 years.”

Kilpatrick listening to Mick (440x300)

“Coach Cronin’s had my back for the five years since I’ve been here,” said Kilpatrick.  “He’s never let me down and I’ve tried my hardest to never let him down.”

Kilpatrick’s individual brilliance and the team’s unanticipated climb into the Top 10 has led to talk in recent weeks – especially from my WLW colleagues Mo Egger and Lance McAlister – that the University of Cincinnati should retire his uniform number.

“I’ve never thought about that and I don’t really know the criteria,” said Cronin.  “That’s pretty strong because there have been a lot of great players here, but obviously I’m on SK’s side at all times.”

“I’ll leave that up to the President of the school and Coach Cronin if he has anything to do with that,” said Kilpatrick.  “At the end of the day, I’m just somebody that goes to school here and tries to help the program.  It’s an accomplishment to hear talk like that because I never knew that I would be in this position, but it’s something that I’ll leave up to them.”

UC practice wall

Oscar Robertson, Kenyon Martin, and Jack Twyman are the only Bearcats to have their numbers retired, but there’s a Wall of Honor in the practice gym featuring seven former All-Americans that seems certain to eventually include Kilpatrick.

“Looking up at that wall and seeing the greats that have played here is something that inspired me every day to come in and keep working,” said Kilpatrick.

(Listen to radio call of Kilpatrick making game-winning shot in 2013 overtime victory over Marquette)

More than his scoring total or helping UC make four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, Kilpatrick’s legacy should focus on his work ethic and dramatic improvement over his college career.

“You’re talking about a guy that if he took two dribbles as a freshman he lost the ball,” said Cronin.  “He literally got it stolen every time.  I asked him if he was trying to make a run for best bakery instead of Servatii’s because of his turnovers.  It was unreal.  That’s how far he’s come.  Through hard work, will, and determination, the guy is one of the best players to ever play here.”

“I’ve worked my tail off for this,” said Kilpatrick.  “This hasn’t been given to me – I’ve earned it.”

“We came in together and I’ve seen Sean grow from a boy to a man,” said Justin Jackson.  “And from a good player to a phenomenal player.  He’s a great guy, a leader on and off the court – he’s a leader when he’s not even trying to be a leader.”

“He accepts the responsibility of showing up every night,” said Cronin.  “That’s why he’s an All-American.  That’s why he’s going to play in the NBA.  And that’s why he’s the Player of the Year in this conference.  He shows up every night.  He has tremendous work ethic and character.”

I certainly didn’t know I was watching one of Cincinnati’s all-time greats in a mostly-empty high school gym on that Sunday afternoon more than five years ago.

“I came in here not highly recruited and who knew that I was going to end up being this way?” said Kilpatrick.

“He’s the most underrated great player that has ever played here,” said Cronin.  “You had better enjoy him while you can.”

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Guyn Boosts Numbers After Looking At Stats

Ge’Lawn Guyn’s initial instinct was to blame it on the stat crew.

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After a home win over Temple on January 14th, the junior point guard was called into Coach Cronin’s office for a one-one-one meeting where it was pointed out that Guyn only had four steals in the Bearcats’ first 18 games.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way!’” said Guyn. 

Way.

“We looked at the stats in a staff meeting and said, ‘This guy only has four steals – this can’t be right,’” said assistant coach Darren Savino.  “So we sat down with Ge’Lawn and went over it with him and he couldn’t believe it either.”

In truth, the conversation with Coach Cronin wasn’t quite as calm, cool, and collected as pointing out a number on the stat sheet.

“I can’t tell you what he really said, but Coach got after me and told me that I was too athletic, too quick, and too smart not to be getting any steals,” said Guyn.

“I said, ‘You’re the lowest steal guy on the team and you’re the guy around the ball the most.  You’re supposed to be our defensive point guard,’ said Cronin.  “I give him credit.  He’s taken it to heart and tried to be more aggressive in the passing lanes and getting to loose balls.”

Since that conversation, Guyn has had 13 steals in eight games – that’s 1.6 per game in an average of 23 minutes of playing time.  That average (for an entire season) would put him in the Top 10 in the AAC. 

“Now that I’m actually looking to get steals it’s made a big difference,” said Guyn.  “Coach always says, ‘Read the play or read the guy’s eyes.’  It’s all about anticipating.  I’m quick enough to get the steal, I just have to read and be alert.”

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Guyn’s contribution hasn’t been limited to the defensive end of the court.  In the same eight-game stretch, he’s been one of the Bearcats’ most accurate 3-point shooters by knocking down 11-of-28 treys (39%).  Toss out an 0-for-3 night at SMU, and it rises to 44%.

“It’s a great feeling to finally see the hard work paying off,” Guyn told me.  “I shoot well in practice and in drills and I haven’t been able to transfer it to the games.  Now I’m finally doing that so it’s a blessing.

“I try to take as many shots as I can until my arm gets sore.”

In Saturday’s win over Houston, Guyn turned a 3-point nail-biter into a comfortable 9-point Cincinnati lead with less than 2:00 to go, by drilling back-to-back threes off assists from Sean Kilpatrick.

“Every time that one of us passes him the ball we yell at him to shoot because we know that he’s a guy that can really knock down threes and open the gap for us,” said Kilpatrick.  “Especially when teams are collapsing on the guards that are penetrating – they’re going to leave him dead open.”

“My confidence level is on a high,” said Guyn.  “It’s really a blessing and I just want to thank God for being able to play this great game of basketball.”

With his improved play in the last month, Ge’Lawn can thank his coach for making good use of the stat sheet.

“I obviously should have brought it up to him a lot earlier,” said Cronin with a laugh.

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Bearcats Defense Is DVD-Worthy

The stats show that Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in college basketball this year.  Through 25 games, the Bearcats rank 5th in the country in points allowed (57.6) and are holding foes to 39% shooting.

“That’s who we are,” said Justin Jackson.  “That’s Bearcat basketball.”

But it’s not just this season.  Cincinnati has earned the reputation for being one of the best defensive programs in the nation and soon there will be a DVD to help explain why.

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Championship Productions is known for its instructional sports videos, as coaching legends like Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, and Pat Summit share their expertise.  Beginning this spring, coaches and fans will have the opportunity to study Mick Cronin’s defensive principals.

“They came in and filmed practice because they had so many requests from high school coaches around the country for our practice drills and defensive drills,” Cronin told me.  “They do it for money so they had to have a lot of requests from people who are trying to figure out what we do defensively around the country from guys that are coaching basketball.”

“That’s an honor,” said Jackson.  “We take pride in what we do and that shows that we’ve been successful.”

“I thought it would be something neat to do – I’ve never been a part of something like that,” said Cronin.  “If it can help other coaches that would be great, and since it’s going to be distributed nationally it really helps the status of the program.  I’ll do anything I can do to elevate the status of our program, help recruiting, help create interest in the Bearcats, and help create positive energy toward what we’re trying to accomplish here which is hopefully trying to build a national power year in and year out.”

The Bearcats have been strong on defense throughout Coach Cronin’s tenure and this is likely to be the third time in the last four years that Cincinnati has allowed fewer than 60 points a game.  It obviously helps to have one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers in Jackson, but that alone does not explain why this year’s team is so difficult to score on.

“This team is able to switch everything for the most part,” explained assistant coach Darren Savino.  “What happens is, a lot of teams run their offense and try to use screens to get advantages, and they can’t do it on us as much because we can switch.  And then it becomes ‘mano y mano’ … me vs. you and it’s not that easy.  Yeah, they’re going to score some, but not as much as if our defense was constantly helping.  We try to eliminate that by doing a lot of switching and then keep people in front of us.  We’re not perfect obviously – nobody is – but I think that’s really helped our defense.”

“Interchangeable parts are a big part of it,” said Cronin.  “Enough depth to never have to play anybody tired – because when you’re tired you’re going to have slippage.  And obviously a shot blocker.  Usually if you have a shot blocker, he’s a weakness in the pick and roll, but Justin is not.  He can move his feet on the perimeter and he can also block shots around the rim.”

Jackson leads the Bearcats in blocks and steals and will be a strong candidate for American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.  But Savino says, another UC senior is just as important to Cincinnati’s defensive prowess.    

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“Titus Rubles is one of the best defense players in the country,” Darren told me.  “The guy can guard anybody from the center to the point guard.” 

“Titus doesn’t block the shots that Justin does, but he allows us to be extremely versatile with what we do with our coverages and confuse our opponents,” said Cronin.  “His ability to guard every position is vital to what we do.  Things that don’t show up in the box score make him just as valuable as Justin – he won’t win any awards because he doesn’t have the individual stats to prove it, but his statistic is our field goal percentage defense and our points allowed per game.  A lot of that is because of Titus.”

None of that information is a secret to Cincinnati’s opponents.  But what about the upcoming video – will Coach Cronin be divulging any secrets that could help teams dissect the Bearcats’ defense?

“I have editing right of refusal at the end, and we’re very scouting report-specific.” Mick told me.  “The video will show our core principals and how we teach things.  That’s really the basis of it, but I will also make sure that everybody knows that we do adjust game-to-game and year-to-year based on the personnel.”

I look forward to seeing Cincinnati’s “D” on DVD.

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I received a question on Twitter asking for tiebreaking procedures for seeding the conference tournament in The American.  I couldn’t squeeze them into 140 characters, so I’ve posted the official league rules below.

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SEEDING & TIE-BREAKING PROCEDURES

 

Note: these procedures apply to the 2013-14 season only. New procedures will be

developed for 2014-15 due to the addition of new membership.

 

Overall Conference record, at the conclusion of the regular season, is used to seed teams numbering 1 through 10. If an institution is ineligible for tournament competition, all tiebreaking procedures will be followed, then the ineligible team will be removed from the tournament field and seeds will be adjusted accordingly in an upward manner.

The following procedures are set up to establish seeding for the championship and to break ties. Follow the appropriate steps in order.

TWO-TEAM TIE

1. Regular season head-to-head results.  If the tied teams split their two games, then proceed to Step 2 below.

2. Each team’s record vs. the team or tied teams occupying the highest position in the standings. If an advantage is not determined, proceed to the next team or group of tied teams in the standings for comparison. Continue down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

3. Coin Flip

If any ties still exist after implementing all of the above tie-breaking procedures, a coin flip is required. The procedure takes place at The American Athletic Conference office immediately following the conclusion of the last regular season conference game.  Commissioner Mike Aresco or his designee will administer this procedure. This session is open to the media and to athletic department representatives of the tied teams.

MULTIPLE-TEAM TIE (3 or more teams)

1. Teams are viewed as a “mini-conference” when comparing head-to-head results.  The team with the best record vs. the other teams in the mini-conference gains the advantage. The team with the worst record vs. the other teams in the mini-conference is seeded the lowest.

a. If only two teams have the same best winning percentage in the mini-conference, the higher seed goes to the team winning the head-to-head series. 

b. If the two teams split their two games, then proceed to Step 2 under Two-Team ties.  To seed the remaining team(s) in this mini-conference, proceed to (e) below.

c. If three or more (but not all) teams have the same best winning percentage in the original mini-conference, then those tied teams create a new mini-conference and follow this same procedure beginning of Step 1 (Multiple Team Tie).

d. If all teams in the mini-conference have the same mini-conference record, proceed  to Step 2 below.

e. After the top or bottom teams in a mini-conference are determined, the remaining teams are ranked by their record in the original mini-conference.

i. If there are any remaining teams tied by their record in the mini-conference, then head-to-head results will determine the higher seed.

ii. If the teams split two games, then proceed back to the two-way tie breaking procedure.

iii. If there are at least three teams remaining tied by their record in the mini-conference, they would then form a new mini-conference and follow the procedure again at the beginning of Step 1 (Multiple-Team Tie).

2. Compare each team’s record vs. the team or group of tied teams occupying the highest position in the standings. If an advantage is not determined, proceed to the next team or group of tied teams in the standings for comparison. Continue down through the standings until one or more teams gain an advantage. If two teams have the exact same advantage (i.e., having the same and better record against a compared team relative to their mini-conference), they are separated at that point by the two-way tiebreaker procedure. The next step would take you back to Step 1 (e) (Multiple-Team Tie).

3. Coin Flip

If any ties still exist after implementing all of the above tie-breaking procedures, a coin flip is required. The procedure takes place at The American Athletic Conference office immediately following the conclusion of the last regular season conference game.  Commissioner Mike Aresco or his designee will administer this procedure. This session is open to the media and to athletic department representatives of the tied teams.

Bearcats Add Speed Despite Travel Slowdowns

In more than 32 years of college coaching, Tommy Tuberville has never run into weather-related travel nightmares like he did over the last month.

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“Awful,” said Tuberville.  “I’ve never seen anything like the last few weeks but it was kind of fun at times.  I was in Tampa and I had to rent a car because I had to be in New Orleans that night.  I got to Tallahassee after five hours of driving and I pulled over at Cracker Barrel to get something to eat – my favorite is fried catfish and hushpuppies – and all of the state troopers were in there.  So I said, ‘Man, you guys all take a break at the same time?’  Some of them recognized me and they said, ‘No Coach, we’re closing the interstate.’  So they gave me the back roads and I slid around, helped people out of ditches, and made some good friends.

“Another night a policeman pulled me over and said, ‘Hey sir, does it look funny out here?’  I said, ‘What do you mean?’  He said, ‘You’re the only one driving.  Get off the road!’  So I got off and stopped at a Shoney’s restaurant and he pulled in behind me and also recognized who I was.  He was an Alabama fan.  You always run into those dang Alabama fans.”

Sometimes on the recruiting trail, you even run into Alabama’s coach.

“I sat with Nick Saban at a luncheon in Macon, Georgia,” said Tuberville.  “Nick’s from Ohio and he said, ‘How do you like my home state?’  I said, ‘I like it pretty good.  Our weather up there is much better than it is down here.’  Which it has been.  It’s been bad here but it’s been worse in the south.”

The travel woes continued right up to signing day.  On Tuesday, Tuberville and assistant coaches Blake Rolen and Jeff Koonz could not get a flight back to Cincinnati out of Georgia so they hopped in a car and started driving, making it as far Lexington before the roads became impassable.  They finally made it to campus on Wednesday morning as the Letters of Intent were coming in on the fax machine.

In all, Cincinnati got 28 commitments (including preferred walk-ons) from 11 different states with an emphasis on speed.

“We recruited as much speed as anyone in the nation,” said Tuberville.

That’s been his number one priority in recruiting since working as an assistant under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami.

“It all started there,” Tuberville told me.  “Jimmy’s basic instructions to you when you went out recruiting were, ‘Don’t bring a guy in here that can’t run – at any position.’  They had to have good athletic ability and they had to be able to run.

“If you were recruiting a big guy, he pretty much wouldn’t give you the green light to recruit him if the kid didn’t play basketball.  We had a couple of guys that we recruited this year under the same scenario.  A lot of people didn’t offer them, but we went and saw them play basketball and these guys had more athletic ability that some of the guys that we were beating our heads against the wall about.”

One of the fastest recruits in this year’s class is JUCO wide receiver Casey Gladney from Copiah Lincoln CC.

Casey Gladney page 2 (440x440)
“He’s one of the best receivers that I’ve ever recruited,” said Tuberville.  “He was going to sign with Alabama two years ago and they were over the limit so we signed him at Texas Tech and put him in a junior college.  He’s an Anthony McClung-type that plays slot receiver and he can fly.  He’ll play in the NFL.  We just have to figure out more ways to get him the ball.  Anthony caught about 70 passes this year so I foresee Casey having a great career here over the next couple of years.”

On defense, Tuberville expects an immediate contribution from a defensive back from Fort Lauderdale, FL.

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“We got a young man named Carter Jacobs who will be all-conference here for several years and maybe all-American,” Tommy told me.  “He’s a safety from American Heritage High School and he’s one of those guys that you can’t get out of the weight room or the film room.  He loves football and he was offered by everybody.  We got him committed early and all the big schools from the SEC came in and made offers and he said, ‘I’m going to be a Bearcat.’  He’ll play next year.  He’ll either be a starter or a backup because he’s a football player.”

Cincinnati’s class was ranked anywhere from 58th to 66th in the various recruiting websites, but Tuberville advises fans not to put too much stock in those numbers.

“I spent nearly 10 years at Miami and not one time was our recruiting class ranked in the Top 25, but we won three national championships” said Tuberville.  “The bottom line is, when you get to about a three star prospect they’re all about the same.  You can’t measure heart – if you could do that then you could really put a star on a kid.  But you can’t tell how much determination and what kind of work ethic he’ll have while he’s with you.  If you could do that, you would never lose a game.”

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