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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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Jim Boeheim and the Duke Miracle Play

In anticipation of Saturday’s big Syracuse vs. Duke game at the Carrier Dome (expected to draw 36,000 fans), here’s an old gag involving the two programs from my TV days in Syracuse.

The Love Village

Leave it to a guy who has become famous for his “mean face” to coin an expression for how close-knit the Bearcats basketball team is this year.

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 “We’re a love village,” said Justin Jackson with a grin.

That gave Mick Cronin a big laugh when I passed along Jackson’s comment, but there’s no doubt he would agree.  Cronin says he’s never been closer to his players in 11 years as a college head coach.

“I respect them so much, and they know it, because of how hard they play,” said Cronin.  “That’s what we try to be all about – control what we can control and don’t let other people define us.  They’ve really bought in to that part of what I try to instill in our program more than any guys that I’ve coached.”

But at the age of 42, with more than a decade of head coaching experience under his belt, Cronin has changed too.

“Only a fool would not try to become a better coach every year,” Mick told me.  “With experience hopefully comes a tad bit of wisdom, and also maybe a tad bit of patience.  You understand that the game is not all about you, it’s about the players.  I think the more you make it about them, the harder they’re going to play, the more they’re going to play to win, and the more coachable they’re going to be.  At the end of the day, that’s really what this is all about – their education and helping young people grow up.  Obviously you have to win games and we’re all competitors, but I really think that’s the way to win.”  

“He wants the best out of everybody,” said Jackson.  “That’s the reason why I came here.  You can tell that he wants the best for you – not just in basketball but in being a better person and a better man.  That’s what I wanted to be.”

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One thing I’ve found interesting about this team is how the players react to criticism.  Our broadcasting location is frequently close to the Bearcats bench and even in those situations where Coach Cronin is reading players the riot act, they rarely seem to get upset.

“We all know that it’s his love for the game,” said Sean Kilpatrick.  “For that five seconds that he blows you up, you shouldn’t take it like he’s going to take you out of the game for a long time – he’s trying to teach you.  At the end of the day, he still loves you and he’s going to get his message across.”

“He’s a winner and that just shows how much he wants to win,” said Jackson.  “Every coach has a different way of expressing that.  Some coaches are quiet and some coaches are loud.”

And while TV cameras are drawn to sideline flare-ups, Cronin makes sure to provide plenty of praise as well.

“If somebody makes a bad play, he’s quick to say, ‘Why are great players making bad plays?’” said Kilpatrick.  “If he didn’t believe in us to be great players and take their game to the next level, then he wouldn’t say nothing at all.

“Everyone is happy to come to practice and everyone is willing to play hard.  If you have a coach that’s on you 24/7, you’re probably going to say, ‘Come on, cut me some slack.’  He wants what’s best for you and that’s something that helps us a lot.”

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“They give me great effort and they really care about winning,” said Cronin.  “It’s allowed us to play smart.  When guys are mentally focused and their mind is on winning, it allows you as a coach to make adjustments and it actually makes you look like you know what you’re doing at times.  That doesn’t happen when their minds are not on winning and they’re tuning coaches out because all they care about are individual statistics.  With this group, they want to win and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win.  They give me great effort – not just physical effort but mental effort as well.”   

As a result, the Bearcats “Love Village” is 19-2 and ranked 13th in the country heading into Thursday’s showdown at #12 Louisville.

“We’re not always pretty, but I think you have to appreciate how much the kids want to win,” said Cronin.

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Future Bearcat Posts Quadruple Double

A quadruple double?

Gary Clark (440x330)

Future Bearcat Gary Clark, a senior at Clayton High School near Raleigh, North Carolina, had one on Friday night as he finished with 22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocked shots, and 10 assists in his team’s 67-46 win.

“Gary Clark is dominating,” UC head coach Mick Cronin told me.  “From what everybody tells us, he’s probably on track to win Player of the Year in North Carolina – and there are some McDonald’s All-Americans in North Carolina.”

Clark is from the heart of ACC country, and while he reportedly had offers from NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, he verbally committed to Cincinnati after visiting campus in September.  The 6’7”, 215 pound forward officially committed to UC in the early signing period in November.

“I really loved the guys – they were just awesome,” said Clark.  “And Coach Cronin is a great guy.  The whole coaching staff was really hands on with me and talked with me every day.  I talked to Coach Davis probably as much as I talked with my mom – I love that guy.”

UC associate head coach Larry Davis worked in the ACC for several years at Wake Forest where he famously signed a lightly-recruited prospect that developed into a two-time NBA MVP – Tim Duncan.

“Larry Davis did an unbelievable job identifying Gary early,” said Coach Cronin.  “We put a lot of belief in him early that he was going to be a great player.  Every now and then you can sneak one in on the recruiting guys where they don’t have him ranked nearly as high as he should be for whatever reason – he developed late…he hasn’t been as exposed as other people…whatever the case may be.

“Gary got recruited – NC State is 45 minutes up the road and tried to get him and Pitt was waiting at the airport when he got home from his visit here.  So it’s not like he wasn’t recruited.  But Larry Davis did the best job.  He got in there first and did a great job of developing his relationship with Gary.”

“Gary’s been a relationship guy from the beginning,” said Clayton High coach Denny Medlin.  “I thought that Cincinnati did a good job.  They’ve been here for a couple of years now watching him play and they didn’t feed him a bunch of lines.  In the beginning, Coach Davis came down and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play harder.’  It kind of made Gary mad to begin with, but at the same time I think Gary has always appreciated honesty.  Gary got better and that helped me out because Gary started playing harder.  And the harder he played, the better he got.  Now he keeps playing harder and harder all of the time, and keeps getting better and better all of the time.”

For the season, Clark is averaging 24.5 points and he recently had a game in which he scored 31 in less than a half in a blowout victory.  The 15 blocks on Friday night tied a career high, while his personal best for rebounds is 24.

“He’s a guy that was vastly underrated for different reasons and probably learned to play a little harder the older he’s got,” said Coach Cronin.  “Some guys develop later than others.”

“He’ll be a four-year guy there and by his junior year in college, he’s going to be really, really good I think,” said Coach Medlin.

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A Lesson From Lefty?

Phil Mickelson visited the wrong locker room.

Mickelson at game (440x247)

The San Diego native was at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and saw his beloved Chargers stun the Bengals 27-10.  Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com tweeted the above photo of Lefty outside the visitor’s locker room after the game.

But Mickelson would have been the perfect person to address the Bengals after their third straight one-and-done trip to the postseason.

Remember when he was golf’s Marvin Lewis – the guy who could win PGA tournaments but always came up short in major championships?

Or remember when he was golf’s Andy Dalton – the guy who made crucial mistakes in the biggest events because he took unnecessary risks and didn’t execute under pressure?

Mickelson was 0-for-46 in the majors with eight second-place or third-place finishes before finally winning The Masters in 2004.  This past year, he suffered a devastating loss in the US Open only to bounce back a month later to win the Open Championship (British Open).

The choke artist who supposedly didn’t have what it takes to win golf’s biggest events, now has five major championships.

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I obviously don’t know if there will be a similarly happy ending for Andy Dalton.  Frankly, it’s impossible not to have doubts after seeing the three turnovers he was responsible for on Sunday.

But I do know that he’s led the Bengals to 30 wins in three seasons, gone to the playoffs every year, and showed considerable improvement this season – particularly in throwing the deep ball.  Like Mickelson, he needs to cut down on crucial mistakes that make it impossible to win.  I disagree with the notion that at the age of 26 Dalton is as good as he’ll ever be.  With a year left on his contract, Andy will get at least one more shot to prove that he can deliver under a white-hot spotlight.

Marvin playoff loss (440x304)

As for Marvin Lewis, he put it best on the Wednesday before the game when he said, “Every time you don’t get what you want, it makes you come back hungrier.  There’s no doubt about it.  You come earlier.  You come harder.  That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

That won’t appease folks who want his head on a platter.  Many cite the Reds’ dismissal of Dusty Baker as the necessary course of action for a team that hasn’t been able to get over the playoff hump.

If the Reds have postseason success under Bryan Price, it will prove to be a wise move.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Whacking Jack McKeon after the Reds fell from 96 to 85 wins seemed like the right move in 2000.  But the Reds didn’t have another winning season until 2010 (with Baker as manager).  Meanwhile, McKeon won a World Series title with the Marlins in 2003.

Mike Brown stuck with Marvin Lewis when it wasn’t a popular decision in 2010 and the Bengals have been a consistent winner since.  We’ll see if coaching continuity ultimately pays off.

As bitterly disappointed as we all were on Sunday, the Bengals have clearly gotten better over the past three seasons.  They have a deep and talented roster and a drama-free locker room.  And nobody in the NFL will add a better player to its roster next year than Geno Atkins.

So while I understand the skeptics who doubt whether Cincinnati will ever have postseason success without changing coach or quarterback, there was a reminder outside the Chargers’ locker room last Sunday that sometimes those skeptics get it wrong.

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Dalton’s Picks Haven’t Changed Simms’ Pick

Last week on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” host James Brown asked the panel to pick a team – other than obvious favorites like Denver or Seattle – that could make a serious Super Bowl run.

Phil Simms picked the Bengals.

“When you look at them, they have guys that can impact the game,” Simms said.  “That’s how I judge teams.  How many stars do you have out there that can win the game for you?  The Bengals have a lot of them.”

That was before Simms was in the broadcast booth for Sunday’s regular season finale against Baltimore.

Marvin Lewis

Cincinnati won 34-17 despite a career-high four interceptions for Andy Dalton.  Did that up-and-down performance cause Simms to reconsider his lofty expectations for the Bengals?

“It brought them up even higher,” Simms told me this week.  “Seeing them in person again and watching them all week and really getting a feel for the football team – I get a very good vibe when I’m around the team.  The players all get along.  They’ve got energy – it’s real.  I think Marvin Lewis has a great feel for the football team and I like the coordinators.  What I saw on the field on Sunday just convinced me even more that maybe for once I might be pretty smart.”

But what about the four interceptions?  Surely that had to concern Simms.

Quite the contrary for the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

“I really do believe this:  The fact that Andy Dalton threw four interceptions is a good thing,” said Simms.  “I played the position and when I had those games and threw those interceptions, I was mad all week and by gosh, I was going to show ‘em.  I’ll never forget what Andy said to me before the Chicago Bears game to open the season.  I brought up some of these things about the criticism of the quarterback and he said, ‘I can’t wait for the season to start because I’m going to shut everybody up.’  That was music to my ears.  I said, ‘You tell ‘em where to go Andy.’  You want your quarterback to have a little bit of that in him, and I see it in him.  After throwing those interceptions, I think he is going to ‘bow up’ this week and I think he is going to play well.  We’re going to see a quarterback that is tighter and more efficient and I expect him to play very well.”

Dalton black uniform (440x330)

Dalton’s interception total has gone up in each of his three seasons and this year, only three NFL quarterbacks had more than Andy’s 20 INTs (Eli Manning 27, Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer 22).  But Dalton also posted career highs in every other statistically category and finished third in the league in touchdown passes with 33 (Peyton Manning 55, Drew Brees 39).

“Interceptions will happen if you have an aggressive style of quarterback throwing the ball downfield,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “We have to maybe pull his reins back a little bit, but the first interception (last Sunday) to Marvin Jones was a great play by the defensive back and that’s a shot we want to take.  It was one-on-one with no safety to be found.  The last interception was one-on-one coverage on A.J. and Andy just underthrew him.  I like where Andy’s at.  I like his anticipation and I like his aggressive style right now.  Obviously we need to rein back his picks, but to do what he did through 16 games and throw as many touchdowns as he did and throw for as many yards as he did is a huge improvement from last year.”

“Quarterbacks are going to throw bad passes – they’re going to turn the ball over, so I don’t overreact to them,” said Simms.  “I hear people say, ‘Just don’t turn the ball over.’  I tell them, ‘Maybe the quarterback should just fall on the ball on every down.  That way they would win because there would be no turnovers.’  You want them to be daring and do this and that, but don’t turn it over.  It’s going to happen, so the criticism is unjust many times.

“I was watching TV this morning and the things they say about quarterbacks – they think they are going to go out there and play perfect games.  It’s ridiculous.”

That’s coming from a quarterback who was nearly perfect in the New York Giants’ 39-20 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXI:  22-for-28 for 268 yards with 3 TD, 0 INT, and the highest passer rating in Super Bowl history at 150.9.

That record-setting performance capped Simms’ third trip to the playoffs.  Dalton goes into his third trip still looking for his first postseason win.

“His presence on the field has grown,” said Simms.  “I think physically he’s grown too, which I think is a really big deal.  He is going to be their franchise quarterback and he’s going to be there for a while.  I think the experience and the fact that he’s physically better – and that he has a better team around him – his chances of winning and doing what everybody wants have gone up dramatically since last year.”

“With such great experience under his belt, he’s gotten better every season, he is the leader of this football team now, he knows what’s expected of him, he knows what’s ahead of us, and we really feel good about where he is right now,” said Marvin Lewis.

“It’s hard to develop quarterbacks,” said Simms.  “The Bengals had a plan, and I give them a lot of credit.  They drafted him, they put him in there, and he’s practiced and played for three years.  They’re seeing those benefits, and it’s time now to march on for the next five or six years – whatever it is – and see how many games you can win and if you can get it done in the playoffs.”

Simms can see for himself.  He’ll be back in the booth at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bengals Playoff Drought Is Ancient History

As I type these words, it’s been 22 years, 11 months, and 23 days since the Bengals last playoff win.

(That’s 8,393 days but who’s counting?)

Shoot, Giovani Bernard hadn’t even been born yet.

Bengals high five fans (440x291)

But you know what?  That’s ancient history.  These Bengals are one of only six NFL teams to go to the playoffs in four of the last five years and while the current players have little to do with a two-decade dry spell, they are determined to end their own two-year streak.

“Going to the playoffs two straight years and getting beat by Houston was not very fun,” said Domata Peko.  “That’s been sitting on our back for a while, so this year we’ve really been focusing on finishing and trying to get over that first round hump.  I think this team can do it.”

“We need it,” said Rey Maualuga.  “We need it for multiple reasons.  It means respect for ourselves, our fans, and our families from the doubters.  It’s about that time.”

Their confidence is sky-high after ending the regular season with a 34-17 win over Baltimore.  The final score was appropriate because that was the average score at Paul Brown Stadium this year where the Bengals went 8-0.

“I know the history and all that, but we’re here now,” said Michael Johnson.  “We want everybody on the same mentality, the same vibe, and the same focus to get where we’re going.  We’ve got a great team.  Everybody in here believes and we need everybody in the city to believe.  Let’s take this thing all the way.  I mean it.  I believe that in the bottom of my heart and I’m just thankful and happy to be a part of it.”

“Going undefeated at home is one of the goals we set every year and we got it done,” said Peko.  “A big shout out to the 12th man out there – The Jungle.  The whole stadium was rocking and they make it easy for us.

“This is my eighth season and it was by far the loudest that I’ve heard The Jungle.  Even players on the other teams after the games have been saying, ‘Damn – your stadium is pretty loud now.’  And I’m like, ‘Yep.  We’ve been rockin’ over here.’”

Last month, Johnson criticized Bengals fans for booing early in the Cleveland game.  But he was effusive in his praise for the home crowd following Sunday’s win over Baltimore.

“I was very pleased with the attendance and the way they responded to everything,” Johnson told me.  “When it wasn’t going good, nobody got unsettled, nobody booed – they just cheered.  We were able to regroup and they did an amazing job for us – especially on defense on third down and fourth down to help us get big stops.  We were very appreciative and we’re going to need them out in big numbers for the playoffs, because we’ve got big goals and they’re a part of it.”

Green catches TD (440x325)

After ending the regular season by officially eliminating the defending Super Bowl champs, the Bengals are one of 12 teams that still has a chance to succeed them.

“We didn’t want to give the Ravens a chance to sneak into the playoffs,” said Peko.  “We wanted to really go out there and put them to bed.  They won the championship last year – their time is up.  It’s someone else’s turn.  I think it’s our turn.”

“We still have so much more to do and it’s exciting because we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg yet,” said Johnson.

It’s time to stop counting the days since their last playoff win and start looking forward to their next one.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

A Season Of Bengals Fun Facts

Each week on the Bengals Radio Network pre-game show, I do a segment called “Fantastic Fun Facts” with a member of the team.  It’s a mini life story of that week’s subject where we get away from the X’s and O’s of football and focus on their backgrounds, families, and interests off of the field.

Here are a few interesting nuggets from the segment this year.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Here in Cincinnati we’re constantly hearing and reading about city budget battles.  When folks in Minneapolis do that, your mother is right in the middle of it.  Tell us a little about what she does.

She does budget analysis for the city of Minneapolis and works extremely hard at her job.  I’m very proud of her and what she does.  Obviously we both have stressful jobs, so sometimes at night, we vent to each other.  It’s something that I enjoy.  I really love my mom, I love what she does, and I’m proud of her.

So even with that big-time job in Minneapolis, I understand that she’s never missed one of your NFL games – home or away.

No sir.  She hasn’t missed any of my games ever since I was in high school other than one or two games.  For the most part, she’s been to every last one of them.

Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson

How much did you weight as a high school senior?

145 pounds.

Is that the reason why you played college football at the FCS level?

That had something to do with it, not to mention that I was 5’11” and I looked like I was about 10 years old.  I was just a late bloomer.  I got to college and started growing and became a better athlete.  I dunked a basketball for the first time in college, so I was just a late bloomer.

In your final year of college you had 43 touchdown passes and one pick.  What the heck happened on the interception?

It bounced off a guy, went in the air, and it was probably the longest five seconds of my life.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Not to mention that it was against our rival Dayton – right up the street from here.  That was the only loss we had and cost us a championship.

J.K. Schaffer
J.K. Schaffer

If you could meet anyone in history – living or deceased – who would it be?

My Grandpa Schaffer passed away when I was two years old so I didn’t really know him.  That’s who I would go back and meet now.  I hear from so many people how great of a man he was, and I know the type of man that my father is.  So I would like to go back and meet my grandpa.

Giovani Bernard
Giovani Bernard

What do you like to spend money on?

Shoes.  I think that’s the big thing – I love shoes.  I’ve always liked them.  Michael Jordan…I think a lot of guys nowadays are always buying the Jordans.  That’s my hobby I guess you could say.

How many pairs?

I don’t even want to say.  I’ll keep that off-the-record.

Strictly athletic shoes or dress shoes too?

I’ve got some dress shoes.  I have to move to that side a little bit more now because you want to have appropriate attire.  Being an NFL player, you don’t want to wear off-the-street clothes, you kind of want to be a business person.  So you have to have the dress shoes in your package as well.

Rex Burkhead
Rex Burkhead

You’re from the Dallas suburb of Plano, TX where I understand one of the big tourist attractions is the Southfork Ranch – where J.R. Ewing lived on the TV show Dallas.  Have you been there?

I actually have.  There was a flag football tournament there when I was growing up.  It was called “Let It Fly,” and they actually had it out there in the fields out by the ranch.  We either had a prom or homecoming there as well at one of the banquet halls, so yeah, I’ve been out there.  It’s a pretty cool place.

So you have been to Southfork Ranch and you went to the White House this past April with your friend Jack Hoffman – the 8-year-old cancer survivor who has been an inspiration to so many.  What was your initial reaction when you heard that trip was going to happen?

I was kind of surprised, I guess, but it was very humbling at the same time that his family invited me to come with them.  It was definitely a privilege.  He’s got a great family and to be able to go there is something you never even dream about or think about when you’re growing up.  To actually be able to go to the White House, meet the President, and go to the Oval Office was really cool.

Mike Pollak
Mike Pollak

According to your Arizona State bio, you are an avid guitar player who has written songs.  Fill me in.

I’ve been playing since early in high school and that’s my big off-the-field escape.  I try to play a guitar at least 30 minutes a day.  It helps me unwind, and in the off-season I get together with a bunch of friends and we like to jam a lot.  A lot of guys like to buy cars and jewelry, I collect guitars.

I’ve been treating myself to a new guitar every year, so my wife is kind of getting upset.  It’s taking up too much room in our house back in Arizona, but I haven’t bought one yet this season.

Acoustic or electric?

I have both.  I have a lot of both.  I mostly like to play electric, but now that I have two small kids, I’ve been shifting to more acoustic.

Jayson DiManche
Jayson DiManche

The Bengals brought you in for a visit before the draft and you told me in the pre-season that you could tell at that point that they were really interested.  What was it about that visit that gave you that sense?

They were the only team that flew me in and showed that much interest.  It really made a huge impact on me – especially after the draft when it was time to choose a team.  They flew me in and showed me a nice time and (linebackers coach) Paul Guenther has not only been a great coach to me, but also a great mentor in leading me through the whole process of being a rookie in the NFL.  He’s shown me the ropes along with Vinny, James, and Vontaze – they’ve really been helping me through everything.  Paul has been a catalyst for that and I really appreciate it.  On my visit, he was a huge factor in me coming here.  He’s such a down-to-earth guy and an East coast guy like myself that we just got along.  I knew that if I didn’t get picked in the draft that this would probably be the place for me.  Not to mention that the orange and black matches my high school colors.  I’ve got a lot of stuff that matches.

Brandon Thompson
Brandon Thompson

According to your bio in the Clemson media guide, your nickname there was “Yams.”  Where did that come from?

It started my freshman year.  I was talking amongst the defensive lineman and we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like.  I was a country guy coming in with a southern accent and stuff and I told them that I didn’t like yams and they were like, “Huh?”  So one of the players started calling me that and Tommy Bowden was the coach at the time and he started calling me that.  It stuck and I’ve been “Yams” ever since.

Do they call you that here?

A couple of players fool around and call me that every now and then, but not really here.

George Iloka
George Iloka

You went to Boise State – home of the famed blue turf.  Did you like it?

I loved it.  We went 50-3 in my class so we won a lot of games.  For me it was weird when we played on a green field.  That threw us off.  We were like, “Green…what is this?”  It was definitely fun and if it psyched people out, that always helps.

As legend has it, birds mistake the blue turf for a body of water and dive-bomb to their death.  Is that true?

I haven’t seen one, but I will tell you this.  Ducks naturally want to poop in water, so during some practices there was doo-doo all over our end zone.  So I would say that that part of the myth is true.

Vontaze Burfict
Vontaze Burfict

Your older brother was a college football player and I understand you were the waterboy for his high school team.

Yeah.  He was a receiver but he played pretty much every position.  I really wasn’t into football at that time but I would go to watch him and support him while my mother was at work.  I always favored him to see if he needed water because he was my brother.  I think that made me who I am today because I watched him perform out there and I was like, “Man, I want to be like my brother.”  Any time that he didn’t have practice, he would come throw a ball with me and try to get me to like the sport.  It turned out good because every Thanksgiving we would have a tackling-fest in the grass in our front yard.  We would throw pads on and a helmet and he would always hit me hard and it made me want to hit people hard like he did.  I cherish him for that and always look up to him for that.

Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga

You have a lot of tattoos.  Is it addictive?

It is.  They say after the first tattoo you’re going to want more despite how bad it hurts.  After a few weeks of letting it heal, you look in the mirror and want more.  You see tattoos on other people and it makes you think, “Oh man, if I could only have one in that spot on my stomach, chest, or whatever.”  Only time will tell what tattoo I’m going to get next or where on my body that I’m going to get it.  Hopefully when I grow old, they don’t look all wrinkly and bad.

When was the last time that you had a haircut?

The beginning of my junior year in college.  I’ve trimmed it here and there, but it’s been like five or six years since I’ve shaved my hair off.

Dane Sanzenbacher
Dane Sanzenbacher

People that watched the preseason opener against the Falcons where you had a punt return touchdown and caught a touchdown pass heard Jon Gruden sing your praises and say he loves the sound of the name.  But that was not the first time that Jon Gruden has gone crazy over Dane Sanzenbacher.  Going back to ESPN’s Gruden Quarterback Camp with your college quarterback Terrelle Pryor, half of the segment was about you.  What is it about Jon Gruden and you?

I don’t know.  I still haven’t met him to this day.  But that is where it started.  I was watching on ESPN like everybody else.  I was eating breakfast and all of the sudden the segment comes on that is supposed to be about Terrelle.  I don’t know what his fascination is, but it’s probably helped my career more than a lot of things actually.

Clint Boling
Clint Boling

You were a high school basketball player.  What position did you play and what kind of numbers did you post?

I played center and I didn’t stray too far from the paint.  My high school coach had a rule that I could only dribble twice.  That was probably a good thing.  I liked basketball a lot and had a lot of fun.  I would say that I was an average high school player.

Did you average a double-double?

I would say so just because I was so much bigger than everybody else at the time.

Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins

You did not play football until your senior year of high school.  Why not?

I was a basketball player.  I always wanted to play basketball and was on an AAU team so I never had time for football until a couple of my friends went out there and I was forced to play football.  It’s a good thing that I did.

How did they force you?

Some things happened and a couple of my teachers and the principal told me that I had to (play football) or they would have to call my mother about some things.  That was an easy decision because my momma don’t need to know anything negative.

Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu

Your mother ran for parliament last year in Sierra Leone right?

Yes.  Unfortunately, she didn’t get elected but she works very hard and the people in her community love her.  She does so many things for her community and felt like she would be a good voice for them.

You have her name tattooed on your chest.  Did she know that you were going to do that?

She didn’t know until after I did it.

What was her reaction?

She’s not a big fan of tattoos, but when she saw that her name was on my chest, she was pretty excited about it.

Devon Still
Devon Still

You grew up in Wilmington, Delaware.  The so-called “first state” for being the first one to ratify the Constitution.  When you tell people that you’re from Delaware, do they have any idea where it is?

No.  Whenever I tell anybody that I’m from Delaware they always say that I’m the first person that they’ve ever met from there.  Then they ask me where it is.  My response is that they need to pay more attention in geography because as you said, we’re the first state so everybody should know where we’re located.

Vice President Joe Biden is from Delaware.  Have you ever crossed paths with the V.P.?

I haven’t, but hopefully that day is coming soon.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith

Every year at the Super Bowl, they have something called the Madden Bowl where NFL players compete at the video game.  You are a two-time champion.  Have you – a proud Stanford grad – actually wasted a lot of your time playing Madden?

Unfortunately.  When I told you that I wasn’t paying as much attention to my economics classes (at Stanford) as I should have been, it was because of Madden.  I still dabble every now and then, but definitely not as much as I used to.  I have kids now and I’m getting a little older so it seems like the days go by a little faster.  But going out to those Madden Bowls was always fun.  Of course, they retired me after I won too many times.  I still peek in and see who is winning.

What does the Madden Bowl champion receive if anything?

A trophy and bragging rights.  That’s pretty much it.  I’ve got a couple of trophies sitting in the house and I’ve been able to tell everybody that I’m the Madden Bowl champ.  Because of that, everybody thinks they can beat you and wants to play you, so that definitely comes along with it too.

Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert

When Brian Kelly wanted to motivate you at Notre Dame, what buttons did he push?

He would just coach me and tell me what I needed to do.  He wasn’t big on yelling at me or things like that – not that he wouldn’t.  All you have to do is tell me what to do and I’ll try to do it.

What gifts did the Notre Dame players get for playing in the BCS Championship game?

We got a gift card from the university with some money on it and then we got to go to a gift suite.  But they didn’t send us the gifts that we picked out which was a little surprising.  They sent us like a cheaper version of them.  I wonder if the winners got them?  I guess that’s what you get when you lose.  It’s all good though.  I’ll take what they gave me.

Margus Hunt
Margus Hunt

Who was your favorite athlete growing up?

His name is Virgilijus Alekna and he’s a Lithuanian discus thrower.  I actually was able to work with him in 2007.

Is he famous in track and field circles?

Oh yeah absolutely.  He’s a two-time Olympic winner and a two-time world champion – just an absolutely tremendous discus thrower.

What were some of your favorite places to travel during your track and field career?

China was really great.  Turkey was unbelievable – it’s a crazy culture over there.  South Africa is an absolutely beautiful place.  Spain is really cool as well.

For the final game of the regular season vs. Baltimore, Bengals owner Mike Brown will be my guest.  Among other things, we’ll discuss childhood memories of his father’s great Cleveland teams, the summer he worked for George Steinbrenner, and the Bengals loss that hurts the most.  Hope you tune in on Sunday morning at 11:30.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

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