A Big Step On Road Back For Legaux

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-Tzu

Far be it from me to paraphrase a famous quote from an ancient Chinese philosopher, but for Munchie Legaux, the long journey back began with a single throw.

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On Tuesday morning, six months and four days after the gruesome knee dislocation he suffered in the second game of last season against Illinois, Legaux took part in passing drills for the first time since the injury as he continues his efforts to return to action in 2014.

“This was a huge day for me,” Munchie told me.  “With the injury that I had, I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again.  For me to come out here and even practice with my teammates – I mean, I didn’t even put a helmet on for six or seven months so it felt kinda weird.  I’m just happy man.  I wouldn’t have cared if I got one or two reps, it was just great to be there with these guys.”

“Everybody was excited about him coming out here,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  “He’s been out here taking snaps but they wouldn’t let him throw in drills.  It was good to see him a little bit mobile – he’s probably about 50% of what he would have to be to be able to come out and practice and have somebody hit him, but he’s come a long way.in (six) months and I’m proud that he’s out here.  He’s working hard to get back on the field.”

“After witnessing what happened, it’s almost a miracle to see him out here smiling and throwing with us,” said wide receiver Chris Moore.

(See video of Legaux at practice here)

Legaux dislocated his left knee and tore parts of all four ligaments when he was hit while throwing a pass vs. the Illini.  Fortunately, there was no nerve damage and Munchie began the rehab process as soon as possible with the goal of getting back on the field. 

“He was never really down or sad,” said Moore.  “He just kept rehabbing and always had a smile on his face knowing that he would be back.”

“He’s doing whatever he needs to do to rehab,” said Tuberville.  “From six o’clock in the morning to about eight every day and then come back in the afternoon and do it again.  It’s hours and hours of painful rehab so I’m proud of him.  He’s stood up to the task and he wants to play his last year.  I’m gonna tell ya, he’s going to be hard to keep off the field if he keeps working like he’s working.”

“My next hurdle is to be able to run without a limp,” said Legaux.  “We’re still trying to get it stronger and there is still a lot of room for improvement.  But my next goal is to be able to run.”

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And while there are no guarantees that Legaux will make it back on the field in the fall, he has already been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches.

“Those guys see the amount of work that I’m putting in when they come in from practice to the training room and see me doing therapy or rehab,” said Legaux.  “A lot of times those guys will text me or even send videos they’ve taken of me working out.  You never know who is watching and you can brighten somebody’s day by the amount of effort you put in.”

“They’re all pulling for him and when you go in the training room he’s there,” said Tuberville.  “He’s Mr. Training Room.  He gets there early and stays late and when you’re in this business as a player or coach you see that every day.” 

“I think he’ll make it back,” said Moore.  “He’s making strides and I didn’t think he’d be this far along.  I’m no doctor, but he looks great and his arm is still there so I hope so.”

“Aw man, it felt great,” Munchie told me after practice.  “Just to be back out here with my teammates – competing, talking football, running around, throwing the ball – it felt great.”

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Titus = Toughness

I’m not about to suggest that he pours in jumpers like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, but with God as my witness, Titus Rubles makes a good percentage of his outside shots at UC basketball practices.  Unfortunately, that has rarely carried over to the games in his two years with the Bearcats.

“I don’t know why – I wish I had the answer,” said UC assistant coach Darren Savino.  “I know in the drills that he doesn’t hesitate and he makes a high percentage.  In the games it seems that he’s hesitant and that’s a tough thing to get over.” 

“When you’re missing shots you’re like, ‘Dang, I make these all day in practice,'” Rubles told me.  “But what I keep telling myself is that my day is going to come.  I’m just going to keep working.”

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Despite his shooting woes, Rubles has been a major reason why the Bearcats are 46-17 in his two seasons and headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

“Titus Rubles is our heart and soul,” said head coach Mick Cronin.  “He gives everybody on the team confidence because he’s afraid of nothing.  What he may lack in skill level in terms of shooting the basketball, he definitely makes up for it with fortitude, toughness, and in being a fearless competitor.”

“He’s one of those intangible guys,” said Sean Kilpatrick.  “He sets screens that allow me to get open, he rebounds, he dives on the floor – there are a lot of things that he does that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

“Titus Rubles gives you everything that coaches talk about that fans really don’t understand sometimes,” said Cronin.  “They say, ‘Coach is always talking about toughness when they need to get some scorers.’  Let me tell you something.  Titus Rubles’ toughness is a big reason why we’re sitting here at 24-5.”

That trait caught Coach Savino’s eye from the very beginning.   

“The first time that I saw Titus play was at a JUCO jamboree,” said Savino.  “I was watching random games and trying to find guys that we didn’t know about and instantly he stood out with his toughness and aggressiveness. He had what I call, ‘The look of a Bearcat.’  I watched him the rest of the weekend and he did a lot of things that fit what we do and I thought Coach Cronin would like him and his style of play.”

“We will sorely, sorely miss him next year when he is gone because that is stuff that comes from within,” said Cronin.  “You can’t go into the gym and work on having a fearless attitude every day.  That means wins, although it doesn’t show in the box score.  I can’t imagine where we would be without him.”

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And while Rubles is only averaging 7.0 points a game, he probably scored Cincinnati’s most important basket of the year so far – the game-winning bucket with four seconds left to beat Pitt in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

(Listen to the radio call here)

Rubles calls it the highlight of his UC career.

“It is, and the place that it happened made it a highlight too,” said Rubles.  “I still have the headband that I was wearing when I hit the shot.  I’ll probably never wash it.”

“The tougher the game, the bigger the moment, the tougher the environment; the more physical he plays and the more he gets done,” said Cronin.

On senior night vs. Memphis, the loudest cheers will undoubtedly be reserved for Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, but Rubles deserves a lengthy ovation as well.   

“Titus has made as much of an impact as any two-year player here in a long, long time,” said Cronin.

“I feel like I made a really good decision coming here,” Rubles told me.  “I’ve been on two teams that have been in the Top 10 and that doesn’t happen for a lot of JUCO guys.  I really like the city of Cincinnati and this has been a really good experience for me.  It’s crazy that it’s coming to an end.  It seems like it’s gone by so fast.”

“To win a war you’ve got to have some soldiers, and he’s a soldier,” said Cronin.

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Luc Hopes To Be Man In Middle

The UC Bearcats will have a new starting quarterback in the fall.

On both sides of the ball.

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In addition to losing QB Brendon Kay, two-time all-conference middle linebacker Greg Blair – who helped call signals on defense – also exhausted his eligibility last season.

When spring football opened last week, the new man in the middle of the Bearcats defense was Jeff Luc who started at outside linebacker last year.

“Right now Jeff Luc is starting in the middle and we’ll see what he’s got,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  “He’s a senior, he knows how to play football, he understands it, and he just has to put it all together.”

“I adapted better than I thought I would for the first day,” Luc told me.  “It felt like it was my natural position.  I’m not just saying that.  The calls went well, I was getting the fronts right, and I feel comfortable.  I feel like everybody on the defense was working with me and when you have amazing athletes around you, everything is a lot easier.”

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“We’re looking at everybody right now and he’s a guy that has some physical tools,” said defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.  “We’ll see how everybody progresses in terms of learning their assignments and techniques.  He’s a guy that we’re looking forward to being a good player for us.”   

“I think we’ve got good speed at linebacker,” said Tuberville.  “I think the whole key for us is to get the right guys in the right spots in spring practice.” 

After starring at Treasure Coast HS in Florida, Luc was rated as the nation’s top middle linebacker prospect by multiple recruiting services and originally enrolled at Florida State.  Although he transferred to Cincinnati after two seasons, Jeff was excited when his former FSU teammates won the national championship last season.

“I’ve been keeping up with them since I left,” said Luc.  “I still have a lot of boys there and in my mind they’re still like my brothers.  That’s who I came out of high school with, I was there for two years, and I still speak to those guys like three days a week.  They’re still a big part of me and that friendship and brotherhood is not going to change.”

In a Sports Illustrated story about Florida State’s victory over Auburn in the BCS Championship, Luc is referred as the “Pied Piper of FSU’s turnaround,” as writer Andy Staples described how Luc’s commitment to Florida State helped head coach Jimbo Fisher build a contender:

Fisher, in one of his first acts as head coach, hosted a group of top recruits on official visits. One of them was Jeff Luc, a Bunyanesque linebacker from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Fellow recruits in the class of 2010 treated Luc like a rock star. They delighted in his slobberknocker-heavy highlight video and shared it on social media. They marveled at his 6’1″, 240-pound physique, which resembled that of a five-year NFL veteran’s. Fisher wanted a grown-ass man, and Luc fit the bill. When he committed to the Seminoles while in Tallahassee on Dec. 5, the other recruits noticed.

“I’m not going to say that it was just because of me,” said Luc.  “Lamarcus Joyner and I sat down and said that we should go to school together and see if we could bring some more boys in.  I guess he wanted me to make my move first, so when I committed to Florida State he committed and it started rolling.  It was a whole bunch of great athletes coming together and wanting to play on the same team.”

Luc was a leader of that highly-touted recruiting class and is expected to be one of Cincinnati’s primary team leaders in 2014.

“I just feel like I have a different role,” Luc told me.  “Usually people say that they lead by example, but I think it’s time for me to be more vocal and I’m working on that.”

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And in addition to his new role, Jeff has a new number switching from 48 to 1.

“I just wanted something different,” said Luc.  “It’s a new year, I’m at a new position, and it’s a new beginning. 

“It’s a whole different point of view for me because I’m in the middle of everything and that’s where I want to be.”

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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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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.

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

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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.

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

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