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Entries in Cincinnati (28)


Vote For This Cincinnati Cheerleader Now

One Great Season

Once when I held the much-coveted office of Editor-in-Chief of the University of Cincinnati's student-run newspaper, The News Record, I was asked to sit with a small panel and judge UC's cheerleader tryouts.

I no longer wield such power at my alma mater, but you can actually help a current Cincinnati cheerleader win the Athlon Sports Sideline Spirit Contest.

That's April Leonard below. She calls herself dedicated and says she enjoys "working with underprivileged youth." Vote for her right here.
April Leonard


Big East Preview: Pitt Finally Claims The Crown

Picture Of Dion Lewis

One Great Season

Among power conferences, the Big East has become the butt of jokes in some college football circles, but what folks overlook is that it's actually been a pretty good league.

Thanks to three different teams, the Big East has had five squads finish in the AP top 10 in the last five years. The PAC 10, thanks mostly to USC, also has produced five and the ACC, the league to which former Big East brothers Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech bolted, has sent only three teams to such a lofty perch over that period.

Remember 2006, when Rutgers, West Virginia and Louisville all were ranked in the top 10 with a combined record of 25-2 at one point in November? That same week, only the mighty SEC had a comparable mark, with Florida, Arkansas and LSU also among the AP elite at 26-4. Not bad company.

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No. 18: Cincinnati Bearcats

Isaiah Pead looks to take on an expanded role in the Bearcats' dangerous offense in 2010

The One Great Season College Football Countdown continues Wednesday. We'll be counting down the preseason Top 25 teams in 2010. Today's No. 18 is Cincinnati.

One Great Season

The sad thing about Cincinnati's 2009 season is that it will be remembered far more for how it ended than how it started.

In the December flurries in Pittsburgh, the Bearcats finished off their first-ever 12-0 regular season and claimed their second straight Big East championship in the most exciting game of the 2009 college football season.

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Part 2: Buford Weighs In On Final Four, WVU, Cincinnati

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

Former Cincinnati standout Anthony Buford said this week he thinks he has an idea what the West Virginia athletic community might be experiencing.

Under then-coach Bob Huggins, Buford helped lead the Bearcats to the school's first Final Four in 30 years back in 1992. And nearly two decades later, Huggins now has his alma mater, the West Virginia Mountaineers, in the Final Four for the first time in half a century.

Like he did at UC, Huggins turned the trick at WVU in just his third season, and Buford remembers the huge outpouring of support the Cincinnati community showed in 1992. He said there's probably been an even larger showing in Morgantown this week.


+ OPINION: NCAA Should Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball
+ WEIGH IN: Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?
+ YOUR THOUGHTS? Final Four Does Not Give Butler Home-Court Advantage
+ ANALYSIS: Resurrected UK Program Is Big Blue's Silver Lining
+ TELEVISION: The Rev. Troy Freel Breaks Down David vs. Goliath
+ GUEST COLUMN: Outclassed: Kentucky Schools Cornell In Sweet 16
+ TWITTER RECAP: Who Said What About Epic Kansas State-Xavier Game?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

"There are no professional sports in West Virginia, so the whole state is probably in a euphoric state," he said. "The university and their basketball program, their coaches and players, students, alumni and boosters are incredibly thrilled. I'm sure they are experiencing unbelievable pride right now. That's what I saw when we went to the Final Four. It was so exciting to see the pride that UC graduates exhibited and the thrill from past teams that won championships. Many of those players who were still around came back and showed us so much support. They felt like the program was back to the lofty standards they'd set so long ago."

In Wednesday's part one of this interview with Buford, the former guard said he and Huggins had a "mean-spirited" blowup a couple of years ago. Has the relationship been repaired?

Buford: I saw (Huggins) when West Virginia came to Cincinnati last year. At the end of the game, guys were just congregating and Bob sneaks up behind me and gives me this big hug. That wasn't really his character, but it was certainly nice to see him.

OGS: You said you don't pay much attention to the Final Four because of the treatment Cincinnati received in 1992. Is that still true?

Buford: In years past, I've always watched the first and second rounds, And this year I'll probably pay a little attention to the West Virginia - Duke game. I like (Duke guard) Nolan Smith. I had a pretty close relationship with his father (former Louisville star Derek Smith), and I've known Nolan since he was 3 years old.

OGS: What's the reception like around town this time of year? Do people still want to talk about 1992?

Buford: We didn't win the national championship, so when I see how the 1961 and 1962 teams are treated for winning it, I'm envious. That sits with me. I think about that all the time, just how we would have been treated around the city had we won it. It's a painful memory. I can't even watch the Final Four game from 1992. It sucks to lose once you get there, man. You realize how close you are ... If you get there as a sophomore or something, it's one thing, but as a senior, for me, it was lights out, and that's painful.

OGS: Do you see any similarities between your 1992 team and Huggins' current team at West Virginia?

Buford: No. We played 94 feet. We pressed all up and down the floor and he doesn't really do that anymore. They've got a different group of guys. Da'Sean Butler has got to be one of the most under-appreciated guys in the country. I love how he competes every time he steps on the floor. I was surprised he wasn't a first-team All-American.

Bob basically has transformed his team, including some of those holdovers, from finesse players to we're-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face-now type of players. Maybe they used to play a 1-3-1 and shoot threes, but now under Huggins, they're going to play defense, rebound like crazy and hit the weight room like they've never seen it before.

OGS: Why does everybody hate Duke?

Buford: People hate elitists or folks who project themselves as elitists. The sense is that Duke fans, alumni and players think they're better than everyone else. They give you the impression that they're looking down on you. That may not be true. I can't really say that I've had a whole lot of interaction with Duke players, but I have had some with Duke fans. People have a belief that Duke kids get all the calls, that they have an edge. A lot of that might not be true, but perception can sometimes become a reality.

OGS: Cincinnati seems to hit that 17- or 18-win mark every year under Mick Cronin, but hasn't been able to get over the hump. What is keeping the Bearcats from being a factor in the Big East and returning to the national scene?

Buford: The interesting thing I hear a lot around here is that (Cronin) left and went to rival Louisville. A lot of people heard the Huggins version of that story. But the reality is that if you had aspirations of becoming a head coach, Bob wasn't really going to help you. Mick didn't go chasing Louisville; Louisville came after him.

But having said that, there are some clear issues where Mick needs to grow. He needs to make some changes in some areas. Have they improved every year under him? Yes. But I thought in the preseason that he had a 24-win team and maybe a Sweet 16 team.

Personally, I'd get rid of some guys. If Yancy Gates plays next year like he did in his first two years ... he should be punishing teams inside. I don't know if he has the motor or the desire to become a great player. And when you bring in new guys who look at his work ethic, what do you think they're going to do? So Yancy is first and (Rashad) Bishop is second. You either have to recruit over and get guys who would be able to send them to the bench, or just get rid of them.

If you firmly believe in your program, then run it the way you think you should run it and get rid of anyone who doesn't help you get there. You cannot win with Yancy Gates. He's a coach-killer.

Here are two things I do know about Mick Cronin: He does know about basketball; he's probably too smart to be coaching some of the kids he's coaching. And two, he works his behind off. You gotta somehow get the kids to do what you want them to do.

OGS: What about Lance Stephenson?

Buford: Lance is very skilled but has a lot to learn about the college game. When you play in Brooklyn, no one takes charges, but in college, especially in the Big East, somebody's going to be in your way, so you have to learn how to score off the dribble. If someoene's screening, you should be cutting to the basket, not away from it, to get a pass and use your body to get to the basket. Yancy can shoot the basketball, (Ibrahima) Thomas can shoot the basketball, and with the lanes spread open now, you've got Cashmere Wright finishing at the basket, not over size. Lance will be driving to the basket for unmolested dunks, and now your crowd's into the game.

OGS: And staying in the Big East, do you think Steve Lavin can turn things around at St. John's?

Buford: I know his record didn't show it, but I thought Norm Roberts was just starting to get his team to come around. With that being said, I think Steve Lavin's energy and his experience going around the country as a broadcaster the last six or seven years, being exposed to a lot of other good coaches and programs, will prove to be invaluable. He's going to have to assemble a staff that's able to recruit the New York area. But he has a good enough reputation that he can recruit nationally as well. All New Yorkers want a winner, so if it's a bunch of New York kids or a mix of New York kids and some players from other regions, I think it's an excellent hire. He has a good base of players already in place, so it's just a matter of bringing in good new guys.


Ex-Bearcat Anthony Buford Doesn't Miss Final Four

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

I'm not sure how Morgantown reacted when Bob Huggins vowed to bring a national championship to the great state of West Virginia, but when he left Akron for Cincinnati two decades ago, a similar claim left Bearcats' fans at least a little bit skeptical.

At his introductory press conference in 1989, Huggins told local reporters he intended to dust off UC's rich basketball tradition and put the program back on the map with a Final Four appearance within three years. And sure enough, the Bearcats had earned that elusive trip to Minneapolis to play Michigan and the Fab Five in the 1992 national semifinals.

Guard Anthony Buford was a huge factor in Cincinnati's success, and while he was able to happily recall that incredible Clifton winter, its culmination at college basketball's most high-profile venue left Buford entirely dissatisfied with far more than returning to campus without a national championship trophy.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Buford, who's been calling UC games on local television and sometimes for ESPN's regional coverage, and also is a financial planner, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with OGS on Wednesday to cover a range of topics. Here's a portion of the conversation:

OGS: What was that Final Four experience like for you? What do you think about most when you recall that trip to Minneapolis?
Buford: I don't really think about the Final Four because I don't think we were treated with any respect or class when we were there. I think it was the beginning of Bob's sour relationship with the media. Yeah, there were some good stories here and there, but overall the treatment we got was terrible. All we did was beat the teams in front of us. It wasn't our fault that Kansas lost to UTEP, or that USC lost to Georgia Tech. But all of a sudden, you've got people asking how Bob could have done it with all these transfers. He had to have cheated. But we had just as much of a right to be in the Final Four as Michigan and Duke and Indiana did.

I remember reading an article that called us a team of misfits back then. In Minneapolis, we were getting ready to take the floor for a practice right after Michigan got done. There were lots of media people and cameras all over the place during Michigan's practice. But when we came out on the floor, they all left.

After we lost and we got a chance to enjoy the city and the atmosphere and the accoutrements of the Final Four, that was nice. I didn't take anything away from the Final Four, from an experience standpoint, that was cool. We won two rings that season, one for winning the conference and one for getting to the Final Four. I only kept the ring I got from the school for winning the conference. I tossed the other ring from the bus.

Bob Huggins

OGS: When Huggins took the Cincinnati job, you played at Akron for another season before deciding to transfer. Why did you ultimately come to Cincinnati?
Buford: First off, I signed with the University of Akron because of Bob Huggins. I had been recruited by Missouri, DePaul, Stanford, and then Connecticut came in late, as well as a lot of MAC schools. The main thing that struck me with Bob was that he seemed to be the one guy who came across immediately who was genuine and truthful, and that was important to me. I would like to say every player in college basketball would like to play for a guy like that. I was raised like that by my dad and that was incredibly important to me and Bob exhibited that from day one.

I was happy playing for Bob. He was a straight-up guy. And this many years later, that's what his players still love about him, and that's why they'll go to battle for him. It makes it really easy for you mentally. He can coach you to be a player, just as long as you go out there and give everything you have in practice and in games. Playing under him certainly teaches you incredible mental toughness.

OGS: When you got to Cincinnati, did you think you had a Final Four team?
Buford: The year I sat out, we probably would have been a tournament team had I played that year. But the next summer, when I saw the guys who were coming in, I had a feeling we were going to have a lot of talent. I met Erik Martin at the Five Star camp and told him I was transferring to Cincinnati and said he should come there, too. And one of his teammates at Five Star, Corie Blount, was interested, too. So once we all got to Cincinnati, I took the time to teach them all of our offenses and defenses so we'd be able to hit the ground running once the season started. With the talent we had on our team, it was evident that we would be good. We started the season pretty good and then we go to Michigan State. We were unranked and they were ranked seventh or eighth or something, and even though we ended up losing a 19-point lead and losing that game, that's when we realized we could play with anybody in the country.

NCAA Tournament

OGS: Were you afraid there'd be too much talent and not enough basketballs?
Buford: I knew we had some competitive guys on the team and I wanted to make sure they realized how important it was to listen to just the messages from Bob, but not the vehicle through which they were delivered. He can play some psychological games and I was hoping guys would understand that and not get rattled when Bob would try to tempt us.

OGS: What's your relationship with Huggins like now? Do you stay in touch?
Buford: He and I don't talk a whole lot. I appreciate everything he's done for me when it comes to basketball. I understand and know what he's meant to my college basketball career. But a couple years ago when I was in town for a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game, he wouldn't give me anything good to promote his program on television. He was his usual self, saying, "We're not that good" and stuff like that. Pittsburgh won the game and later when a group of us went somewhere after the game, I saw him. I told him it was too bad (West Virginia) couldn't get that fourth foul on (then-Pitt star) Sam Young. That's when he disagreed and kind of ripped some of his guys. And when Bob gets upset, he'll go after you. But I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not playing for him anymore, so I'm not going to let him berate me in public like that. I said something back to him and let's just put it this way; the night ended shortly after that.

OGS: Was that conversation light-hearted?
Buford: No, it was mean-spirited.

OGS: Now moving on to the teams in this year's Final Four, Michigan State is making yet another appearance. Being a native of Flint, once a huge hoops hotbed, do you ever root for Sparty?
Buford: Never. I have unabashed hatred for Michigan State. When I was coming up in Flint, Jud Heathcote was the coach at Michigan State and Bill Frieder was the coach at Michigan. I was probably the top player coming out of Flint when I was a senior. But Jud Heathcote didn't recruit me because he thought I was too small to play in the Big Ten. And Bill Frieder said in the papers that (Flint North star and Michigan signee) Demetrius Calip was the best player in Flint. But when (Buford's Flint Central team) played at Flint North I think I went for 39. And Frieder was there, and that quote was in the paper just that day. I was playing on pure anger.

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The year I was sitting out after I transferred to UC, Michigan State played at Cincinnati and (future NBA star) Steve Smith, who was a close friend of mine, was talking trash to me while I sat on the bench: "Buf, you better tell these fools who I am."

Now the next year when we played at their place, you know I was yapping at Jud Heathcote the whole time. I was giving him the business. And then when we played them again in the tournament, before the game, Jud said something to me like, "Take it easy on us today" or something like that. I gave them 29 at their place and 21 in the tournament. I felt pretty good about what I did to Michigan State.

OGS: Butler appears as though it's trying to give the "it's-just-another-game" approach, but we know differently. How will the Final Four, in the mid-major's own backyard, be different from anything those kids have experienced?
Buford: The distractions are going to be incredible for them. You cannot get away from it. And you've got every relative you've never known calling up asking for tickets. That's what Butler is dealing with right now, and it's worse for them because the Final Four is right in their backyard.

When we beat Memphis (in the 1992 Elite Eight) and we arrived back in town, the airport was loaded up. We were looking out of the airplane windows like, "This is crazy." And during the week, you're trying to go to class and you can't concentrate. Everyone wants to talk basketball with you. In fact, I just tried to duck in to the bookstore for a minute to get a blue book -- because you have exams, which was another huge distraction -- and one guy asked me to sign something. All of a sudden, they've got a table set up and I'm sitting down signing autographs. You leave for a couple hours to go to classes and when you get back, your voice mail is loaded up and all this.

We were having a tough time. We'd be sitting in the locker room getting ready for practice and talking about how maddening everything was when what we were supposed to be doing was enjoying it all. So finally, we told Coach we had to get out of there, so he arranged for us to fly up to Minneapolis a day earlier than we had originally planned.

OGS: Who is your pick this weekend?
Buford: I had picked West Virginia to play in the championship game. I think this team finds a way. People talk about Duke's size. But they talked about Kentucky's size. Duke's big guys are going to have to come away from the basket to guard West Virginia's perimeter people in that open-post offense. And that will open up penetrating lanes and cutting lanes. I see West Virginia playing a very similar game to the one they played against Kentucky and I think they'll win it. I think Michigan State wins because Butler will have a whole lot more pressure than if they were able to go to a neutral site away from home and I don't know how well they'll handle it. This is Huggs' best chance to win a national championship. West Virginia will beat Michigan State for the championship.

Make sure to check back Friday for a few more questions with Buford, including his take on the current state of the Cincinnati program.


Fatigue No Factor For Seasoned UC Cheerleaders

Cincinnati Cheerleaders

One Great Season

Three games in three nights. Tipoffs after 9 p.m. The grind of a Big East Conference Tournament.

Such is the life for a group of college cheerleaders from sleepy Cincinnati, whose Bearcats made a slightly surprising run to the tournament quarterfinals and almost advanced to the semis under the bright lights of Manhattan's Madison Square Garden.

The league is known as the most physical in the country, and playing on back-to-back-back nights takes its tolls, physical and spiritual, on the players.

But what about the cheerleaders? This ain't exactly a picnic for them either.

Or is it?


"The fatigue factor for some of us was in the sightseeing," said UC Cheerleading Coach Tabby Fagan, once a cheerleader herself, performing liberties, elevators and heel stretches on the baselines of Bearcats' games in the 1990s.

Fagan and her team took in some sights early in the week, even snapping pictures of them performing a liberty in front of the Statue of Liberty, clearly named after the popular cheerleading stunt. They hit Ellis Island and enjoyed some other cultural and visual splendor available only in the greatest city in the world.

Fagan said Friday morning, before the group boarded a bus back to Cincinnati 11 hours away, that the team stayed in Maspeth for the week, so returning to the hotel at 12:30 a.m. each night meant only one thing: bedtime.

"We weren't in the city, so no one was dying to go out and wander around," she said. "If we had the 2 o'clock game or something, they would have come back to the hotel itching to go out and do something, but there was no nightlife for us."

Tuesday, the entire group of 12 went into the city early to tour around before Cincinnati's first game. The next day it was just eight, and Thursday, only four came in early.

"Exams are next week, so a lot of them stayed behind to work on papers and get ready for tests," said the married mother of two girls.

Fagan added that she's got plenty of school spirit -- how 'bout you? -- but realistically, she and the others didn't expect to enjoy such a long stay in the city that never sleeps.

"We figured we'd lose our first game, the way they'd been playing at the end of the season," she said. "But then they won, and then they beat Louisville the second night and they really had some fire in their eyes. Now all of a sudden we're starting to think we might have a chance in this thing."

And then heartbreak was delivered in the form of a banked-in, buzzer-beating, three-pointer late Thursday night, sending West Virginia on to the semis, and Cincinnati packing its bags.

"There wasn't much fatigue physically on our kids," Fagan said. "They're young; they're in shape. But emotionally it was draining, because at one point we started to think we might do this."


Here's How Cincinnati Will Win 5 Games In 5 Days

Cincinnati Bearcats Beat Louisville, 69-66 in the 2010 Big East Tournament

One Great Season

Those pesky Cincinnati Bearcats won their second game in two nights late Wednesday and their reward is a quarterfinal game against old friend Bob Huggins and the Big East Tournament's third-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (9 p.m., ESPN).

One night after trying to give away an eventual win over Rutgers, UC was again at times brutal to watch in a 69-66 defeat of Louisville, whose second late-season defeat of conference champ Syracuse last week seemed to cement the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament invitation.


+ OPINION: Chad Ochocinco Is The Most Insecure Athlete Ever
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ OSCAR SPECIAL: The Top 6 Sports Movies Of All Time

The Bearcats are a bad offensive team, worse from the foul line and still make mental mistakes at critical junctures the way they did even in the fat 1990s when Huggins was racking up 25 wins a year in Cincinnati.

Led by Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson, however, they held on against Rick Pitino's Cardinals under the bright lights of Midtown Manhattan's Madison Square Garden. Fellow New Yorker Edgar Sosa scored a career-high 28 points in a losing effort for Louisville.

It was only four years ago when Gerry McNamara led Syracuse to four wins in four days in this very tournament. And now with the expanded bracket, Cincinnati has the opportunity -- or tall task, depending how you look at it -- to rattle off an unprecedented five in five. Two down and three to go; here's how they can finish the feat:

+ Continue to attack the offensive glass against West Virginia. Huggins' Mounties are strong, active and physical, just as the Bearcats were under his watch. They've got many New York connections and will treat the tradition-steeped MSG floor as if it's their own. But Cincinnati's best wins this year (Maryland, Vanderbilt) were away from home, so it just needs to focus on what it's good at -- crashing the glass and collecting their many misses.

+ Shoot the ball well in the semifinal round against Notre Dame, which I think will upset Pittsburgh Thursday night. Asking Cincinnati to shoot well is like coaxing Charlize Theron to meet me for drinks, but with their interior beef, the Bearcats are more than capable of slowing down gimpy Irish banger Luke Harangody. The star forward lit up UC for 37 in one meeting, but was held to 14 on 5-of-20 shooting in the other. I think Cincinnati keeps him in check and Stephenson controls the pace the way he did in the second half against Louisville.

+ Blow up whichever hotel Syracuse is bunking in. Otherwise, I don't think the Bearcats would have much of a chance in Saturday's title game. The Orange are an NCAA No. 1 seed and play outstanding zone defense, precisely the recipe to keep a poor-shooting team like Cincinnati on the dim side of the scoreboard.

Follow March Madness 140 characters at a time: @onegreatseason


Wednesday Hoops Notebook: "Key" November Wins Misleading


One Great Season

This time of year when ESPN spends much of its "SportsCenter" air showing tournament resumes of NCAA bubble teams, at least one thing is misleading.

Not that I'm complaining, because March is definitely the best month of the year and if ESPN or anyone else wants to devote entire shows to college basketball, I will watch.

But the category called "Key Wins" can many times portray a picture much different from reality.

Take, for example, the Cincinnati resume. Three weeks ago the Bearcats were a bubble team. Expert Joe Lunardi's "First Four Out" notwithstanding, I thought UC had no chance once mid-February rolled around because its two signature triumphs were three months earlier. Wins over Vanderbilt and Maryland would seem hot now, but I'm pretty sure the Bearcats, even at familiar Fifth Third Cemetery, would have no chance against either of those teams.

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North Carolina is another example of how early season results aren't a great gauge of a team's current capabilities. Way back when, the defending champion Tar Heels beat Ohio State (currently ranked No. 6) and Michigan State (No. 11) and lost at Kentucky (No. 3) by just two points.

I don't have the perfect solution; quality wins are obviously key in determining at least a small part of a team's candidacy for the NCAA Tournament. But maybe less weight should be placed on what a team did around Thanksgiving, and greater consideration should be given to a team's last 10 games before its conference tournament.

WHY NOT HARANGODY? With apologies to Syracuse's Wesley Johnson and Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, and maybe even Marquette's Lazar Hayward, but I'm curious why Luke Harangody isn't really getting any mentions at all for Big East Player of the Year.

His 24.1 points per game are nearly three full points ahead of the league's No. 2 scorer, and his 10 rebounds per game are second only to Seton Hall's Herb Pope. He's scored 29 points or more in seven games this year for Notre Dame.

In their last two games without the injured senior, the Irish have earned two nice wins over Pittsburgh and Georgetown, but if Harangody was out the entire season, Notre Dame would barely make the second round of the Indiana high school tournament. Outside of the score sheet, he's that team's entire heart and soul.

PRETTY NICE LITTLE SATURDAY: Get your Bed, Bath & Beyond run out of the way early Saturday, because for the second straight week, there's a great reason to be on your couch for at least six straight hours.

+ West Virginia at Villanova, CBS

2 p.m.
+ Syracuse at Louisville, ESPN
+ Kansas at Missouri, CBS

4 p.m.
+ Texas at Baylor, ESPN

And even though the annual season-ender between Duke and North Carolina won't have an ACC title on the line, the Blue Devils are playing for a No. 1 tournament seed. And the visiting Heels, with no pressure on them whatsoever, would love nothing more than to ruin Senior Night in Durham. These hated rivals meet at 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).

FINAL FOUR PICKS: Everyone seems to agree on three of the four top seeds, but that last slot is up for grabs. No one's talking about Duke; do the Devils deserve it? How about Kansas State? Can Purdue slide in without Robbie Hummel? Here are my projected top seeds, with predicted region champions in parentheses.

MIDWEST: Kansas (Kansas)
SOUTH: Syracuse (Syracuse)
EAST: Kentucky (Kentucky)
WEST: Kansas State (Duke)

WILD CARD: Ohio State has no bench, but if it can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, Evan Turner, the nation's finest player, will carry the Buckeyes to Indianapolis.

SLEEPER: The West will be the weakest of the four regions, so this could finally be the year for Gonzaga to break through and get to a Final Four.


Wednesday Hoops Notebook: DeMarcus Cousins, A Trendsetter?

DeMarcus Cousins

One Great Season

If you weren't fortunate enough to be in the fine city of Starkville, Miss., Tuesday night, I hope you were at least able to watch on television the Mississippi State Bulldogs take No. 2 Kentucky to overtime before letting the Wildcats escape with the win.

And as if the pain of losing a nailbiter wasn't difficult enough, MSU suffered some national-television embarrassment after fans, already jacked about having UK star DeMarcus Cousins' cell-phone number, threw drinks on to the floor late in the game.

The bebubbled home team enjoyed a seven-point lead with less than three minutes left, but Kentucky scored the final seven points of regulation to tie the game, 67-67.

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After a Mississippi State timeout during which coach Rick Stansbury drew up a play that clearly didn't get run, Barry Stewart launched what Scott Van Pelt described on the "SportsCenter" that followed the game as "a contested double-pump that misses everything but the floor." It really was ugly.

Kentucky would call back-to-back-to-back 30-second timeouts, but they weren't enough to produce a game-winning play.

It was an easy call at that point to think the visitors would survive. First of all, they're better, and secondly, MSU was playing without its top interior player, Jarvis Varnado, who fouled out late in regulation.

It wasn't just the obnoxious student section that thought ill of a few late calls or no-calls by the officials, but the Bulldogs themselves deserve the blame for this loss. Poor shot selection on at least a pair of possessions in the last five minutes didn't help the home team's effort to protect that seven-point cushion. MSU lost this game, as well as a huge chance for a resume win.

Outside of their season finale at home against No. 18 Tennessee, the Bulldogs (18-8, 6-5 SEC) play an easy remaining schedule against four SEC foes with a combined league record of 12-30. They might want to win those games. Losing one of them will do far more harm than the good that would come with winning all four of them.

TREND WATCH: Cousins, who's earned a reputation in his freshman season as a great player with a bad attitude, had his number plastered all over the MSU student community the last couple of days. Trash-talking phone calls and text messages didn't seem to bother him, though, as he finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds in 30 minutes.

After a first-half dunk, Cousins turned toward the seats as he began to run back down the court, lifted his hand to his head and made a kind of "call me" gesture that I think just might become a new trend among the drama-craving athletes.

BIG TEN BRAWL: Purdue visits Ohio State Wednesday night and while you all know I'm an Ohio guy, an informed opinion and not home-state bias is what leads me to believe the Buckeyes will win this one. I'm not as confident about OSU's chances at Michigan State Sunday, but I think the Bucks keep pace with those Spartans with a win over the Boilermakers.

Ohio State is unbeaten in Columbus this year and hasn't lost at home to Purdue in 12 years. I don't know if there's a team -- particularly a starting five -- that's playing better than OSU is right now, and it would be irresponsible not to mention that Evan Turner might be the best player in the country.

Purdue is solid and it still might eventually earn a No. 2 seed next month, but as long as the Buckeyes are playing this way, a Michigan State team in East Lansing seems the only threat to derail OSU's current hot trend.

CINCINNATI UPDATE: ESPN's Andy Katz Tweeted Tuesday night that UC's loss at South Florida won't cause too much harm to the Bearcats' NCAA chances.

Perhaps he's of the logic that Cincinnati's closing schedule of West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown offers ample opportunities for resume wins. True as it may be, but if Cincinnati can't beat South Florida -- or Seton Hall or St. John's -- I can't imagine it can win two of those other three, let alone all of them, against Big East powers currently ranked among the top 10 in the country.

The Bearcats are headed to the NIT. Still.


College Basketball Notebook: Tar Heels In Trouble

Roy Williams

One Great Season

With exactly two months left until Selection Sunday, it's about time I start posting on college basketball.

Let's do it in notebook fashion, shall we?

+ Defending champion North Carolina is in trouble this year. The Heels only lost four times last season, but already have five losses this year, three of them by double figures, including last night's 83-64 dismantling at the hands of Clemson.

+ Speaking of Clemson, don't be fooled by the Tigers' 14-3 record. It's not uncommon for them to rush out of the gate, win a bunch of games and even earn a nice national ranking. But once the February doldrums set in, for some reason, Clemson teams are rarely up to the grind and they often flame out.

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+ And speaking of flaming out, has anyone seen Cincinnati the last few games? I used to criticize Bob Huggins' teams for not being mentally strong enough to finish tight games against good teams. Late mental mistakes cost the Bearcats many close ones back then, and that seems to remain the trend under Mick Cronin, now in his fourth year there. But unlike Huggins' teams, Cronin's don't finish seasons well, missing out on the NCAA tournament with weak late-season showings the last two years.

Ashley Judd

+ Just down the road in Lexington, it's great to see John Calipari restore the tradition at Kentucky, but given his track record, you can't help but wonder what kind of trouble looms there. Nonetheless, John Wall isn't just the best freshman in the country; he's the best player. And he and DeMarcus Cousins are the best young tandem in the nation, and with Patrick Patterson manning the post, look for the Wildcats to play deep into March.

+ Back to Huggins ... As much as I wanted him out at Cincinnati long before he was fired, he's like that ex-girlfriend that I just can't get over. If West Virginia is on television, I will almost always watch. I even became a one-and-done Kansas State fan when he had a cup of coffee there. But he's got his Mountaineers playing solid basketball, and I reckon they'll get a nice tournament seed and advance to at least the second weekend.

+ The best game left on the regular-season schedule is a no-brainer. Former No. 1 Kansas visits current No. 1 Texas on Monday, Feb. 8. Each side boasts a core of veterans, a good mix of perimeter and interior players and a star freshman. Kansas' Xavier Henry is a nice scorer with three-point range and a great body for such a young guard. Texas' Avery Bradley is improving on offense, but he's a lockdown perimeter defender and a fierce competitor.

+ Don't sleep on Ohio State. Sure I'm a homer, but the earlier-than-expected return of all-everything star Evan Turner already has paid huge dividends. ET scored 23 of his career-high 32 points in the second half of a huge comeback win at No. 6 Purdue Tuesday. OSU doesn't have a great record (12-5, 2-3), but a road win like that, coupled with a healthy conference player of the  year candidate, can only boost the Buckeyes' confidence.


VIDEO: Did BK Know His UC Days Were Over In Pittsburgh?

Brian Kelly

One Great Season

PHILADELPHIA -- I've been sitting in the same spot at the same coffee shop for going on seven hours now, and I'm pretty sure this will be my last Brian Kelly post.

Until the next one.

But take a look at the short video clip at the bottom of this post. Lots of things to consider here.


+ HUMOR: What Would You Get Kelly For Christmas?
+ OPINION: Xavier Fans To UC Fans -- "Welcome To Our World"
+ GUEST COLUMN: Don't Blame Brian Kelly; Blame UC
+ ANALYSIS: Cincinnati Is Going To Hate BK

I shot a bunch of postgame celebration video on the field in the minutes after the Bearcats just pulled off a thrilling win at Pittsburgh, 45-44, on Saturday, to claim their second straight Big East championship and automatic BCS bowl bid.

In the video, you see Kelly walking off the field as U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" reverberates over the sound system at Heinz Field. Draw your own parallels with that one.

As Kelly paces toward the UC locker room, flanked by state troopers, you see in the back corner, 100 yards behind him, a hearty collection of red-sweatered Cincinnati fans who made the trip. So why is he waving in the other direction? Certainly Kelly was walking in the right direction, toward the locker room where he'd greet his 12-0 Bearcats, but why the big, grand, sweeping wave toward an empty section full of Steeler-yellow seats?

Did Brian Kelly know he'd just coached his last game as Cincinnati's coach? Did the towel-to-the-face move in this clip hold beneath it a meaning far deeper than just the emotional release that follows a high-stakes victory on a cold field in a rival's packed stadium?

You decide.


Jilted Cincy Fans: Consider This Holiday Gift For BK

Brian Kelly

One Great Season

PHILADELPHIA -- So, what do you get for the man who seemingly has everything?

The holidays are right around the corner, and if Robert Wuhl's Larry Hockett character taught us anything in "Bull Durham", it's that candlesticks always make a nice gift.

But if you're a jilted Cincinnati fan and you're not the place-setting type, or you don't think new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is into silverware patterns, something tells me you'd consider giving him this book. I'd understand if you got him a used copy.

What other gift ideas can you think of for the man who just broke your heart so close to Christmas? Suggestions are welcome here.


UC Fans Still Have No Idea How Xavier Fans Feel

Brian Kelly

One Great Season

PHILADELPHIA -- I just talked to one of my old Cincinnati buds, a 30-something cat with some savvy takes on sports.

We both agreed that losing a good coach to a better job sucks.

"There's nothing I can do about it," said John Thompson, who's been living out in Portland for a few years now but still pays close attention to the sports scene back home.

"It makes sense for (up-and-coming coaches) to leave," John reasoned. "If you're one of those guys, you want the best ingredients to win championships. It's harder to make good runs and great teams out of consistently mediocre to moderately good recruits."


+ GUEST COLUMN: Don't Blame Brian Kelly; Blame UC
+ VIDEO: Kelly Actually Waved Goodbye In Pittbsurgh
+ ANALYSIS: Cincinnati Is Going To Hate BK

Now close your eyes for a minute and try to imagine who Thompson could be talking about if I told you our conversation had little to do with the Cincinnati Bearcats' football squad, which just lost Brian Kelly to Notre Dame Thursday night.

"If you're one of these hyper-competitive guys, why would you settle for Xavier basketball recruits or UC football recruits if you're trying to win championships?" Thompson asked.

That's right. Thompson is a former Xavier student and lifelong Musketeers' fan. The hell that fans in Clifton think they were introduced to Thursday is something Xavier fans have lived through four times in recent years.

Four times!

Try losing Brian Kelly four times and see how that feels.

Now I'm not saying Sean Miller did for Xavier hoops what Kelly did for Cincinnati football. But he came pretty close, especially with that splendid Elite Eight run in 2008. And when he left after last season for the warmer climate, bigger stakes and fatter recruiting budget of the PAC 10 Arizona Wildcats, no one could blame him. The same could have been said about his three predecessors Thad Matta (who left for Ohio State), Skip Prosser (Wake Forest) and Pete Gillen (Virginia).


+ ARTICLE: Does Daunte Culpepper Hate Hot White Women?
+ GALLERY: The Hot Girls Of College Football
+ OPINION: Five Reasons Why Tim Tebow Should Not Win The Heisman

"It's not about loyalty to your school," Thompson said. "It's about getting to the bigger conferences. And I've settled into that fact as a Xavier fan."

Thompson said the reason why he thinks Xavier, despite the departures, continues to be consistently successful over time is because the coaching jobs are pretty much kept in the family, meaning recruiting suffers little harm. Prosser was an assistant under Gillen. Miller was an assistant under Matta. And current coach Chris Mack is a former XU player -- and one-time star at local St. Xavier High School -- who was promoted from assistant.

"There's been that built-in identity as a result that, essentially, leaves the new head coach as the guy who recruited most of the kids playing for him," Thompson said.

Don't expect Cincinnati to follow that blueprint. Such a move would mean Kerry Coombs would be the next head coach, and that theory has been blown out of the Ohio River as speculation heats up over Kelly's replacement. Coombs, despite the lofty title of Associate Head Coach, has only been a head coach at the high school level, albeit a very successful one. He built a great tradition at local Colerain High School, but promoting him at UC would probably be a step backward for the Bearcats.

So the search begins for the next coach. Will UC look for someone to keep the Bearcats merely competitive before leaving after three years? Or will the school commit to the various upgrades for which its newly former coach pushed and make Clifton a destination for a new football tradition?

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Don't Blame Brian Kelly; Blame UC

Lee Gerowitz

Special To One Great Season

NEW YORK -- When rumor turns to reality, as it did with Brian Kelly leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame Thursday, love often turns to hate.

This particular saga, which, quite frankly, started the day Kelly stepped foot on UC's campus, began as a love affair.

The University of Cincinnati, its students and fans who had supported the program throughout the years, all wanted a winner in Clifton. After all, many of these folks were witnessing a once-proud basketball program struggle to recover from the fallout of the Bob Huggins era.

+ MORE FROM GEROWITZ: Kelly's Early UC Years Similar To Huggins'

Enter Brian Kelly. The wins on the gridiron quickly piled up, and the love affair was on.

A 22-6 record in two seasons, including a BCS berth in the 2009 Orange Bowl, will make football fans fall in love with you. Follow that up with an undefeated 12-0 regular season and another BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl, and Notre Dame comes knocking on your door.

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly not only answered the door, but he let them in, let them take all of his belongings, pack them up and move them to South Bend, Indiana.

And now, some, not all, but some UC fans are hurt. Some are betrayed, even hateful toward the man they once supported. For these people, the love affair with Kelly is clearly over.

And why? Because Brian Kelly lied to them. Kelly promised them he'd stay at UC. He told the media, the fans and even his own players so.

One Cincinnati blog recently displayed comments directed at Kelly such as "Two Faced" and "...liar, traitor and he shall be marked with the sign of the beast for eternity!"


+ VIDEO: Brian Kelly Waves Goodbye To UC Fans In Pittsburgh
+ ARTICLE: Does Daunte Culpepper Hate Hot White Women?
+ GALLERY: The Hot Girls Of College Football
+ OPINION: Five Reasons Why Tim Tebow Should Not Win The Heisman
+ ANALYSIS: Cincinnati Is Going To Hate Brian Kelly

Well, there are always two sides to a love affair gone wrong, and if you're one of the bitter ones, shame on you. Shame on you for being blind toward what are the real reasons why UC is looking for a head football coach ... again.

BK, as the kids called him, was always up front about two key things: 1) What he thought it would take for UC to compete for a national championship each year, and 2) His admiration for Notre Dame. He repeatedly stated his case for point No. 1, and those close to Kelly were well aware of point No. 2.

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And let's get this out of the way before we continue: Blame the NCAA for the supposed dishonesty you get from the Brian Kellys of the world during sagas like this. It's the NCAA that allows schools with coaching vacancies to hover like vultures over coaches who currently have jobs and seasons that are still playing out. Because of this, if Kelly denies a rumor if only to protect his players, he's a liar and a traitor. Or, if BK gives an honest answer if only to protect his players, he's a liar and a traitor. It's a lose-lose situation for a coach like Kelly, but before you so quickly judge him, ask yourself something: What would YOU, the angry, betrayed fan, do if you were in his shoes? What would YOU do if you had the opportunity to upgrade your life for your family, all while trying to protect the players that helped you get to your current superstar status?

Kelly's message to UC was always clear: he and his staff would need sufficient monetary support to stick around. His team would need to practice on a field other than the one they played games on. The 107-year-old, 35,000 seat stadium, which he called the "Wrigley Field" of college football, would need to be upgraded and expanded.

To its credit, UC listened. In tough economic times, the administration supported Kelly and his staff as best as it could. Money was raised for the practice fields, which are currently under construction. Possible scenarios to expand and upgrade Nippert Stadium are being considered.

But it's too late. Unfortunately, the University of Cincinnati played a waiting game, and got burned.

Simply put, UC wanted to have its cake and eat it too.

UC wanted a coach who'd be the school's rock for years and years to come, but didn't provide enough foundation for him to build upon. Mark Dantonio arrived at UC in December 2003. Nearly three years later, he recognized the program's shortcomings, accomplished his mission of using UC as a stepping stone in his coaching career and was off to Michigan State, which drew 25,000 fans ... to his first spring game.

A week after Dantonio was named MSU's coach, Kelly arrived at UC. And three years later, he's gone too.

The bottom line is, if UC truly wanted a coach to commit to the Bearcats on a long-term basis, UC should have committed to upgrading its program a long time ago. How about after Rick Minter, who coincidentally came to UC from Notre Dame, ended his 10-year, 53-63-1 tenure with the Bearcats in 2003?

UC's facilities have certainly improved in recent years with the completion of its Varsity Village, but one has to wonder, at what point was UC going to sweeten the pot for the long-term stability of the football program? At what point were they going to make the program a destination job, not just a stepping stone, for a football coach?

Kelly certainly used the Cincinnati football program as a stepping stone in his coaching career. But he did much more than that. He showed anyone who has ever supported this program that the school with no practice fields, the school with the 107-year-old stadium that is the smallest in the Big East conference, is a school that can compete for national championships.

Kelly may be gone, but the momentum he built is not. At least not yet. There is a small window of opportunity for the University of Cincinnati to capitalize on what Brian Kelly built in such a short amount of time.

Kelly's departure leaves two questions: Who will be the next Bearcats' coach? And will UC allow time to run out on him, too?

Gerowitz is a New York-based television producer, a Cincinnati graduate and occasional OGS contributor.


Cincinnati Is Going To Hate Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

One Great Season

BROOKLYN -- I've said it before and I'll say it again; in no other line of work is a man's employment status more public than in coaching.

Painfully public.

If you coach a professional team or a major-college basketball or football program, your future is probed, dissected, analyzed, predicted and about 100 times a day for certain stretches, tirelessly inquired about.


+ GAMEDAY GALLERY: Cincinnati At Pittsburgh
+ VIDEO: Bearcats Celebrate Thrilling Win At Pittsburgh
+ DISCUSSION: Was UC's Win At Pitt Most Exciting Game Of NCAA Season?
+ IMAGES: The Hot Girls Of College Football
+ ANALYSIS: Archbishop Tebow Is Right Man For Notre Dame Job
+ ANALYSIS: Screw Notre Dame; Best Job In Sports Is UK Hoops

And I absolutely hate the media, the industry in which I grew up, because of it.

The coaching circus turns good men into liars. Every December, when hard-working coaches dedicated to winning championships and helping turn young boys into productive citizens, the names of a few hot honchos get tossed around and they end up having to answer every day the same question, and it has nothing to do with Santa Claus or holiday wish lists.

In the case of the very likeable Brian Kelly, I have a bad feeling that many, many fans are going to end up feeling -- wrongfully -- betrayed by him.

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Kelly as recently as five days ago told his players he wasn't going anywhere. He'd told reporters three days ago to get a handle on the swirl-o-meter as rumors for two weeks have now suggested that he is in fact going to be the next Notre Dame coach. Apparently, there are many reliable "sources close to the situation" these days.

And now that Kelly has told his players he will interview for the job, anyone who knows how easily he'll charm the black-watch-plaid pants off Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrink knows he's as good as gone.

Prior to yesterday's admission that he'll meet with the Irish, what options did he have? Should Kelly have told his players, "Yes, I expect to get the offer and I will take it?" Obviously, he couldn't do that, so what he has to do is ... lie. Of course he's going to tell his players and the scoop-hungry media that he and his family love it in Cincinnati, that they're not going anywhere, that they're focused on the next opponent and the next opponent only.

But if you worked in news, and you toiled at, say, a local TV station in a mid-sized market and suddenly the network called and wanted to bring you up to New York, the media capital of the world, what would you do? A fat contract and better perks awaited, as did a more challenging and rewarding work environment. Would you stay in Cincinnati? Would you openly tell your colleagues and even your supervisors you were thinking about another job?

Now, South Bend might not be Midtown Manhattan. Far from it, but whether you like or hate the Irish, it is the capital of the college football universe. It's hard to say no to that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the fan base at your current job doesn't always sell out a 35,000-seat stadium.

So if Brian Kelly takes the Notre Dame job, please bite your tongue when you want to call him a liar and accuse him of betraying the citizenry of Cincinnati. Before you start throwing around curse words in the name of thine holy Bearcat, just ask yourself if you've ever made a career decision in which you placed someone else's interests ahead of yours. I'm guessing you haven't, and if you have, then perhaps college football shouldn't be your most pressing passion.