Friday, December 31, 2010

Ranking My Fiction Reads- 2010

In 2010 I started and finished 20 fiction Novels totaling approximately 11,000 pages. I started a 21st called The Terror by Dan Simmons, which I am currently reading and therefore won't include it on this years list. I divided my rankings into 4 tiers ranging from excellent to alright (thankfully only one book fit into the alright tier). By in large this list is in order of how I would rank the books, however, I often go back and forth on which books within each tier I liked more. Anyways here is how I would rank the fiction I read this year.

Tier 1 (Excellent)
1.Perdido Street Station - Easily the most original and well written book I read this year. The Slake Moths are absolutely terrifying and the introductory ride into New Crobuzon is breathtaking. China Mieville has a way with words like few authors do. He creates incredibly quirky and interesting species and some ridiculously cool ideas (The Weaver was amazing). The first couple parts are slow, but always fascinating and well written. The rest of the book is just awesome.

2.Snow Crash - Though a bit dated, Snow Crash is about as fun as a novel can get. From the opening description of the "Deliverator," to the pure awesomeness that is Y.T. this novel remains fun throughout. There is a rather large info dump in the middle which at times can get a bit tedious, but despite that Neal Stephenson delivers with a novel that is just pure entertainment.

3.The Lies of Locke Lamora- Scott Lynch's first in the Republic of Thieves series is both an original take on fantasy and a fun caper tale. The city of Camorr and the underworld that thrives there really comes alive and for a series novel it has a very satisfactory, self contained ending.

4.The Name of the Rose- A big credit to Eco with this book for as long as the book was and as many names and languages as it had I thought it was actually a fairly quick read. The language is top notch throughout, the descriptions are great, the tension is ever present and the history woven in is virtually unmatched in anything I have read.

5.A Fire Upon The Deep- The scope of this novel is nothing short of grand. Vinge takes many intriguing ideas, creates multiple fascinating alien races and gives us a tale that is epic in scope and fascinating to read. There are several amazing actions sequences that will keep you rivited throughout.

6.A Deepness in the Sky- Deepness does not quite have the epic scope of A Fire Upon the Deep, but it's a fascinating tale of the conflict among two groups of human space travelers centered around their varying desires of how to extract resources from the first known alien race. The idea of mindrot is very cool as is the moral dilemma it ends up causing for our protagonist. The alien race to me was very believable and though I found myself more interested in the human plot I thought the way they blended together worked well.

Tier 2 (Great reads, not quite up to level of Tier 1)
7.A Look to Windward- Banks is one of my favorite current writers, largely because of the brilliant action sequences he write, but with this story he takes a step back from much of the action (though we get a few cool scenes) to tell a tale of revenge. Slower paced than earlier Banks Culture novels, but just as thought provoking.

8.The Scar- The Scar was actually a better paced book than Perdido Street Station and had many of the great features that made Perdido so special (Many quirky species, incredibly cool creations and ideas, great visual depictions and beautifully written passages). Where I think it fell short was the tension never seemed as real and there was no entity to match The Weaver.

9.Old Man's War- Military Scifi to the core. This book flowed really well. It was a quick read, but entertaining throughout. The action scenes were intense and there was a surprising amount of humor from Scalza as well.

10.Red Seas Under Red Skies- The second in Lynch's Republic of Thieves series I did not find this quite as good. I liked the action in Camorr better than the action in this book. Still the heist scenes are very cool and the action on the high seas can be fun as well. Really anxious to see where he goes moving forward.

11.To Green Angel Tower Part 1- The first of the two part finally to Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series I thought this was actually slightly better than the conclusion. Williams finally got to a point where all his plots were intriguing and moving at a good pace.

12.To Green Angel Tower Part 2- The conclusion to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and a very satisfactory end at that. I thought some of the travel scenes dragged a bit (as they tend to in fantasy), but I thought the end was very cool. The time Williams took to develop the characters and the world early in the series which often seamed excessive really worked to his benefit in the conclusion.

13.Against a Dark Background- This story is just a series of amazing action sequences which no one write better than Banks. I found Sharrow to be a fun protagonist and much of her back story helped develop the emotional gravity of the book. Still I though the scope really was not big enough for me to be as invested in the book. Definitely a fun read, just not an excellent read.

14.The Hunger Games- Credit Collins for being able to get me emotionally invested in characters I barely knew very early on in her novel. Though often predictable and convenient in it's solutions to problems that seem coming I thought The Hunger Games was paced incredibly well and fun throughout. I also felt that even the predictable and convenient parts of the story worked in the world Collins created. I'm anxious to read the last two novels in the series.

15.Cat's Cradle- Vonnegut always seems to deliver with his funny, dark wit. I really loved the idea of Bokononism and how the narrator (John/Jonah) tied everything that happened throughout the book to the various teachings of Bokononism. I thought it was very telling that the destruction that comes in this book did not come from evil or maliciousness, but from wreckless indifference and wreckless self action. Not as good as the Slaughterhouse Five, but typical Vonnegut in that it was humorous and dark with themes that strike you in a very real way.

Tier 4 (Good reads)
16.Storm Front- This first in Butcher's Dresden series was a very quick read and interesting blend of detective novel and urban fantasy. It was self contained and everything tied together nicely at the end. The novel was nothing special but showed the makings of a potentially fun series.

17.The Dragonbone Chair- The first of Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. I thought the biggest fault with this book is the setup took to long and we were 250 pages in before anything happened. The travel scenes were also hit or miss. To its credit though the White Fox's were really cool and the end was wonderfully written. A good, though flawed book.

18.And Another Thing- Colfer does an admiral job of continuing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. And Another Thing certainly has a different feel than the other Hitchhikers books, but it was still a fun read. In fact I'd argue it was as good as book 5 and much better than book 4 (which just didn't do it for me). Still it falls well short of the brilliance that defined the original three Hitchhikers novels.

19.The Stone of Farewell- Book 2 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. This flowed better than book 1, but I thought was the weakest overall of the four. To me not enough happened...there were not enough really cool scenes that we got at the end of the first novel and throughout To Green Angel Tower. That said there was some cool stuff in the Sithi city and the duel on the plains with the Thrithlings was worthwhile. Another good book that is ultimately flawed.

Tier 4 (Eh... book)
20.Good Omens- Really this book was my only disappointment in reading this year. Having loved American Gods I expected much more from this story. I did not find it particularly funny, or the conclusion particularly satisfactory. There are some alright moments, but for a book that is trying to be humorous at the expense of other aspects I just do not think it worked. Really it is the only book I read this year that I would not recommend to others.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lack of Job Growth Kills Democrats

It is easy to forget what an economic mess the democrats walked into just two years ago. If nothing else Tuesday night was a reminder that even with near disasterous collapse brought on before the Democrats took charge Americans have no patience when their jobs are in jeopardy. In October of 2007 the Dow Jones was at 13930.01. From there it essentially fell at a consistently steep rate until February of 2009 (when it reached 7062.93). This is significant because this is when the democrats implemented their economic policy. Since that day the Dow Jones has steady risen to 11188.72. Our financial institutions were saved and they have paid back every penny borrowed in the Obama bailout (only money they did not return was from the Bush bailout since he did not require them to pay it back). GM was saved and has also paid back the money they were given in the bailout.

In February of 2008 the unemployment rate in this country was 4.8 %, before Obama even took office the unemployment rate had moved up to 8 percent. So in less than a year the unemployment rate had gone up 3.2%. The unemployment rate reached nearly 9% before Obama and the democrats passed their economic policy. The democrats economic policy slowed down the growth in unemployment SIGNIFICANTLY. And after bottoming out at 10.1 in October of 2009 the rate has slowly started to move back down towards 9.6%.

The ironic thing is that had the republican economic policies that caused this MASSIVE recession not been so disastrous the democrats probably would have done better in this election. As it is, though we have seen massive improvements in the trends for both the dow jones and unemployment from what the Democrats inherited, though Americans still are dealing with consequences of those inherited policies. It was always going to take more than two years for the economy to recover from the incredible plummet we saw (which did not slow down until Obama's economic policy was implemented).

Americans vote with their pocket books so often and since there has not been a strong recovery in jobs to match the strong recovery in the market they are not happy. Though the majority of the deficit has actually come from lessened tax revenue due to recession, Americans see the Democrats spending money on something like Health Care when so many are still unemployed at it rubs them the wrong way. Tonight was inevitable for the democrats and though I think if they were as good at talking points as republicans they could have done better the fact was there was no way the democrats could have taken an economy that had been plummeting in the year before they implemented their policies and created a complete recovery.

It's funny to listen to the Obama administration be called Partisan. From day one Obama came in and tried to work with republicans. Even gave them certain things they wanted with the stimulus and bailout leadership originally was willing to work with him on some of it and John Boehner made the calculated political move to obstruct on everything and ordered republican leadership to follow suit. It worked in this election because though the dow jones has recovered incredibly well from the year and a half plummet it was on prior to the democrats taking action, jobs have not comeback yet and Americans vote with their wallets.

Anyone remember John Boehner crying on the house floor trying to get support for Bush's tarp bailout (which was poorly structured and didn't require anything to be paid back)? Well when the banks still looked on the verge of collapse and Obama tried to get republican support for tarp (this time structured in a way that required it to be paid back) Boehner chose obstruction. In the end the Banks recovered after tarp was passed and repaid the money to the federal government. It was good legislation. It probably saved the financial institutions of this country. And the republicans decided to play politics with it.

That playing politics paid off for the last year because it was going to take more than 2 years to recover from the disasterous economic plummet that came prior to the Obama administration taking over, but now they'll actually have to offer something. They'll actually have to be more than just obstructionist. In the end that's probably a blessing for the democrats (though loosing that many seats was not the ideal way for it to happen).

Listening to republicans talk jobs is almost comical. In the year before Obama implemented his economic policy unemployment rose for 4.8 % to 9%. Unemployment rose under Obama to just over 10 percent and right now unemployment sits at 9.6%...clearly Obama has slowed down the rate of unemployment decline and we have scene a slow trend towards rising employment. The republicans railed against the bailout of General Motors, but how many more jobs would have been lost had this company collapsed? Instead the democrats designed a plan that allowed General Motors to continue to function and they have already paid back the government for the bailout money. They saved American jobs and republicans were against saving those jobs.

In the end jobs lagged too far behind the overall economic recovery and the democrats suffered this year at the ballot. It is going to take a strong recovery of jobs to go along with the dow jones for the Democrats to hold serve next time around. They still have the Presidency, they still have the Senate. Health Care will not be repealed. Democrats will still set the agenda and they still have two years to show that their economic policies saved this country from a decline that could have been way worse. And this time they will have a republican party that will have to do far more than obstruct. When you have no power you can play the obstructionist. You can act like your plans are not getting out of committee, you can pretend the other side is not trying to work with the republicans actually have to bring something to the table. In the end I think we'll see job recovery and I think Obama will be able to make the economic argument in two years that their policies lead to significant recovery. I think he'll hold the presidency and hold the senate. They may not be able to take back the house so quickly, but having an opposition party that has to actually try to govern too may not be such a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts on Miami Game, Louisville Game, and Bearcats heading into Conference Play

So the Bearcats head into Big East play at a disappointing 2-3. They in fact are 0-3 in their games against meaningful competition blowing a 14-0 lead at Fresno State to start the year, getting beat all over the field by NC State, and beating themselves with bad turnovers against the Oklahoma Sooners. Yet is is strange to think I am feeling very good about the chances for UC to win a third straight conference title as they head into Big East play.

Many of us fans probably underestimated the adjustment period the offense would have to make. Against Fresno State, Indiana State and NC State the Bearcats looked confused in getting to the line. Players seemed to not be sure where to line up, lineman did not know who to block and Collaros seemed so concerned with getting us into what we were doing that he never seemed to read where and when teams would send pressure from. Basically it looked like the Bearcats were trying to implement a completely knew offensive system (and they were).

Against NC State as bad as they looked at times they seemed to start to get better...they would look more confident getting into their sets, though ultimately make a mistake that would kill drives. Still they moved the ball and were getting into their offense much more quickly. It was the Oklahoma game where we finally got to see a football team that looked comfortable. They got into their sets quickly, they ran it effectively, threw it effectively and played with the kind of tempo we have come to expect. Were it not for a 4 turnovers that could have been the signature non-conference win Bearcat fans have been waiting for.

As it stands the Bearcats came back this Saturday night and did what they should have done...manhandled a vastly inferior Miami Redhawks football team. So though the start to the season leaves something to be desired it seems the talent is finally showing through for UC. The young defense has shown flashes that it can be really good at times. I am sure there will be struggles, but I like the direction the defense is heading in. And the offense is in position to do what we thought they should do coming into the one of the premier offenses in the country.

Miami Rivalry:

Before I talk some Louisville and get into the conference season I have a few thoughts on the Miami rivalry. A few years ago Brian Kelly suggested that UC would need to investigate whether or not it was in UC's interest to continue playing Miami as the series is presently constructed. At times there was some outrage over this particularly from Miami fans and I think BK largely said it to get UC fans to start thinking of UC as a Big Time program. If nothing else BK was always a salesman. Still there is plenty of truth in what he said.

Tim Adams covered this more in depth than I will in a really good article over at, but here are my basic thoughts on the Miami series. As it is presently constructed the game just does not make a whole lot of sense for the Bearcats. The Bearcats have won the last 5 games by an average of more than 4 touchdowns, but whatever, that kind of thing happens... hell Miami ran off a few in a row not too long before that. I jokingly said it is not much of a rivalry when you are pulling your starters up 45-3 in the second quarter, but what struck me even more than that was the general apathy for the game from the Miami fan base. At Nippert stadium could you fine more than 30 people wearing Redhawk colors, because it was a struggle for me?

If it is to be a meaningful rivalry by any standard then it seems to me there would be more interest from a University with plenty of alumni in the greater Cincinnati area. The fact of the matter is UC loses money to drive up and play Miami in Oxford every other year. Last year there were around 10,000 Bearcat fans who made the trip North, so I can understand Miami wanting to get a home game every other year. Those 10,000 Bearcat fans give a nice boost to Miami attendence (a constant struggle for them) and bring in a significant amount of additional revenue to the school. UC does not need a game with Miami at Nippert to bring the additional revenue to the school. UC is going to get a near sellout at this point regardless of who comes into Nippert. The benefit to playing the game is obvious to Miami, but not so much to Cincinnati.

Now I want to make it clear. I want to continue to play the game. Hell, I would love to beat them every year. The issue becomes what kind of arrangement would make it beneficial for UC to continue playing it. There was a time when every game between the two schools was played in Cincinnati. I could see that working out, but at that point there is really no reason for Miami to want to play it. I think the logical solutions are either 1. giving UC some sort of a 2 for 1 deal where two games are played at Nippert for every one at Miami, or 2. Negotiating a deal with Miami for splitting much of the ticket revenue when the game is in Oxford.

UC has 5 non-conference games to fill every year and in my ideal world Miami will be one of those games, but there has to be some value for UC in doing it. I'm fine with making the trip up to Nippert North every other year as long as UC is getting a fair shake out of the deal and as it is now Bearcat fans are basically subsidizing the Miami athletic department for that one game every two years up in Oxford and getting little in return (other than a guarentee win).

Judging by the lack of Miami supporters I have seen at Nippert the past couple of times UC and Miami met it does not seem to me that the rivalry is anything like it once was. There is aparthy towards the game among the fans of our one time rivals. For historical purposes I would love to play the game and I am sure UC and Miami could strike a deal that is more than fair to what both schools bring to the game, but the deal as currently structured is not a good deal for UC. It is a deal that Miami gets a lot more out of than UC and one that needs to be addressed in the coming years.

Preparing for Louisville:

As one rivalry/trophy game ends another approaches. For the second time this season the Bearcats have a short week to prepare for a football game on the road. Friday night the Bearcats go back to Louisville where they managed to win two years ago, but in general has been a place the Bearcats have struggled. This is a revamped Louisville team that after two years of highly unorganized, bad football are slowly working their way back towards relevance in the Big East. They remind me of Syracuse last season in that I still think at season's end they will be towards the bottom of the conference, but they are not going to be a pushover and will continue to progress throughout the season.

What has impressed me the most about Louisville this season is their ability to withstand adversity. There were a couple of times in the Kenutcky game to start the year that Kentucky could have put Louisville away and yet Louisville fought on making it a good game throughout. Their fight was also evident in their loss to a pretty good Oregon State team. My general point is that this is a game where if UC comes out sloppy or makes mistakes they could easily get beat, but if they play to their top ability they should win by two+ touchdowns.

Louisville's strengths are their running game and their ability to rush the passer. I believe the UC defense should match up well in limiting Louisville's ability to run the football and will force the Cardinals to beat them through the air. Louisville's running back Bilal Powell is 8th nationally with 689 yards rushing and he is getting those yards at a rate of 7.6 per pop. If the Cardinals are able to consistently move the ball on the ground it could be a long day for the Bearcat defense. Louisville's ability to rush the passer is what really worries me most about this game. When the Bearcats looked bad early in the season it was because Fresno State and NC State were absolutely abusing the Bearcat offensive line and wreaking havoc in the backfield. It is an even bigger concern than usual because we do not know yet if Alex Hoffman will play friday night at Louisville. Though the Bearcats have seemingly righted the ship starting with the Oklahoma game it would be nice to see them do it aganst a team as prolific rushing the passer as Louisville.

In the end I believe the ability of the Bearcat offense to break off big plays both running the football and through the air will be the difference. Louisville will be a much stiffer test than Miami last week, but I think by the time the game is done the Bearcats will have a 37 to 20 win.

This is a big three game stretch for the Bearcats in that it gives them a chance to get on a roll in conference play. Louisville, South Florida and Syracuse could very well end up finishing in the last three spots in the Big East this year (though I believe the league seems more wide open than I initially believed). Winning these three games will be critical if UC has asperations on a third straight Big East title. Louisville might be the key game in that stretch seeing that it is a rivalry game and on the road (where the other two games are at home against two teams the Bearcats have owned of late). Winning the next three would put the Bearcats at 3-0 heading into a bye week which would set up the stretch run towards a Big East title. I think the Bearcats are poised to really break through the next three weeks and reestablish themselves as the team to beat in the Big East.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 Bearcat Football Preview

How do you top back to back outright Big East Championships? How do you top a 12-0 regular season and a top ten finish? How do you replace a coach who went 34-7 in his three seasons and 4 Bowl games at the University of Cincinnati? These are the questions Bearcat fans and Butch Jones are going to be thinking about heading into 2010.

This has been an incredible run for University of Cincinnati football. On November 28, 2006 the University of Cincinnati Bearcats took the field vs. the #6 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Bearcats were sitting at 5-5 on the season. To that point they had been 9-12 over the past two seasons and 28-31 over their past five seasons. The Bearcats went on to beat the #6 Rutgers Scarlet Knights and since they took the field that day are 36-7. Since that day they have been to 4 bowl games, 2 BCS games, had 3 top 20 finishes, won back to back outright Big East Championships, had an undefeated regular season and a top ten finish. This is a run that would have been hard for the most ardent Bearcat fans to see coming and it is a level of success fans now not only want to see continue but are starting to expect.

These are the stakes for the 2010 edition of the University of Cincinnati football team. Anything short of another Big East title will be a disappointment to them and to many fans. None of the past two Bearcat teams have been perfect but they have achieved their success by constantly making plays when the stakes were high late in games. They have achieved their success by finding ways to win games. Make no mistake there is talent across the board, but there are clear holes too and it has been an ability to pick each other up despite their flaws that has been the true brilliance of the Bearcat's run of success.

On Defense:

Last season the Bearcats had to replace ten starters from an experienced defense that had carried the Bearcats at times the prior three seasons. At times they performed very well, particularly early in the seasons. They slowed down Rutgers, they held what turned out to be a very good Oregon State offense to 18 points, they frustrated South Florida in the second half and made life tough for West Virginia for much of that game. The defense was clearly not the strength of the team, but for much of the year they were not a huge liability either. Still there were times, particularly late in the year when the Bearcat defense looked downright dreadful. A defense that was designed not to give up big plays gave up a ton of big plays against both UCONN and Florida. And for much of the first half against Pittsburgh the defense was nonexistent.

The hope from Bearcat fans is that many of the problems the Bearcats had were not just personnel related but also scheme related. The Bearcat defense was a 3-4 and much of the talent probably was not suited for the 3-4. The 3-4 defense also left their smaller linebackers more vulnerable to being blocked by big offensive lineman. So there hopefully is some truth in that, but ultimately the Bearcats issue this year is going to be inexperience and depth.

This year's defense at least in terms of senior leadership is less experienced than last year's. Gone are key senior leaders like Aaron Webster, Andre Revels, Alex Daniels and Curtis Young. The Bearcat 2 deep this year features only 2 seniors and that includes no seniors among the projected starters. On the plus side the Bearcats do returns 6 starters from last season (or at least players who started a significant amount of games last season). Derek Wolfe begins his third season (second as a full time starter) and should be poised for a huge year. Wolfe was forced to be the lone defensive tackle last year in the 3-4 defense and still managed strong numbers with 41 tackles, 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss. The switch back to the 4-3 should free up Wolfe to make more of an impact in the backfield. The Bearcat defensive line as a hole lacks ideal size (outside of Wolfe and Hughes), but have some explosive players who do get into the backfield. I think the defensive line will continue to be very good about getting after the quarterback (something Bearcats teams have done going back to the Minter era), but the major question for the group will be do they hold up against the big, strong offensive lines from teams like Oklahoma, UCONN, Pitt and to a lesser extent Fresno State?

I am hoping that though Walter Stewart is listed as a starting linebacker that Bearcat fans will get to see him line up at end on some passing downs as he is great when attacking the quarterback. To me Walter Stewart is the Bearcat whose progress I am most excited to see this year. I was incredibly impressed with what Stewart was able to do last year filling in for Curtis Young. All indications are that Stewart has had a great off-season. Like much of the defense he will be shifting his role some, specifically for him to an outside linebacker in the 4-3 where his ability to cover and support in run defense will be a factor. I think Walter is a talented guy and should excel, so I am anxious for play to start. The Bearcat linebackers are a bit small as a group particularly on the weak side with Maalik Bomar getting the nod. Still I think this can be a position of strength for the Bearcats as Stewart is incredibly gifted and JK Schaffer has shown very good instincts in his two years as a linebacker for UC. Plus I think moving back the the 4-3 you can get away with having smaller faster linebackers as long as the defensive lineman are disruptive.

The Bearcats are replacing two starters in their secondary, the biggest loss being Aaron Webster who had a great senior season. With two starters returning this is seemingly a reasonably experienced group and yet the 2 deep features 5 sophomores, 2 juniors and a freshman. Drew Frey though is not your ordinary Sophomore. By the time he leaves he will seemingly have been a Bearcat for a decade. Frey and Battle are two relative knowns for the Bearcat defense, so the key to the secondary will be how young players like Reubon Johnson, Camerron Cheatham, Adrian Witty and Chris Williams fair. Getting good play from Wesley Richardson in his first year starting at free safety will be key as well. Overall I think there is some good talent back there and am anxious to see how they perform.

The area of concern that everyone who follows the program closely seems to harp back on when they talk about the 2010 Bearcat defense is finding quality depth. As noted earlier much of the two deep is very young and though the Bearcat defense in general is somewhat undersized the backups are considerably undersized at certain areas. If somehow the Bearcats can get really solid years from the likes of Jordan Stepp, Rob Trigg, Colin Lozier, Obadiah Cheatham and Robby Armstrong than maybe the defense can hold up better throughout the season this year. The thought is that the Bearcats may once again have to win some shootouts this year, if this defense can take a big step forward this season and become not necessarily a strength but at least a positive this could be yet another banner year for Bearcat football.

On Offense:

On the first drive of the season against Rutgers last year the Bearcat offense set the tone for what they would be. The Bearcats went 81 yards in 9 plays taking just over 2 minutes to score. It was play after play for positive yards, in quick succession and they were in the end zone. For much of the year the Bearcats were unstoppable on offense, playing at a breakneck pace with ruthless efficiency. They seemingly scored every time they wanted to and they had weapons all across the field When Tony Pike went down with a broken arm, the offense made some subtle adjustments to their style and Zach Collaros continued the trend of ruthless efficiency.

The 2010 Bearcat offense has the potential to be every bit as good as the 2009 offense, though at times slightly different in their style. The Bearcats will still primary be a shotgun spread offense. They will still come at you with multiple receivers, tight ends and running backs. This season though there seems to be a more a focus on running the football. In fact when I look at what Bearcat offense I expect to see, the West Virginia game sticks out in my mind from last season.

Zach Collaros will begin his first full season running the show. Zach was absolutely brilliant in his 4.5 games last year. He completed 75 percent of his passed throwing for 1434 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also ran for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns giving Butch Jones a duel threat quarterback much like he had at Central Michigan. I know the general consensus has been that it seems unreasonable to expect Zach to be as brilliant as he was in those 4.5 games...but why not? Indeed what is there to make us think he cannot be even better?

Last offseason Zach was splitting the second string reps with two other backup quarterbacks while Tony Pike was being prepared to start. This offseason Zach has been getting the first string reps, he knows he is the quarterback and he is getting to work more and more extensively with the rest of the first team. I have to believe that counts for a whole lot.

Last season the offensive line was a big strength for the Bearcats. Pike and Collaros both had time to throw and when UC ran the ball they almost always ran it effectively. The line also gave up very few sacks despite passing a high percentage of the time. The Bearcats return three starters on the offensive line in Griffin, Kelce, and Hoffman. If the offensive line can continue to be a strong as it was last season this offense should once again have a chance to put up huge numbers. Griffen slides over to Left Tackle to take over for Linkenbach. While Kelce slides back to center to take over for Jurek. Alex Hoffman and Evan Davis will be the guards while CJ Cobb plays right tackle. All these guys were key parts of the offensive line productivity last season. It will be very important to get good production from guys like Hoeey, Martinez and Cuerton. If the offensive line can open holes and protect Collaros that will open up opportunities for the abundance of talent and athleticism the Bearcats have at their skill positions.

With the stated focus on running the ball we can expect Isaiah Pead to have a very big season. Pead averaged a stellar 6.7 yards per carry last season though he only carried the ball 121 times. With the increased workload it may be unrealistic to expect that type of yards per carry (as teams will be more aware of run), but because of all the Bearcats weapons teams really will never have the chance to simply key on Pead. As long as Pead stays healthy I think we can expect to see a 1200-1400 yard season. A couple reasons I don't think Pead will go much over that are that I think we'll see Zach getting some runs on the read option and I expect to see the other running backs get in on the action as well.

Most importantly, though the Bearcats will be more committed to the run this year, I still think they will throw more than they run. In the end this team is at its best when they are putting pressure on teams by getting the ball in the hands of their playmaking wide receivers. That will be just as much the case this season as last season. Despite the loss of Mardy Gilyard the Bearcats may be as good as any team in the country at the skill positions. The Bearcats will look to Vidal Hazelton to take over for Gilyard as the explosive playmaker and will once again be strengthened by Armon Binns (a premier down field threat) and DJ Woods another big time receiver with explosive playmaking ability. Ben Guidugli is back for his senior year after a very good junior campaign and anything the Bearcats get from talented guys like Marcus Barnett and Adrien Robinson is gravy.

It will be very, very difficult for opposing defenses to match up with the depth of talent UC can run at them if Collaros has time to throw the football. If I had to guess I would still bet on UC throwing the ball close to 60 percent of the time when the game is in doubt (now in blowouts we may run more and kill clock) simply because I firmly believe that is where this team has its biggest strength (this is obviously with know inside knowledge, I'm sure those closer to the program may know better). My hope is that this offense can control the ball a bit more, keep the defense fresh and be just as ruthlessly efficient as last years squad.

Special Teams (and intangibles):

And here is where the question of how do you replace Mardy Gilyard comes full circle? How do you replace the three absolutely enormous returns Mardy had to set up touchdowns against Pittsburgh (most notably the one down 21 at the end of the half, but lets not forget the field position he gave them on the game winning drive)? How do you replace a guy who continually did it on the biggest of stages? I have to admit I have never enjoyed watching anyone on any team more than I enjoyed watching Mardy the past couple of years and it all came down to just his unreal ability to do it when it mattered most.

The Bearcats might be better this year at wide receiver, but will they have that hidden something Mardy gave them. In general I am pretty confident in the return game. I think there are a number of guys the Bearcats could put on special teams who would consistently give them great field position and pose a threat to opposing teams. It sounds like that duty is going to fall in the hands of Vidal Hazelton and DJ Woods. Woods we have seen do it in the past, Hazelton is the guy all Bearcat fans are aching to see. I think once again we will see the return game be a huge plus for the Bearcats, but it is hard to imagine it being better without Mardy.

I also expect big things from Jake Rogers who has just gotten better every year for the Bearcats. Jake's powerful leg gives the Bearcats a huge advantage in kickoff coverage and it was an advantage we saw time and time again last season. To me Jake was very impressive last year in that he was asked to punt (all be it not that often) and asked to kick field goals. I have grown in confidence when Jake kicks every year and though I hope he does not have to kick too many field goals I think we will have one of the better kickers in the nation when he does,

Punter to me is an unknown commodity. What I have heard of O'Donnell is he has a huge leg and just has to get his consistency in order (reminds me of Adam Wulfeck in that he could boom a seventy yarder and a 25 yarder on back to back punts). UC has really been good in their punt games the past few seasons first with Huber and then to a lesser extent with Rogers last year.

I think special teams has been one of those things that has really put UC over the top and allowed them to win some of those tossup games that got them to a conference title the past couple of years. Can that continue to be a huge strength? That will go a long way to determining if UC can win a third straight Big East title.

Season Projections:

Saturday, September 4 @ Fresno State- This is a game that really worries me. Fresno State returns their entire offensive line, an offensive line that could potentially give the Bearcats smallish defensive line trouble. I think the shift back to the 4-3 will help the Bearcats deal with them better this year. Fresno State, however, is more than the smash mouth run team we saw last year. They have an experienced, capable quarterback and talent at wide receiver. They will probably score some, but I think the defense holds and their defense has a hard time stopping us. WIN

Saturday, September 11, Indiana State- Nothing to say here... UC will dominate a wretched team. WIN

Thursday, September 16 @ NC State- The good thing about playing Indiana State is that UC can probably start looking at NC State a little early for the short week. NC State will be a big test for UC's secondary. Russell Wilson is one heck of a quarterback and he will put pressure on UC with his feet and his arm. Ultimately I think UC will be able to put enough pressure and score enough to win, but this is another scary game. WIN (But Worries Me)

Saturday, September 25, Oklahoma- A day many of us Bearcat fans have really looked forward to as the Sooners make the return trip to Cincinnati (I know we are planning an all out tailgate and will flag down all OU fans to join us because of the hospitality they showed a couple years ago). Oklahoma has the type of offensive line that could give this defense trouble. Still there is a reason Oklahoma struggled at times last year and I do not know if they are as dominate as they were two seasons ago in Norman. UC will be really up, it will be in Cincinnati... who knows... That said. LEANING TOWARDS LOSS

Saturday, October 9, Miami (OH)- The Bell Stays in Cincinnati... now and forever. WIN

Friday, October 15 @ Louisville- I think this will be a tougher game than last year. It's never easy to go down there and win especially in a rivalry game. That said UC is just a much better team. WIN

Friday, October 22, South Florida- We had their number when Grothe was in charge and frankly I just do not think they are good enough to come up here this year and win. They are going to be vulnerable on defense and not consistent enough on offense. WIN

Saturday, October 30, Syracuse- Our first three games in conference come against what I think will be the bottom three teams in the Big East this season. The schedule makers certainly are giving the Bearcats plenty of time to get their game in order this year, but they are setting up one hell of a difficult finish. WIN

Saturday, November 13 @ West Virginia- The last bye week comes before the start of the four game stretch that will decide the conference. Two years ago Cincinnati went into West Virginia and got the big win they needed to win the conference. This year we get an extra week to prepare and that will be huge (of course WVU gets the extra week as well). WVU returns more starters than any team in the conference and they will be hungry after the last two seasons. I think UC matches up better against the WVU running attack than they do the Pitt/UCONN running attacks. If it was at UC I would favor the Bearcats, but it is on the road... what the hell I still favor the Bearcats. LEANING TOWARDS WIN (barely)

Saturday, November 20, Rutgers- The other team the Bearcats have seemingly owned the past few seasons. I think by this time Rutgers will really be playing good football. Savage will have been the quarterback for nearly two seasons and the defense will be clicking. That is at Nippert and I just do not think Rutgers is coming here and winning (night game please). WIN

Saturday, November 27 @ UCONN- Finally the Bearcats get the chance to avenge their last loss in the Big East and what a game this could end up being. UCONN has the advantage of playing WVU/PITT/UC all at home and will already have played WVU/PITT at this point. We will know then if UCONN has lived up to their hype coming into the season. I think the balance of UCONN's power blocking offensive line and their late found passing game could give UC trouble again this year. Still it is hard to shake the big lead UC had last year. UC will be coming off back to back very tough games. I keep playing this game in my head and have a harder time figuring out the result every time. TOSSUP

Saturday, December 4, Pittsburgh- Could the Big East title come down to a game with Pittsburgh for the third straight season? I would say the odds are are fairly decent of that happening. Pittsburgh could give UC trouble in many of the same ways they gave UC trouble last year, but this year I do not know that Pittsburgh's offensive line will be as good and I my hope is UC will have developed enough depth that their defense will be playing much better by this game. In the end playing at Nippert Stadium at the end of the year, in what I hope will be another prime time Big East game... I have to take the Bearcats. LEANING TOWARDS WIN

Looking back at my projections I have 7 solid wins. I have the NC State game as a win, but it does worry me a bit. I have two games (WVU and Pitt) where I am leaning towards a Bearcat win, one true tossup game against UCONN, and the Oklahoma game where I am leaning towards loss. That puts my range of record anywhere from 7-5 to 12-0 (yeah, unlike last year when I idiotically made 11-1 my best case scenario...never doing that again). In all honesty I have this team losing 2 of those 5 games to finish 10-2... and I have them as the team with the Best chance to win the Big East title. The last three years I have had the Bearcats predicted for 9-3 (2007, dead on), 11-2 (2008, dead on) and 10-2 (2009, two games below actual). Lets hope the trend of me being right or undervaluing the Bearcats continues...because I still want to dream National Championship. All in all very excited for football to begin.


Go Bearcats!

Monday, August 30, 2010

2010 Big East Preview

2009 was supposed to be about rebuilding in the Big East, but we really did get to see some teams turn in great season (particular Cincinnati). The top 6 teams turned in very good years and though it was not great year for the conference as a whole 2010 seems like it could be a year that really capitalizes on the building momentum for the conference. Nearly all of the teams at the top of the Big East return key experience on both sides of the football. If there ever was a year for the Big East to showcase its talent this could be it.

In the Big East the perception from the outside (that it is a lesser conference among the BCS conferences) has continued to not be matched by objective reality. In 2009, despite it being a year of relative inexperience for the league, the Big East finished the season second to only the SEC in the Sagarin's. In fact since 2006 when the Big East was first unveiled as it is today the conference has finished 2nd twice in the Sagarin's (2006 and 2009) and finished 4th in 2007 and 5th in 2008. The reality is the Big East continues to not only show it's legitimacy as a BCS conference, but it continues to show it is a serious player on the national stage.

The Big East will get plenty of chances to build on their success against other BCS conferences and in the rankings with several big out of conference games:

Pittsburgh at Utah (Thursday, September 2) – Soon to be Pac Ten member Utah gets to host last years second place Pitt Panthers. Not an easy task for Pittsburgh who will be breaking in a new quarterback, but a game they should be able to win.

Kentucky @ Louisville (Saturday, September 4)- Louisville is still likely at least a year away from breaking out of the bottom of the Big East, but it would be a nice win for the conference if they can take down their rivals from the SEC.

Syracuse @ Washington (Saturday, September 11)- Another Big East team traveling across the country for a game against a solid opponent. Though their record did not reflect it that well the Orangemen were significantly more competitive last season.

South Florida @ Florida (Saturday, September 11)- Cannot see South Florida stealing one in the swamp, but it would be nice.

Cincinnati @ NC State (Thursday, September 16)- Another Big East team hitting the road against BCS competition (take notes Big 10 and SEC). This is a game the two time defending champions from the Big East really should win.

Louisville @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 18)- Probably unlikely but this would be a huge win for the conference.

Miami (Fl) @ Pittsburgh (Thursday, September 23)
- The first of the really marque match-ups for the Big East. These ACC/Big East showdowns are always interesting and it is always nice when the Big East comes out on top.

Oklahoma @ Cincinnati (Saturday, September 25)- Been waiting for this game for two years. This is an enormous chance for the Big East against a team picked by many to compete for a national title.

WVU @ LSU (Saturday, September 25)- Really a huge week for the conference as it's top three programs over the last few years play top programs from the Big 12, SEC and ACC.

Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame (Saturday, October 9)- Any game against ND is going to get people's attention regardless of how good they are and I cannot help but believe Brian Kelly will have them playing good football by this point.

South Florida @ Miami FL (Saturday, November 27)- Another big interstate matchup for South Florida against one of the favorites in the ACC.

With the experience returning in the Big East the league has the opportunity to get a bunch of really strong out of conference wins and once again show they are a strong BCS conference. I really believe this could be a banner year for the conference.

Projected Order of Finish-

1. Cincinnati Bearcats- The champs stay the champs until they are no longer the champs, to me this pick is really that simple. I know Pittsburgh is the fashionable pick and West Virginia returns the most starters, but the Bearcats are the two time defending champions in the conference and they have beaten both the Panthers and Mountaineers each of the past two seasons. The Bearcats bring to the table perhaps the best wide receiving group in the country. They have experience on the offensive line and have experience and depth at running back. In fact it is the Bearcat running game where I expect to see the biggest improvement this year as Pead starts getting more touches (he was great when he was given the ball last year) and Zach Collaros adds to the running threat as the starting QB. This was shaping up to be a year where Cincinnati would have to break in a new quarterback, but with the emergence of Zach Collaros last season while Tony Pike was injured I think those concerns have been largely silenced. In 4.5 Big East games Zach threw for 1434 yards, completing 75 percent of his passes with ten touchdowns for a spectacular quarterback rating of 195. He also ran for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bearcat fans are rightfully excited about what he can bring to the offense.

One concern for the Bearcats is a defense which was lit up pretty well late in the season. Most close to the program have pretty good confidence in the starters who have experience and played fairly well last season for most the year. The big concern for the Bearcat defense is do they have the depth to be strong through injuries and not fatigue at the end of the season.

There are two other major concerns for this Bearcat team. 1. Can they replace the greatness that was Mardy Gilyard? And 2. Can Butch Jones get the Bearcat talent to perform at the level Brian Kelly consistently achieved. I already mentioned that the Bearcat's biggest strength will be at the wide receiver position and I very much believe that, but Mardy Gilyard was far more than a wide receiver. His ability to make huge plays both on offense and in the return game was absolutely critical to the Bearcat's success over the last two seasons. They do not necessarily need someone to duplicate everything Mardy did, but there is no doubt that his production on the biggest of stages was an enormous part of pulling out some tight games. The second major question can only be answered with time. Brian Kelly's offense was almost unfathomably efficient throughout most of last season. This season the Bearcat offense has enough talent to be even better, but how much will the loss of Brian Kelly effect that. The hope from most Bearcat fans is that the offense will not miss a beat, and Butch Jones has certainly shown impressive offensive credentials in his own right, but you never know. The other hope is that Butch Jones and company can make the defense tough in ways that seemed lacking last year under Brian Kelly. Any improvements on defense will be an enormous step forward in the Bearcat's hopes of winning another Big East title.

There are certainly more questions this year, but the potential is there for the Bearcats to be even better this season. In the end I cannot pick against the two time defending Big East Champions. There is a reason they have won 18 straight regular season games and that reason will come front and center once again.

2. Pittsburgh Panthers- The Pitt vs. Cincinnati defacto Big East championship game worked out so well last year that it looks like the Big East conference wants to try their luck again. The Panthers bring back key talent on both sides of the ball. They have tall athletic receivers including the all-Big East Jonathan Baldwin. Most importantly on offense all everything Dion Lewis starts his second year. Lewis was absolutely sensational as a freshman. With Lewis and a strong offensive line (particularly on the edges) the Panthers should be in good shape running the football. Pitt's biggest concern on offense will be replacing Stull at quarterback. In steps Tino Sunseri who only threw 17 passes all last season. The good news for Tino is there will be plenty of weapons in his offense. Still Pittsburgh's difficult non-conference schedule will mean Tino gets thrown into the fire very early.

Pittsburgh's defense should also be among the best in the conference. Pittsburgh was very solid against the run last season, but struggled at times against strong passing attacks. The two dreadful second halves against Cincinnati and North Carolina State were the most glaring examples of this. Pitt probably will not face any teams with quite as dominate a passing game as Cincinnati and NC State had last year (though Cincinnati's passing game should be very good again), which will be to their benefit, but a huge key to them breaking through will be getting more consistent in pass defense.

T-3. West Virginia- West Virginia and UCONN are probably the two most experienced teams going into the 2010 Big East season. The Mountaineers return 18 starters from a team that finished tied for second in the conference. They get the defending champion Cincinnati Bearcats in Morgantown, however they have to travel to both Pitt and UCONN. Like Pittsburgh, WVU will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2010. Geno Smith seems to have the talent to get this Mountaineer team to compete for a Big East title and this could be the best WVU defense of the past five seasons.

Ultimately the success of the Mountaineers will come down to their running game. Noel Devine has consistently been one of the best backs in the Big East and one of the more explosive backs in the country. WVU always seems to have one of the nations best rushing attacks. Despite that West Virginia has had some trouble converting third downs the past couple of years and those troubles have no doubt cost them some chances at winning a Big East title.

T-3. Connecticut- The UCONN Huskies have seemingly become the trendy pick in the Big East conference this year. Much of it comes down to the fact that the Huskies finished the season winning their last 4 games, including a bowl game against South Carolina (from the vaunted SEC). I still do not think we can look past the fact that those 4 wins were against teams that finished a combined 25-25. UCONN's five losses were all close, but they were also all to the best five teams on their schedule. I think sometimes we get too caught up on the finish without looking at it in context.

That said this Husky team dealt with a bunch of issues last year and were playing their best ball down the stretch (particularly on offense). They return 16 starters who were in every game last year. UCONN also gets their three chief rivals for the conference title (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia) at home in 2010. The Huskies actually finished as one of the better offensive teams in the conference last season and there is no reason not to expect the offense to be very good again this year. The offensive line is big and strong and their running backs (Particularly Jordan Todman) are explosive. Their passing game seemed to get its act together late last season, if Zach Frasier and company can maintain that success UCONN will be dangerous.

To me the biggest concern for the Huskies is going to be their defense (which seems strange for a Randy Edsall coached team). The Huskies will not win the conference without significant improvement on that side of the ball, particularly in pass coverage. If UCONN can get their pass defense together and can continue to be balanced offensively they will have a chance to win the Big East and earn their first BCS bid.

5. Rutgers- I believe any of the top 4 teams have the chance to win the Big East this season... Rutgers is the first of 2 teams I do not think are quite good enough to win the league, but could easily finish above a couple of the teams projected ahead of them. Since the Scarlet Knight's real breakout year in 2006 Rutgers has strung together 3 good, but not great seasons. Indeed from where they were in 2006 they have been a bit of a disappointment. I think much of that comes down to the fact that the Big East has gotten much deeper since that year. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida are much more established and playing at a much higher level than they were in 2006. It is far more of a grind to get through the Big East now than it was then.

This season Rutgers brings back sophomore quarterback Tom Savage, who essentially was the starter all season for the Scarlet Knights as a freshman. Savage showed a ton of potential in what could be a great four years for him at Rutgers. Savage also gets back Mohamed Sanu one of his favorite targets, and the man who will likely be the go to receiver this season. Rutgers has some questions on the offensive line; they also have a fairly difficult conference schedule having to travel to Cincinnati, to Pittsburgh and to West Virginia. If the offensive line can protect Savage and open wholes for Joe Martinek than the Scarlet Knights could be right in the thick of the conference race (though ultimately I do not think they are quite ready to win it).

6. South Florida- The Bulls have been a team that represents the Big East very well out of conference, but never quite seems to get everything together in the conference. Last years injury to Matt Grothe probably set them back a little, but it also offered a chance for B.J. Daniels to show what could be on the horizon. Like the Bearcats and the Cardinals, South Florida is going through a coaching transition having parted ways with Jim Leavitt. Skip Holtz comes in as the second coach in South Florida history. He had a nice track record at ECU and should be able to build on the success South Florida has already had in their short history.

The South Florida offense should be dangerous at times, with Daniels explosiveness and some skilled players in the running game, but I am not sure they will have the consistency of the five teams I have above them. The defense, which has always seemed to have playmakers, only returns four starters from last season. Most notably it will be incredibly difficult to replace the production of defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. South Florida also lost their two best players in the secondary in safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy. The losses on defense, the young quarterback and the coaching change make this sort of a transition year for South Florida. In the end I think they will certainly be a good team, but they may be a few steps behind the top of the league.

7. Syracuse- Syracuse was noticeably more competitive in their first year under Doug Marrone but they were still a good ways behind much of the rest of the league. They return ten starters on defense so they have that going for them. They must replace noted Duke flopping point guard Greg Paulus after his one year as the starting quarterback. To that end they will turn to Ryan Nassib. Look for Syracuse to be a very run focused offense this year. I still believe Syracuse and Louisville will be fighting for that last place spot once again in 2010.

8. Louisville- It is kind of nice to pick Louisville for another last place finish in the Big East. Really the best hope for the Cardinals is that every team they play at home comes and tries to stand on their logo before the game, because this team is still likely a year or two away from getting away from the bottom of the Big East. Charlie Strong has certainly brought some needed optimism to a program that severely lacked it throughout the Kragthorpe era. Strong has a very good recruiting class and seems to be moving Louisville in the right direction, but ultimately Louisville just does not have enough this season to escape the bottom of the conference. I look for Louisville to be much like Syracuse last season. They will be more competitive throughout Conference play and at the end of the year everyone will agree they are moving in the right direction, but ultimately it will be another tough season. I am picking Syracuse above Louisville only because they are a year ahead in the rebuilding process.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Get Off Lebron's Back

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Lebron James' free agent saga, so what the hell here is mine: Lebron had every right to do exactly what he wanted to do. It is amazing to me how many people and pundits have tried to attach their own value judgment to Lebron's decision. To me the decision first and foremost seemed to come down to one thing, Lebron liked playing with Wade and Bosh and he wanted to get to play with Wade and Bosh. Throw out any angle you want but it seems as simple as that.

Right now the most visceral reaction is coming from Cleveland and its hard to blame a city whose 1 team worth watching is about to go from the best record in the NBA to one of the worst. Still Cleveland fans have an enormous inferiority complex as it is (and rightfully so) and it is understandable they are upset right now. Still what their idiot owner pulled last night was inexcusable. Lebron James made him a ton of money over his seven years in Cleveland. Lebron carried that team night after night when any off night would mean a loss. The simple fact is that Dan “shut your dumb ass mouth” Gilbert did not surround Lebron with a team that could realistically win a title.

Now I do not want to say it would be impossible for Lebron to win a title in Cleveland, but that fact is it would have taken an absolutely superhuman effort like we have never seen in the NBA before. If Lebron lays an egg like Kobe did in game seven against the Celtics the Cavs lose by 30. Lebron willed that team to the NBA's best record, but once he started playing the best teams in the playoffs he simply did not have the help. Jordan would not have won it with that Cavs team, Kobe would not have won it, Russell would not have won it...that Cavs team simply was not championship material.

The Cavs should have done what Sam Presti has been doing with Durant in Oklahoma City. They are not overpaying for guys or taking a chance on guys. They built a solid nucleus around him and are waiting for it to develop. The Thunder had the Lakers on the brink this year and are only set to get better. Instead the Cavs took chances on washed up veterans and did not have any real plan for long term success (outside of Lebron). I cannot blame Lebron when he could go other places and have a chance to win.

There is another argument that this taints his legacy somehow, that Lebron could not carry a team on his own and win a title. To me this argument is completely idiotic. Everyone needed help. Jordan won his first three titles with Scottie Pippen (a top 5 NBA player at the time), Horace Grant (an all star caliber forward), BJ Armstrong who was an all star the year after Jordan left and several other quality role players like John Paxson and Will Purdue. Jordan won his second three titles with Scottie Pippen (again a top 5 NBA player), Dennis Rodman (an all star caliber forward and borderline hall of famer) and solid role players like Steve Kerr, Tony Kukoc, and Ron Harper. The point is Jordan had plenty of help.

Kobe Bryant has won his titles on teams that would have been among the best in their conference had Kobe never suited up for them. Bill Russell played for absolutely stacked Celtic teams. Lebron's Cavs teams were Lebron and a bunch of role players. There was no clear plan for long term success other than keeping Lebron in place to carry them and trying to fill in gaps. So Lebron did what any great player has had to do to win..he found help.

As constructed this Heat nucleus reminds me a lot of the Jordan Era Bulls nucleus. The 2/3 in Chicago which was Jordan(best player in the NBA)/ Pippen(a top five NBA player) is to me very similar to Wade (top 5 NBA player)/ James (best player in the NBA). The Bulls had Grant or Rodman depending on which run...all star caliber power forwards. The Heat have Bosh also an all star caliber forward. Bosh is a better scorer than Rodman/Grant, but not as good a rebounder or defender.
The key for the heat will be can they find the role players to compliment their core three. The Bulls were great about that. They found role players who complimented their stars very well. They found shooting from guys like Kerr/Paxson. They found a ball handler and rebounding guard like Ron Harper. They found big centers who could pass the ball and operate in the triangle. By finding the right role players they were able to win six titles.

If the Heat can get the right role players they can be a favorite to win titles for the next five years. Realistically I think they need a couple guards who can shoot and handle the ball and a couple big men who can defend and rebound. If they get that they will be very impossible to stop.

Lebron believes he can win in Miami which is a big reason he went, but to me it is even more basic than that. A few years ago I found a group of guys at the UC recreation center that I really liked playing pickup basketball with. We made it a point to go up there at the same time. When we played together we were very successful often holding the court for hours, we knew what each other would do, we shared the ball and played hard. It was fun playing with those guys. As much as I love playing basketball it was that much more fun when we'd get that group together. To me at it's most basic level Lebron is making a decision to play basketball for the next five years with the guys he really loves to play with most. As someone who understands how much more fun basketball can be when you find the right group of guys to run with this is a decision that makes sense. These guys love playing together and at its most basic level I think that was what this decision was about.

So congratulations Lebron James. I look forward to seeing you play basketball with Wade and Bosh. I hope Miami can put the right pieces in place to compliment your games, because if so this could be an amazing team to watch over the next five years. You are picking a team to play for over the next five years for 100 games or so a year... why not choose guys whom you know you will enjoy playing with. So there are plenty of haters out there who are going to rip on this decision, but in the end enjoying the guys you play with will more than make up for it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Open Letter to Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas:

I have been a Cincinnati Bearcat my entire life. I grew up wearing Red and Black and attending as many Bearcat football and basketball games as possible. My father earned his PHD from the University of Cincinnati, taught night classes in Sociology and worked as an administrator in the College of Business. I started attending games with him at the age of 3, but really started remembering the games at 5.

Throughout my years as a Bearcat fan I was able to watch the Bearcats reel of 14 straight NCAA tournament bids. I got to see them win Conference title after Conference title. I was able to watch them make 1 final four, 3 elite eights and 4 sweet sixteens. During those years the University only accepted excellence. Mediocrity would simply not be tolerated... It was a standard I grew to appreciate from a University that clearly cared about its basketball program.

In the fall of 2005 the University fired the man largely responsible for the great success of the University of Cincinnati Bearcat basketball program. It was that success that was a huge component in getting UC into the Big East which has greatly benefited this University. It was a decision at the time I vehemently disagreed with, but one in which the administration clearly has a right to make.

Still there was a responsibility for the administration to show they were fully committed to the basketball program... that this decision was not going to mean basketball would be left to wallow in mediocrity. When you were brought in as athletic director you gave us an ambitious that we could be proud to be shooting for, to win a conference title in every sport within 5 years. In the spring of 2006 you hired Mick Cronin to hopefully continue the Bearcat basketball program's tradition of success. Cronin was an impressive young coach, whom Bearcat fans were very familiar with. He had been a top assistant for two big time coaches in Huggins and Pitino. He did not have much experience as a head coach, but in his brief time at Murray State he was successful (though to be fair that team has won 14 regular season OVC titles and been to 12 NCAA tournaments in the last 23 years under 6 different coaches... everyone wins at Murray State).

We all understood that results from Mick Cronin would not come immediately. The program only returned 2 scholarship players in 2006. Bearcat fans fully understood that this would be a painful season. In 2007 we hoped for better, but really were not expecting any excellence. Still with their win over South Florida on February 20 the Bearcats got their record to over .500 and were 8-5 in the Big East. All of a sudden the NIT was a real possibility and some of us were even dreaming of a crazy run to the NCAA tournament. In the end the Bearcats would lose their last 7 games ending the season on an awful note.

The hope was that year three would be different, that year three would be the season the Bearcats were right on the edge of being an NCAA tournament team. Once again their came a point when that was a real possibility. With their road win at Georgetown on February 7 the Bearcats were 16-8 and 7-5 in Big East play. They were 3 or 4 wins from an NCAA tournament birth. Everything was looking up for the Bearcat program. Then for a second straight year the Bearcats absolutely faded down the stretch. They went 1-6 their last 7 games, including losses to South Florida, Seton Hall and then the ultimate embarrassment losing to previously winless Depaul in the conference tournament. For a second straight season a year that had shown so much promise turned into abject failure when it mattered most and the Bearcats were not even playing in the NIT.

Starting year four the pieces were in place. The Bearcats brought back a four year starter at shooting guard who was poised to become one of the top scorers in Bearcat history. They returned one of the most talented big men in the country in Yancy Gates. They had one of the the top freshman in the country coming in to contribute and were finally going to get true point guard play from Cashmere Wright and Jaquan Parker. The Bearcats showed their talent early in season down in Maui when they beat what would end up being two 4 seeds in the NCAA tournament in Maryland and Vanderbilt. Now given the lack of practices before the NCAA season starts early in the season talent tends to win out because teams have not had the opportunity to get their identity in place. Our talent this season was evident from day 1.

This team should have been an NCAA tournament team. Not only should they have been an NCAA tournament team, but they should have been a higher seed in the NCAA a tournament. The talent was there, but throughout the season the Bearcats never established an identity, never developed a regular lineup with regular substitution patterns, never developed an offense that played to their strengths and did not show consistent effort. All of those factors led to a team that woefully underachieved...a team that had two high profile non-conference wins early and then did nothing to build no those the rest of the way (and they were given a ton of chances to do so).

The last three seasons the Bearcats have finished 10th, 10th and now 11th in the Big East Conference. The last three seasons the Bearcats have gone 8-10, 8-10 and now 7-11 in the Big East Conference. I am trying to figure out where the development is. Where is the improvement? This season the Bearcats blew several games by simple lack of execution; Inability to execute in bounds plays late in games, inability to execute offensive sets out of timeouts. They lost other games because their offense was content to launch threes instead of get their better players the ball in places where they can score. These are issues that do not exist on that level with a competent coach. Last night against Dayton was a great example of the Bearcats simply getting outworked by an A10 team that went .500 in their conference.

My point is it is clear right here and right now that Mick Cronin is not the answer for the University of Cincinnati basketball program (unless the question is how can we avoid making the NCAA tournament for as long as possible?). He has certainly improved the talent level immensely here at UC, but he has not shown an ability to develop that talent and win with that talent. Deonta Vaughn was the same player last night that he was when he stepped foot on the court four years ago. Yancy Gates continues to be passive and not demand the ball. Lance Stephenson should have been used a variety of different ways, not just for getting the ball on the perimeter and breaking down the defense off the drive. Mick has not shown at all that he can get the most out of his players.

Should Cronin continue to be the Bearcat basketball coach it will be very hard for me to believe the University is as committed to winning as they tried to convince us when they hired Cronin 4 years ago. I've watched nearly every game the last 4 seasons and I am trying to find the evidence of his ability to win at a high level. If you think it is there... share it with the fan base. Let us know the reason you believe, despite all the evidence...despite three straight years of finishing basically in the exact same spot (10, 10 and 11) in the Big East... despite going 5-11 against tournament teams this year (and 3-10 after Maui) that I should feel hope for the future. If you are 100% convinced that Mick is the answer than by all means stay with him.

If you are not, the time to change is now. We only lose two players off the roster (Vaughn and Toyloy). The Bearcats bring back Gates and Stephenson who are two of the most talented big men in the country. They return Parker and Wright who both showed flashes of being very good guards. They bring back Ibrihim Thomas who showed himself to be a more than capable big man. This is the kind of core that an up and coming coach would jump at a chance to move forward . It is the type of core that could attract a winning type of candidate.

Additional now is the ideal time for chance because the program will not be set back by the coaching change. Were we to make the change in a year where we had to replace a ton of talent we may be set back another year...another two years. This is a year we could make the kind of change and not have the setback. Our recruiting class this year is nothing incredibly impressive and the guys we are losing can be replaced. This year is as ideal a chance as we may ever get to bring someone in who can get this program to the next level.

I am thankful to Mick for coming in and giving his best effort to get the program off the mat. I am thankful for his increasing the talent level and at least getting us back to mediocrity. But after three straight seasons of mediocrity in the Big East and a lack of development of what is a clearly talented team, I think the evidence is in. The University cannot afford to wallow in mediocrity. This is a program that regularly drew 12,000+ a game for 15 years that is now failing to draw 9000 (despite playing in a much better conference). This is a program that is losing opportunities for exposure. There are still recruits who grew up watching UC as a successful program that they would want to be a part of, but that window is closing by the day. The longer we wait...the longer we sit in mediocrity, the harder it will be to win at the high level this University deserves.

For the sake of the University I grew up loving, for the sake of the University where I earned my degree and for the sake of all the alumni who care about this university it is time to make a change. It is time make the bold statement that the University of Cincinnati will not accept mediocrity... we are a big time program and we are once again ready to live up to that.

Thanks for your time,

Mark Raines, Class of 2007

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NCAA Tournament Thoughts

Well... this was easily my worst year in projecting the field (something I thought might happen as I evaluated teams this week). I do not think the selection committee did a great job this year. As I have always said to me the most important quality in an NCAA tournament team is a proven ability to beat other tournament teams. Cal, Utah State and UTEP all failed to prove they could that, while Illinois proved they could by beating 4 top 25 RPI teams, 3 of which were away from home. To me that is an NCAA tournament team. My other major issue was Florida getting in over Mississippi State team that beat them on a neutral floor a two days earlier, then beat Vandy, then took UK to OT and really lost on a bad bounce. Now I would have been fine with Mississippi State not getting in, but Florida getting in over them does not make any sense at all. Their resume's are essentially the same, but Mississippi State was better late and again beat them on a neutral floor.

I will say though that no one that missed really has anyone to blame but themselves. Mississippi State did not do enough throughout the year, Illinois had some bad losses, VT had an awful non-conference schedule. In the end I may disagree with the committee but we are not debating teams that would have a shot to win the whole thing... so I am good with how it is.

The biggest issue I had was Duke being treated like the number 1 overall seed. Duke was easily the weakest of the 1 seeds and did not have as good a resume as WVU. Duke was given the weakest 2 seed in their region. They were also given a 4 seed missing their best player. Duke does draw the toughest 8/9 winner (unless Texas suddenly starts playing to their ability), but other than that they were given a great draw.

WVU who had 5 top 25 RPI wins to Duke's 1 and was 7-4 on the road vs. Duke who was 5-5 ended being a 2 seed and was put into Kentucky's region making a final four run that much more difficult. Had they put WVU in Duke's region they'd be a favorite to make the final four. The good news for WVU is they may have gotten some favors at the bottom of the region being matched up with New Mexico as the three seed (a team they should beat if New Mexico were to get that far). It seems that the committee felt it was more important to give them the Buffalo/Syracuse locations than to match them with the weakest 1 seed.

Another team I think got jobbed was Ohio State. Why did Ohio State get put in the bracket of the top 1 seed? I guess it is as simple as keeping OSU in St Louis for the the regional finals instead of sending them to Houston...but if you are Ohio State would you rather be in St Louis in a Region with Kansas and Georgetown (probably the best 1 and 3 seeds respectively) or be in Houston with Duke and Baylor as your chief rivals. On top of that the Oklahoma State v Georgia Tech winner is going to be an absolutely rough second round match-up for the Buckeyes. To me they have far and away the toughest path of any of the high seeds to the final four.

Now lets take a look at the first round match-ups I am most looking forward to:

Thursday 12:20, 7 BYU vs. 10 Florida- 7/10 games always tend to be close. I really like this BYU team. Florida has struggled a bunch down the stretch. I do not think they should have made the tournament, that being said they could easily win this game.

Thursday 12:25, 6 Notre Dame vs. 11 Old Dominion- Notre Dame was one of the hottest teams in the country to end the season. Old Dominion won a very competitive Colonial Athletic Association. Four years ago George Mason made an historic final four run from a similar position. Obviously that is a huge unlikelihood, but a Sweet 16 run would not be surprising at all.

Thursday 2:30, 4 Vanderbilt vs. 13 Murray State- Really all the 13/4 games have a certain level of intrigue to them this year. I think this is one of the better sets of 13 seeds I can remember in the tournament and the four seeds they have been matched with are not really teams that seem to blow others out. Murray State was absolutely dominant in the Ohio Valley this year (big surprise I know they've been doing it for over 2 decades). Vanderbilt had a great year. They are well coached and very skilled, but I think Murray States quickness could give them trouble. It should be a very interesting matchup and maybe the first big upset of the tournament.

Thursday 4:45, 5 Butler vs. 12 UTEP-
I did not pick a single 5/12 upset this year...which will probably prove to be foolish as they happen like clockwork. I think Butler is too good a team for UTEP, but I guess we will see. Anyways the 5/12 games are always worth watching.

Thursday 7:20, 6 Marquette vs. 11 Washington- Marquette is another example of how much respect the Big East got this year. I think Marquette is probably a bit over-seeded. They really did overachieve with the roster they have in place. I think they are better than Washington, but Washington has been hot. I think the winner of this game will likely beat New Mexico and find their way to the sweet 16.

Thursday 7:25, 3 Georgetown vs. 14 Ohio- I think this will probably be a blowout, Georgetown is incredibly dangerous in this tournament. That being said, always look forward to watching the Bobcats.

Thursday 9:45, 6 Tennessee vs. 11 San Diego State- San Diego State is red hot moving into the tournament. I like their chances against Tennessee, but in the end I'm not betting against Bruce Pearl.

Friday 12:25, 6 Xavier vs. 11 Minnesota- I personally think Xavier is much better than Minnesota. However, I also think Tubby Smith is a very good game to game coach and he will have them ready. I thought Xavier got a nice draw for getting back to the sweet 16, but they have to get the first one.

Friday 12:30, 5 Temple vs. 12 Cornell- The Atlantic 10 is very much featured in the 12:30 games. I thought Temple was under-seeded in the tournament this year. I know Cornell is a trendy pick here but I think Temple is a much more athletic and a generally better team. I personally like the Owls to make the sweet 16.

Friday 2:30, 4 Purdue vs. 13. Siena- It is the second of the very intriguing 4/13 match-ups in this year's tournament. Purdue has looked really bad in their two games against tournament competition without Robby Hummel. They have the talent to win without him, but will they have it together by then? Siena brought back four starters from the team that upset Ohio State last year. They are very good and tournament tested. This will be a really good game.

Friday 4:45, 5 Texas A&M vs. 12. Utah State- I think this is the most likely of the 12/5 upsets. Utah State had been very hot before the tournament. Texas A&M is better and should win, but we have seen bigger upsets in 12/5 games before.

Friday 7:15, 7 Oklahoma State vs. 10 Georgia Tech-
These are two very talented teams who will give Ohio State a hell of a time in the second round. I will be very anxious to see who wins.

Friday 7:20- 5 Michigan State vs. 12 New Mexico State- I thought New Mexico State was probably seeded to high and it is dumb to bet against Tom Izzo in the Big Dance, but Michigan State has looked very vulnerable and we all know about 5/12.
Friday 9:40- 4 Maryland vs. 13 Houston- The last of the 4/13 match-ups I am very interested in. Houston impressed me in the Conference USA title. Tom Penders I a good coach. Maryland has not been great away from home this year. I think Maryland wins, but it should be a good game.

Friday 9:45- 8 Cal vs. 9 Louisville-
The winner of this game is going to be a real threat to Duke. Just from that level of interest I will be paying attention.

Additional Thoughts on the Tournament:

15/16 team that is most likely to keep the game close-
Winthrop (they are in the play in game, but screw it I went to school their for a year I'm going with them)

Toughest Draw for a 1-4 seed-
Ohio State

Potential Second Round Games to Look Forward to-
Duke vs. UofL/Cal winner
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma State/Georgia Tech winner
Georgetown vs. Tennessee

12 seed or lower that could make the sweet 16- Murray State

Will the Big East get two in the final four again? Yes, out of Syracuse, WVU, Georgetown and Villanova two will find their way to the final four.

Outsider most likely to crash the final four- Baylor (and if you do not consider them an outside because they are from a power conference... Temple)

Biggest X factor in the tournament- The health of Arinze Onuaku.

Elite Eight

Kansas State
West Virginia
Texas A& M

Final Four

West Virginia

Biggest Game
Kansas vs. Syracuse (the winner will be Champion)

Championship Game
Syracuse over West Virginia (I'm assuming Onauku will be good to go...if not...well I'll be wrong)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Bracket Selection Sunday

It's time to take a look at my final bracket which unfortunately I have to put out before all the games have been played. As of right now my four 1 seeds are (in this order):


The top three will stay exactly as is no matter what happens today. WVU will certainly be the 4th 1 seed if Duke loses, but I think they should be if Duke wins. WVU has 5 top 25 RPI wins to Duke's 1. WVU is 7-4 in true road games, Duke is 5-5. Their numbers against the top 50 are similar but again WVU's games against the top 50 came against better teams than Duke's. To me WVU clearly has the strong resume.

My number 2 seeds are as follows (in this order):

Ohio State
Kansas State

There is a big dropoff between Kansas State and Villanova. There are a bunch of teams with very similar resumes Villanova that could very well get the last 2 seed instead. The forth 2 seed will be a difficult decision (Pitt would be a likely candidate to take their spot).

I will say this has been a very difficult year to find tournament caliber at large teams. I have Minnesota and Illinois in where I have seen many of them either on the edge or out. These teams actually have quality wins over tournament teams...something really lacking from the resumes of UTEP, Cal, Mississippi State and Utah State... and something Florida, VT, and Seton Hall do not have to that level. Judging by who they beat I don't really understand how there is any question that Illinois and Minnesota should be in over all of those teams. (but if I was shown to be wrong...well I wouldn't be shocked)

So that being said I have three spots open... and they will come down to these eight teams:

Virginia Tech
Mississippi State
Utah State
Seton Hall
William and Mary

Yes I have UTEP at the bottom of that list. UTEP did not beat a tournament team all season long. Their best wins are over Memphis and UAB... to me that is not an NCAA tournament team. I would not be surprised if I am wrong. I would not be surprised if they got in, but to me they have not demonstrated they are an NCAA team.

I will tell you right now... I will be very proud of the committee if they reward Seton Hall and William and Mary over Cal and Mississippi State. Seton Hall's losses nearly all came against top notch teams and has 4 wins over tournament teams. William and Mary has true road wins over Wake Forest and Minnesota (in their limited opportunities). That is strong. In a normal year they would not stand a chance. I think it would be cool if they were rewarded over mediocre teams like Cal and Mississippi State. Cal has 1 win over a tournament team this year. Mississippi State has not been much better.

I feel like I could be wrong on any of my last three and still be fine with the job the committee did. If they do not put Minnesota or Illinois in the tournament I think they will be going against their stated criteria of playing and beating tournament teams. That's why I am fairly confident those teams will get in.

Anyways..this is the least sure I have ever been when predicting the bracket and it is definitely because of the relative weakness at the end of the bracket.

A few procedural things before I show my final bracket. I had to swap Texas and Florida State on the S curve so that Texas could not draw Kansas in the second round and so that Florida State would not play Clemson in round 1. I swapped Texas A&M and Wake Forest to avoid multiple bracket issues. In my bracket today ND was the last 9 seed and Georgia Tech was the top 10 seed. I swapped them to avoid ND getting WVU in the second round and Georgia Tech drawing Duke in round 2. Lastly I swapped Pitt and New Mexico to avoid a Pitt/Villanova sweet 16 match-up. This is not a mandatory change by bracketing rules, but the committee does its best to avoid having high seeds from the same conference on the same side of a region. It was an easy switch so I made it.

That being said here is my final bracket (again Conference Champions in BOLD):

Midwest Regional (St Louis)

1. Kansas
16. Winthrop

8. Marquette
9. Florida State

4. Purdue
13. Houston

5. Tennessee
12. Murray State

2. Villanova
15. North Texas

7. Gonzaga
10. Illinois

3. New Mexico
14. Montana

6. Richmond
11. Illinois

West Regional (Salt Lake City)

1. West Virginia
16. Vermont

9. Georgia Tech

4. Temple
13. Ohio

5. Michigan State
12. Virginia Tech

2. Duke
15. East Tennessee State

7. Texas A&M
10. Notre Dame

3. Vanderbilt
14. Oakland

6. Oklahoma State
11. Old Dominion

South Regional (Houston)

1. Syracuse
16. Lehigh/Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Play in Game)

8. Missouri
9. St Mary's

4. Baylor
13. New Mexico State

5. BYU
12. Mississippi State

2. Ohio State
15. UCSB

7. Wake Forest
10. San Diego State

3. Georgetown
14. Wofford

6. Maryland
11. Cal

East Regional (Syracuse)

1. Kentucky
16. Robert Morris

8. Clemson
9. Texas

4. Butler
13. Siena

5. Xavier
12. Cornell

2. Kansas State
15. Morgan State

7. Northern Iowa
10. Louisville

3. Pitt
14. Sam Houston State

6. Wisconsin
11. Washington