Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Monday Morning!

We were talking about this other day at work. In between the six and eleven o’clock newscasts, there’s a little bit of downtime when you can kick around a few topics. Between three and six, it’s a little hectic. After six, things tend to even out. So here’s what came up.

If you’re the university of Cincinnati, would you not want to follow the model Xavier has perfected? Xavier goes to the NCAA Tournament every year, rarely misses a trip. It builds it’s team around good shooters and playing well without the ball. Sometimes it wins it’s conference regular season championship. Sometimes, not quite so often, it wins its conference tournament. But always it seems, it makes the NCAA Tournament. It usually wins a game, maybe two, gets to the elite 8 every so often and that’s it. It’d like to win the NCAA Championship, what team wouldn’t. But its fan base seems happy with a strong regular season and not being one and one in the Tournament.

So somebody at channel 5 said why doesn’t UC adopt the same strategy. No pretense of building a championship team, just get to the Tournament and win a game or two. Everybody would get off Mick’s back, you play games until the final couple of weekends of the season.

Is that a fair assessment of Xavier? Is it settling and opting for keeping the natives at rest, rather than restless?

Think about what Xavier does, historically. It recruits players that big time schools take a pass on. Jason Love fits that description. Somebody, Sean Miller, one of his assistants saw raw talent in Love and took a flyer on him. Go back in Xavier’s basketball history, it happens all the time. UC, it seems historically, gets caught up in a player’s pedigree. Now to be fair, Xavier gets players that other schools go after and UC will take a guy that other schools pass on. Kenyon Martin wasn’t pursued heavily by a lot of teams.

But, by and large, Xavier has a system, seems to be the same system regardless of the head coach, and finds players to fit.

This was the discussion we were having the other day.

UC seems to get caught up in labels. Forever, whether it’s Mick, or Huggins or Andy Kennedy, we hear about a player being a ‘leaper’ or his great ‘athleticism’. At Xavier, it’s whether or not the kid can play basketball.

Playing basketball is a lot of things. But one of the most important things is putting the basketball into the net. UC has struggled a lot to find guys who can do that. Xavier never seems to be in need of a scorer. Holloway’s not hitting, there’s Redford. Lyons gets hurt or gets into foul trouble, there’s Crawford.

Well, wait a minute now somebody else said, there’s a huge difference between the kinds of players Xavier needs to recruit to win the Atlantic 10 and the kinds of players UC needs to recruit to win the Big East. UC plays in a better conference. It needs better player than Xavier recruits.

Is the Big East a better conference than the A-10? Yeah. But you get more bids to the NCAA Tournament every year from the Big East than what the A-10 gets. Everyone was howling at me when I said back in January the Atlantic 10 would get two, maybe three bids. Joe Lunardi, mister bracketology was on this program a month ago right after he wrote that the A-10 would get six team in. Told me, you, that day it’d be four minimum. They got three. The Big East got eight.

So the point of the argument was you get eight chances to make the Tournament, you don’t’ have to be a great team to make it from the Big East. You basically have to be a game better than ‘500’ inside your conference. Georgetown and Notre Dame made the tournament this year with 23 wins and 10-8 conference records. That’s it.. You don’t even have to contend for your conference championship. All you have to do to satisfy your fan base is ‘get in’. If you get in and get the right match ups, you might win one, maybe two. This is what Xavier seems to do every year. Why not, if you’re UC follow that blueprint.

So if I’m Mick Cronin, I’m not trying to build a championship team for next season. I’m not telling anyone that of course. I’m building a team that’ll win ten games inside of my conference and about 24 total and simply qualify for the Tournament. At least for awhile, it'll get the wolves off his back.

This blog may NOT be republished or retransmitted in any way without the express written consent of Ken Broo

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So why all the upsets in the NCAA Tournament so far? I've heard a lot of talk about that this week. You know why? There are only about five dominant teams in college basketball anymore. Ten years ago, the number was probably around 12. 20 years ago, it was close to 20.

So why the fall off?


TV is the great equalizer in everything. Has been and, in some form or another, always will be when it comes to sports. Ask any college coach when he's out recruiting what the two things a potential player is interested in. It's TV exposure and playing minutes. Everything else falls into the category 'also'.

20 years ago, even with ESPN, only a fraction of the games that're televised now actually made it onto the screen. You'd be lucky to see a half dozen games a week. Now how many games are televised? You can find a half dozen games on at the same time most weeknights, many more on weekends. The TV 'stick' that schools like Indiana, UCLA, North Carollina, UK and Duke could hold out with a carrot on the end back in the '80's and '90's is now something just about every Division I program can offer. 20 years ago, you would have been laughed at if you suggested that Pitt, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Xavier were elite Division I basketball programs. They got their games on television, if lucky, three or four times a year. Now, you can find just everyone of their games on the tube every season.

20 years ago, the elite basketball programs would over recruit a position. They could, because they were the big boys of college ball. So a player who could've started at Tulsa or South Florida or Butler would have taken a scholarship offer from North Carolina, or Maryland or Indiana because they were the elite programs, with their games televised all of the time. Not so anymore.

Now with three main ESPN channels and their various college exclusive packages, with conferences starting their own cable channels and with game available on-line, players who choose non traditional powers can be assured they will appear on some sort of broadcast.

TV exposure=playing minutes=programs that have surged to the top of college basketball in the last 20 years.

What's happening in college basketball today should be no surprise to anyone, when you look at how the dynamics have changed, just in the last 20 years

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Late Sunday/Early Monday

Good Morning!

Good draw for the Xavier Musketeers. Minnesota was one of the last teams 'in' and it simply has no team speed. If Xavier doesn't win by 20, I'd be shocked. 20 point spreads are a lot in the NCAA Tournament. But a quick look at the match ups tells me that Minnesota will be over matched.

Kentucky's path to the Final 4 is brutal. But the Wildcats have John Wall and DeMarcus Coussins and there aren't a whole lot of teams in the tourney with a 1-2 punch like that.

UC's NIT route is interesting. I think they'll handle Weber State, and Dayton for that matter, should it get to that. The real intriguing match up will come in the third round, potentially UC against Illinois. I said this on Sports Rock Sunday night: if UC rebounds like it did against Louisville, UC can beat any team in this tournament. Sure, it has to put the ball in the basket better than what it's been doing. But defense and rebounding can carry a team a long way at this time of the year.

Now, to your Cincinnati Bengals...

They should’ve signed TO. It’s got nothing to do with the Bengals signing Antonio Bryant. I like that deal. But I’d have liked this past week a whole lot better if the Bengals had also signed Terrell Owens.

It may still happen. In fact, several NFL insiders were predicting as late as Friday that the Bengals would still make a deal with TO. Maybe not now, probably later than sooner. But the predictions were that the deal will get done.

Here’s why I want TO in Bengal stripes. He’s good. And a lot of Bengals wide receivers lately have been average, at best. Chad? He recommitted himself to football in 2009. What kind of numbers did he put up? Average. Not great. And now that he’s off dancing with the stars or bowling for towels or whatever else he’s doing to amuse himself, how much is he going to be thinking about making 2010 a killer year? Certainly not anytime before June.

Andre Caldwell? I like him. He’s got skills. But he’s a possession guy. I kept hearing all last season how he had burning speed when he played for the University of Florida. Really? Did he blow a piston between Gainesville and Cincinnati?

Quan Crosby? Please. If the Bengals somehow wind up with Mardy Gilyard, Crosby gone before September.

And we won’t even get into Jerome Simpson. You want to make yourself sick (not that I’m suggesting it as a hobby) but go take a look at the 2008 draft and see who the Bengals passed on to take Jumpin’ Jerome. DeShawn Jackson and Ray Rice to name just two.

When the Bengals parted ways with Levernius Coles (and I might add a wise maneuver there to cut your losses) and when Chris Henry died, it created two openings at wide receiver. And even with Antonio Bryant, the Bengals are still looking for that receiver who can stretch the field. At 37, TO would fill that need.

Now you’re saying, Ken, wait a minute. TO, the same guy who held the Philadelphia Eagles hostage, who flipped out in Dallas. TO, the man who put the ‘va’ in diva, this TO?


Look, I don’t know if Carson Palmer is ever going to be the quarterback he was before he got Von Oelhoffen’d in that playoff game in 2006. Maybe he doesn’t either. But I do know this, the man had absolutely no one last season who could get open and go deep. No one. TO can do that.

The market for Owens right now is non-existent. You hear the Ravens may be interested. But then they trade for Anquan Bolden and sign Derrick Mason. The Oakland Raiders are supposedly kicking TO’s tires. He must be thrill with the thought of trying to catch what pass for passes from Jamarcus Russell. My guess is at some point, probably in late spring, TO will still be looking for work. Incidentally a lot of NFL free agents will be. There’s a lockout coming in 2011 and teams aren’t in any mood to dole out big money and long term contracts for players who’ll probably be on a picket line come Labor Day 2011.

So if Owens is still available in mid June, why not make another run at him.
He made six million last year. The Bengals could probably get him for three mil. In the NFL, to a franchise just valued at 953-million dollars, that’s chump change.

You think TO would be a distraction. You think maybe he’d be on Mike Brown’s driveway in October doing sit-ups? Check his track record. TO is a model citizen the first year he’s with any franchise. He was in Buffalo last year, with an offense as bad as the one here. Guy didn’t’ say boo.

The Bengals love to tease you. They think they’re being bold. They’ll bring in Larry Johnson at mid season. They gave Chris Henry chance after chance when the rest of the world screamed ‘what’? But honestly, this team hasn’t done anything bold since it traded up in the 1995 draft to get Ki Jana Carter with the number one overall pick. 1995, 15 years ago.

So my advice to the Bengals is to get bold again. It’s 2010 and it might be the last year of football until 2012. Your best players on offense, your quarterback and 85, appear to be on the back nine. You know you have to throw the ball to win. Antonio Bryant was a nice ‘get’. Now complete the puzzle. Signing TO may be seen as just adding another act to the circus. But it just might be the thing that takes you from a side show, to the main event.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I don’t know if the Reds are goinig to be any better this season that last. They don’t, and you don’t either. Because at this time of the year, everybody believes they’ve got what it takes to win it all. I’ve been at spring training camps with the Reds, when their best pitchers were Jimmy Haynes and Joey Hamilton, and they truly believed they had the stuff to contend. I didn’t want to burst their bubble at the time, but even the team bus driver knew, they had no shot.

But after spending about five days out here in the desert, here’s what my eyes are tellilng me.

For starters, this team has never had more raw talent, more potential than it has right now, certainly not in the last ten seasons. The every day eight, the rotation and the bullpen is deeper than it’s ever been. Now, you and I both know that potential is sometimes left at the gate when the pennant races begin. No body has won a pennant ‘on paper’.

I did a side by side comparison between the Reds and the Cardinals a few Sundays ago. I thought it was a 50-50 split. On some levels, at some positions, the Cardindals were ahead of the Reds. On other levels, the Reds stacked up better. At this time of the season, it doesn’t matter. Who knows what injuries, slumps and sore arms await a team at this time of the year.
But here’s what I do know. The Reds lost their ‘ace’, Edison Volquez last season. But the starting rotation this year is the best it’s been maybe in 15 years. Maybe it’s a little bit of wishful thinking here. But I believe that Aaron Harang reverts back to his pre-2008 form this season. He’s as slim as he was last season. And Harang has also spent a lot of time in the off season working the weights.

Bronson Arroyo eats innings. Johnny Cueto doesn’t. And who knows which Homer Bailey shows up this year. The good Homer Bailey ended last season, looking very much like the prized draft pick from 2004.
The bullpan is over priced at the back end. Francisco Cordero is tying up $14 million dollars in payroll. But his 39 saves with a below average baseball team last season was more than impressive. If the starters can eat up enough innings, Cordero will easily hit 39 again in 2010.
Go up and down the everyday eight. Is there a better defensive infield in the National League than your Cincinnati Reds? Scott Rolen is the best defensive third baseball this team has had since Aaron Boone. Orlando Cabrera and Brandon Phillips have had gold in their gloves. And in a division with top to bottom maqui first baseball, Joey Votto more than holds his own. Behind the plate, Ramon Hernandez is easily the best catcher this team has had since Benito Santiago and Eddie Taubensee.
The big stat in baseball now is ‘run prevention’. That’s baseball-eese for good defense. In the Reds infield, ‘run prevention’ should never be easier to achieve than it will be in 2010.

In the outfield, there are five guys who can legitimately say they have a right to start. Only three can, of course. But Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce and Laynce Nix all have a legit reason to lay claim to a starting job. Look it up: Nix and Dickerson and Gomes in left field last season dropped some solid numbers. Bruce was much better at the plate after coming back from his broken wrist than he was before he broke it. Drew Stubbs hit for power after being called up from Triple A. Stubbs and the word power used to be mutually exclusive.
Here’s something else: everybody in the outfield can fly. The team speed in the outfield is exhilirating. Centerfielders, by and large, aren’t usually lead off hitters. But because of his speed, Stubbs can fill that spot. Dickerson can too, if need by. Team speed is a real strength.
But no team, in professional sports, operates in a vacuum. The Reds certainly don’t. They have the Cardinals, Cubs and Astros to contend with. The Brewers were a contender late into last season. They play in the only six team division in baseball. The fact is, all of those teams have gotten better in the off season too.

What I’ve seen since I arrived out here on Tuesday has led me to believe this team can be a lot better in 2010 than 2009. I’m rooting for that. Not for the Reds, mind you. My job doesn’t afford me that luxury. In journalism, broadcast or print, you have to check your rooting interests at the door. But I’m rooting for the Reds to be better in 2010 than any other year in the last 15 because, we really need it. Maybe you remember the good old days. Maybe you don’t. If you’re not 26 or 27 years old, you don’t remember the last time the Reds won a World Series. That’s a major problem for this team. It’s marketing to a lost generation. Too many potential fans have grown up since 1990 and have taken their rooting interests to other teams; or worse forgotten about the game of baseball all together.

This lost generation doesn’t go to games, like their father and grandfathers (or grandmothers for that matter) once did. They now have families and their children aren’t being raised Reds fans, like a lot of us were. The lost generation doesn’t spend money on the Reds, doesn’t spend money on the businesses in downtown that rely on them. The economy suffers because the team hasn’t been good. And we all suffer because of that. Good business in and around Great American Ball Park suffer, or fold and we suffer along with them. Having a competitive baseball team, a team that plays like it has a chance to win, creates buzz and buzz creates dollars and dollars fuel an economy.

Downtown Cincinnati is struggling. The Chamber of Commerce and the downtown PR flaks will try to tell you otherwise. But go ask anyone who runs a business downtown how things are going. The prevailing answer is ‘not good’. A good baseball team can change that. It can bring fans to downtown, who might just decide to drop a few more bucks in the businesses outside the ball park. Having a winning team is nice. Having a winning team that generates income for surrounding businesses is nicer.
That’s why I’m rooting for the Reds to be a better team this year. When they win, Cincinnati wins. And Cincinnati, like a lot of cities around the country, are having a tough time winning these days.I think it’s going to be better in 2010. I’m always a glass half full kind of guy. But honestly, I don’t know. I just hope. And that’s what this time of the year is all about

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Greetings from Goodyear, Arizona....winter home, (new winter home) of your Cincinnati Reds...

I'm sitting in the media room with some of the true Titans of Media...well, OK, Baseball Hall of Famer, Hal McCoy is here. While waiting for the Reds to finish a team meeting, some thought on Spring Training, 2010...

The new team complex is splendid....state of the art, with a clubhouse that rivals any major league ballpark digs. I'm told, it's 44,000 square feet, which is close to ten times the size of the largest home I've ever owned.

Dusty Baker has named Aaron Harang his opening day starting pitcher, which is only a surprise because apparently Baker had no other option. Bronson Arroyo, the most likely candidate, wanted nothing to do with it. Arroyo doesn't like the opening day hoopla that Cincinnati always offers. Harang has won only 12 games in the last two seasons. But he'll make his fifth consecutive opening day start. And no other pitcher, as in Reds history, has ever started that many consecutive opening days..

Baker said just a few minutes ago that this is the best camp he's had in his managerial career. That included some pretty good teams in San Francisco and one or two in Chicago. Why does he feel that way? Baker says he doesn't have to tell players what to do. They're doing it, he says instinctively. "We've finally got some ballplayers, man" his direct quote....

Outfielder, Chris Dickerson seemed a little surprised when I told him his comments about wanting to start, believing he should start, in centerfield caused a bit of a stir in Cincinnati last week. Dickerson believes he should be given the same chance as Drew Stubbs. He will be, of course. But for now, the former #1 draft pick Stubbs is the starter. If Dickerson can stay healthy, he'll get his chance. And stats would indicate he'd be successful getting on base. Dickerson's .373 career OBP is one of the better ones on this team....

There's an intra-squad game this afternoon, just a five inning affair. But it will be very interesting on a number of levels. Harang and Homer Bailey are the two starting pitchers, each working an inning. The final pitcher of the day will be the $30 million dollar man, Aroldis Chapman. His 100 mph fastball has had a lot of the media and coaches buzzing....

One final thought: Goodyear appears to have sprung from the ground in the last 15 minutes. This place is a lot of brown dirt, sagebrush and strip shopping centers. There's nothing but chain restaurants, unless you consider Arizona's infamous 'tent city prison' which sits about a mile or two from the complex. You can see the inmates just about every morning, picking up the trash along the highway. Just a hunch: I'll bet they're not buzzing about Aroldis Chapman's debut today...