Thinking about College Basketball in September

It’s late September and baseball is transitioning into the post season, football season is building up some steam, and I want to talk college basketball. What? Yeah. I know, it’s a bit early, but I took a look at whats up on the hardwood today.

First thing I noticed is a familiar face (to me) in a new place. I once traveled with the Tennessee State men’s basketball team as their media relations point of contact. That was the 2014-2015 season, the first for head coach Dana Ford. He was the youngest coach in the country, that season, having just turned 30 that year.

In his first season, the Tigers won just five games. He was able to transform that team into a 20-11 team the very next year, earning conference coach of the year. Fast forward to March of this year. Ford accepts the offer to become the head coach of Missouri State. I’d kept tabs on him at TSU and now look forward to watching him move through the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Ford takes over a team who finished in the bottom half of the conference where Sister Mary, aka Loyola-Chicago, hails from. He’s got just two returning players who saw playing time for the Bears last year. He’s also got a former Xavier player in redshirt-freshman Jarred Ridder. I’ll keep my eye on Missouri State and Coach Ford, this year, and may even tell you a little bit about em, on this space.

The other thing I noticed was the ticket prices for Cincinnati’s home opener, the re-opening of Fifth-Third Arena, against Ohio State. My go-to app for tickets, Gametime, has the cheapest ticket for that game currently going for $94. UC is advertising this coming basketball season, heavily, at football games. People are excited to see the new arena, and excited to see how the Bearcats follow up last year. 

I’ll write more about this in the days to come, but I’m looking forward to Kyle Washington, Jaron Cumberland, and the rest of the team picking up where they left off.

As someone who constantly has sports on the television, I am enjoying my football and baseball, but am looking forward to some hoops. Without having looked at it, I’d say the top five for the preseason rankings are Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, and Michigan State, in some kind of order.

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The Craziest Game of the Luke Fickell Era

I’m trying to think of how to start this blog post. The Bearcats just matched their win total from last year and the year before. The Bearcats just broke the school record for most penalty yards against them in one game. The Bearcats just beat the Bobcats of Ohio University 34-30…yeah I’ll start there.

In their second rain-soaked game of the year, the University of Cincinnati football team beat an in-state team, but this was no ordinary win. They went into halftime down 24-7, and trailed 21-0 early in the second quarter. They outscored Ohio 24-6 in the second half and remain undefeated, 4-0, to begin the 2018 college football season.

Adding to the drama that already was the deficit, UC committed something like 245 penalties for close to 12,000 yards. In all seriousness, the first touchdown drive for Ohio was set up by one of the strangest calls.

The Bearcats has just forced the Bobcats offense into its second-straight three-and-out to begin the game and were set to return the punt. The snap was mishandled by OU’s punter, who dropped it, picked it back up, and tried to get his punt off, but was hit by a UC defender, causing the punt to go short…or so it seemed. The referees initially called that the UC defender who hit the punter did not commit a penalty because he tipped the ball before hitting the punter. Okay, fine. Bearcats get the ball.

But wait, no. The referees decided to review their call with instant replay. After conferring, the video showed that the Bearcats defender did not, in fact, touch the ball. This means there should have been a penalty. Doing something I have never seen a ref do, they announced that because the replay showed the player did not hit the ball, there should have been a roughing the punter penalty called. So, with the benefit of replay, the referees decided to call the penalty, after the fact, which meant that OU now gets the ball back, with a fresh set of downs, near midfield.

……what? Since when could a ref call a penalty after the play was over and done because they reviewed the instant replay? If this is a new thing, it is terrible and instant replay has gone too far. Reviewing crucial penalty calls will not only take the air out of the stadium, but it will lose the officials the control of the game. After that, players were on edge for UC, leading to unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and a sideline warning for the Bearcats. It was mayhem.

It also gave the Bobcats momentum as they proceeded to score 14 points in the first quarter, and an early touchdown in the second, before UC even entered the red zone (20 yards away from the end zone). That crazy call was just the beginning of the madness caused by this officiating crew as UC earned some more flags, with alarming frequency. The student section at Nippert Stadium enjoyed the “ref show” so much, they created an affectionate chant, one I won’t repeat here.

UC managed to finally get on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter, but had a field goal attempt blocked, entering halftime on fumes. As the bands for Ohio and UC performed, there was still a slight air of optimism in the crowd, so few left, despite the bleak weather. It was made known to them, early in the third quarter, that they stayed for a show. Desmond Ridder connected with Rashad Medaris, down the right side of the field, for a 77-hard touchdown that shocked the crowd back to life.

Bit by bit, they chopped away at Ohio’s lead until finally they took the lead on the fourth quarter 28-27. The stands were elated. We had hoped, but I mean, come one, we’re Cincinnati sports fans. When you’re a fan of a Cincinnati sports team, you’re used to having hope, but then having that hope squashed leaving you with stories of what might have been. UC, on this day, decided they’d deliver on those hopes. Even when Ohio was able to go down and kick a field goal to briefly regain the lead at 30-28, it was almost as if they represented a spider circling the drain.

In this graph, I’d just like to take a moment and give a shout out to Luke Fickell, Ridder, and the tight end, Josiah Degaura. They found a weakness in the Ohio defense, a unit that stifled them for much of the first half, and exploited it to perfection. There was one play that Ohio had no answer for, and that was the tight end running a flat route. Just in case you don’t follow the jargon, the tight end, in this case Degaura, lines up next to the offensive line. It can be on the left or right side, but he’s usually right next to them. Once the ball is snapped, he might sprint out on his route, or he might sit there for a second to pose as a blocker. Regardless of when, he runs almost straight sideways away from the offensive line and toward the sidelines. They must have ran that play nine or 10 times and the only time it didn’t get them good yardage was the first time when Ridder made a bad throw. The rest of the game, they were able to pull that play out of their pocket and get the yards they needed in any situation. It’s what won them the game, largely.

So I’ve droned on awhile about this win, but that’s because it is one of the most satisfying wins I’ve ever witnessed. UC entered this season having won just 4 games in back-to-back seasons. We Bearcats fans were just hoping for six wins and a bowl game this year. Right now, because of Luke Fickell, his coaching staff, and the talented players he recruited to UC, they have a real chance to do a lot more than originally thought possible. That is why UC fans are the happiest in the nation right now. Juncta Juvant!

UC Womps Alabama A&M

The first home UC football game of the season went as it should have. They had Alabama A&M scheduled, which is a school that is Division 1-AA, so the final score was about on target. The really fun part was the success of the Bearcats bench.

Head coach Luke Fickell was able to dip into his recruits who normally sit and watch pretty early, last Saturday. Desmond Ridder, Thomas Geddis, and the first string had the Bearcats up 28-zip after 15 minutes of play, so Fickell swapped out the starters, and put in the backups, reaching as far down into the bag as the fourth string (Jake Sopko got some snaps in the fourth) and the results were encouraging.

Two freshmen running backs, Charles McClelland and Tavion Thomas, impressed me. McClelland got a number of carries in the second and third quarters and showed a quick first step and an ability to adeptly cut and juke defenders with ease. Thomas, on the other hand, is a mountain. He’s listed at 6’ 2”, 226 lbs, but he looks like he’s closer to 240 lbs of solid muscle. A&M defenders cowered as he shot up the middle, between the tackles, and down the field. The visual of the game, for me, came when Sopko was in and Thomas was standing next to him. He towered over UC’s fourth-string QB. Looking forward to both McClelland and Thomas developing at UC.

The game, itself, got boring quickly, but in a good way. The good news was, A&M brought their band, and UC had them do a shortened halftime show for the fans at Nippert Stadium. If you’ve not witnessed the prowess of a band from an HBCU, you’re missing out. It’s kind of like the movie Drumline but that’s just a taste. A&M’s drum line was on point, sure, but their sousaphones were blasting and their choreography was awesome, too. The purple and gold band of Alabama A&M showed their quality, last Saturday, and I was thoroughly entertained.

One thing I am looking forward to, the rest of the season, is getting walking tacos. Nippert has this new concession stand, over by the loading docks of Fifth Third Arena, that is a cart that will make walking tacos out of Doritos, Fritos, or Tostitos (your choice). They have ground beef, or pulled pork, and lots of other toppings to go with it. Eight bucks gets you a good looking game day snack that beats a hot dog nine times out of 10.

I’ll be getting my writing back up and running on this site, been a few months since I kept up with it (got busy, but more on that later). Check out more of my work on lockedonReds.com and lockedonBengals.com. Also, follow me on Twitter @jefffcarr.

I have season tickets with my father-in-law and plan on being at just about every game, so I’ll try and recap what went on, from a point of view of section 116.