A Most Interesting Year (of sports)

On January 14, 2003, Marvin Lewis was hired as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. At that time, the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team was led by Bob Huggins who would be replaced by Mick Cronin, a few years after, but the Bearcats basketball team enjoyed some years of coaching stability. Both of these teams, coupled with the Reds, embark their 2019 campaigns with new leaders at the helm making this year one of the most interesting in the city’s sports history.

David Bell has led the Reds almost halfway through the 2019 with mostly positive results. Sure, they are not above the vaunted .500-mark, but that would be lofty to expect given the team’s consistent failures over the last five years. He has implemented ideas scorned by his predecessors and had to galvanize a tumultuous roster, in the process. Say what you will about their apparent cohesion, right now, but the Reds have a number of expiring contracts (roughly $65 million is coming off the books, this coming offseason), big personalities (like Yasiel Puig), and players who could have been hurt by the team’s rumored movements from this past offseason (Tucker Barnhart). None of that has boiled over, though, and Bell deserves a lot of credit for that.

So I wonder, how the new coaches for the Bengals and Bearcats basketball teams will fair?

Zac Taylor has been handed multiple tests before even heading up his first training camp. His first round pick and, given the Bengals’ continued abstinence from spending in free agency, best acquisition of the offseason, Jonah Williams, was confirmed out for the season. Williams requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum underscored the lack of aggression in improving a roster that won six games last year. 

Their biggest weaknesses were at linebacker and offensive line and their solutions were to draft help. One of the aspects of that help will have to wait until 2020 to make an impact and the other, with all due respect to Germaine Pratt’s perceived talent at linebacker, was a third round draft pick. 

Due to the lack of roster turnover, the Bengals’ brass made it clear that coaching was to blame for the team’s demise. So, Taylor will be evaluated from the get-go as change will come schematically, if it comes at all.

A very different situation led to the hiring of John Brannen. The Bearcats fizzled out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, yet again, last season, but they weren’t exactly bad. In fact, many had high hopes for what 2019 could become with returning players and an experienced coach, in Mick Cronin. Then UCLA came calling for Cronin and everything changed. He went west, his players and recruits scattered, and Brannen was left with what appeared to be a skeleton crew. 

Then Jarron Cumberland announced he’d be returning for his senior season and things changed. Suddenly, because Cumberland is returning, transfers perked up at the idea of going to Cincinnati. Brannen has since gotten Cumberland’s cousin Jaevin, an experienced point guard named Chris McNeal, and a top-50/four-star recruit in Zach Harvey.

Even with the roster turnover, all eyes will be on Brannen and how he coaches this team. Many fans were vexed by Cronin’s style throughout his tenure. Reports say Brannen is completely opposite, focusing more on offense than defense. He has said they will be a faster team, aiming at increasing the amount of possessions they have in a game. Words are far different than actions, of course, but there is quite a bit of buzz around what will be going on inside New Fifth-Third in it’s second season.

Predictions, bad guesses, and premonitions aside, there is a lot of intrigue at what will be. Both the Bengals and Bearcats have enjoyed lots of continuity in coaching, over the past 16 years, but there is a lot of anticipation for this coming season which will offer lots of newness in the Queen City. Just ask Reds fans as they are still interested in where there team is, halfway into the baseball season. Pretty much every Reds fan could not have said that last year.

College Basketball, A Pair of Blue Grass Previews

It’s that wonderful time of year when college basketball begins. I’ve taken a look at the area teams (and one not in the area) and will give you what you should watch for this year with each one. In this post I will focus on two team from a state I once called home, the Blue Grass state. That’s the American dream, right? Someone who tells you what to think about?

Northern Kentucky Norse (22-10, 15-3 Horizon), Head Coach – John Brannen

Last season’s landlords for the Bearcats, the Norse will look to build on a great 2017-18 season. They did lose their second, third, and fourth leading scorers, but they return their team MVP, Drew McDonald. He led the Norse in scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg) and was the second leading passer with 2.3 assists per game. He’s back to lead a young Norse team. He, and graduate transfer Zaynah Robinson (Norfolk State), are the only two slated to leave the Norse after this season. This could be a set-the-table season for next year, or they could continue their success.

One interesting player who will fly under the radar will be Jalen Tate. He led the Norse defense last year, averaging over a steal per game and just under a block per game, and he’s a guard. By the way, NKU were the best defensive team in the Horizon League, last season.

Predicting the team MVP – Drew McDonald. Easiest pick of all these teams. The guy pretty much averaged a double-double at 6’ 8”, 250 lbs.

Best game to watch – Either game, be it January 11th at NKU, or February 15th in Dayton, against Wright State. NKU won the Horizon League regular season but lost both times to Wright State. This has become a nice rivalry game, which is why the first game in Highland Heights is on ESPN 2 and the second game, in Dayton, is on ESPN U.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – The Norse will celebrate the contributions that McDonald gave to them in his four-year career and they will do better than one-and-done in the Horizon League tournament. That being said, not sure this is a tournament team, but we’ll see.


Kentucky Wildcats (26-11, 10-8 SEC), Head Coach – John Calipari

Cal and the Cats return their greatest percentage of scoring from last year’s team (>30%) since their almost-undefeated 2014-15 season. They also add a very Calipari-like recruiting class and Reid Travis, a graduate transfer from Stanford. Last year’s team underperformed, and Cal will use that as fuel to galvanize a squad that returns its frontcourt and point guard. As opposed to most Calipari-era seasons, this Cats team is well rounded and balanced. They lack the absolute stud (may catch some flak on that) but they can run ten-deep, if they want, and few schools can say that.

Predicting the team MVP – Keldon Johnson. He should be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft and he should be the go-to guy in the Cats offense, come March. It may be a slow development as he gets used to his role, and if that role stays the same all year. Quade Green and Reid Travis may be pretty good, too.

Best game to watch – I wanted to be different and not pick this, but its tonight’s game against Duke at the Champions Classic. A close second will be either game against Tennessee as the Vols are going to be really good, too.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – We’ll be talking about how everyone played the entire year, thousands upon thousands of games, and the national championship was just a rematch of the game played on the first day of the season. Kentucky will play Duke for the National Championship (I hope they don’t get put on the same side of the bracket), but I will not pick the winner until March.

Check out the other previews of area college basketball:

The Gem City Previews

Miami (OH) and Missouri State Previews

The Queen City Previews

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