Northern Kentucky Lets Early Lead Slip Away In Youngstown

The Norse (6-8) jumped out to an early six-point lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Tyler White and Deontae Cole, and held on to a one point lead at the half.  Senior guard, Chad Jackson (Scott County, KY) pitched in 16 and Jalen Billups (Shroder Prep, Cincinnati), came off the bench for NKU to add 12 points and 10 rebounds; but it wasn’t enough as Youngstown State (9-6) slid past NKU 74-78.  The Norse finished the game with 5 players in double digit scoring but went 5-13 as a team from the foul line.

The Norse next host Toledo at home on Saturday, 4:00 p.m.

Reds Acquire Marlon Byrd Via Trade :-(

C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that the Reds have traded pitching prospect Ben Lively to the Phillies for outfielder Marlon Byrd and possibly cash money.  Byrd, who turned 37 in August, has produced a .278/.333/.427 line over 5,450 career plate appearances.  In 2014, Byrd hit 25 home runs (5 more than his career best) and struck out 185 times, while posting a .312 on base percentage.  Disappointing acquisition to say the least; especially for a team that struggled getting men on base for the past 4 seasons.

Ben Lively is a 22-year-old medium to hard thrower, who spent 2014 at high A Bakersfield and double A Pensacola.  Over the course of Lively’s minor league career he has posted strike out rates (K/9) of  11.9 Rk,15.8 A, 10.8 A+,  and 9.5 AA.  He also has displayed excellent control.  Several sources projected him to be a mid rotation starter.

Scout, Ethan Purser wrote this about Lively (via Baseballprospectus.com):

Lively has good stuff across the board and, perhaps more importantly, shows good pitchability with realistic room for growth in this department. He goes into at-bats with a plan, executes, and pitches with major confidence, wanting to shove the fastball down hitters’ throats. The fastball, while not a crazy weapon in terms of pure velocity, plays up due to its sneakiness and gives the pitcher a weapon going forward. The secondary arsenal is highlighted by the potential above-average slider, and while the curveball and changeup only project to average at the highest level, Lively should be able to deploy these pitches with confidence and keep hitters guessing with a few minor refinements. Overall, Lively looks like a good bet to blossom into a mid-rotation workhorse, a great outcome from a fourth-round selection. He should be ready sometime in 2015.

Unless the Reds end up in the World Series on the back of Marlon Byrd (unlikely), the trade looks to be desperate and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  If I were the Phillies, I would’ve unloaded a 38 year old outfielder, who just had his best season in years, for a starting pitcher in a heart beat.  What is Walt doing?

Diabetes Is No Laughing Matter: The Sugar Bowl Preview

Ohio State is in the Sugar Bowl.  So is Alabama.  Both Ohio and Alabama frequent the top 10…in lists of fattest states.  Let’s face it, Ohio is the Alabama of the north.  I guess that makes Indiana the Mississippi of the north but without all the good music and food. I digress.

Besides Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s Sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa is really all that is worth mentioning about the Buckeyes.  Bosa was an obvious Meyer recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (STAHS) in Fort Lauderdale.  Twenty former STAHS “students” have played in the NFL; including, MIchael Irvin, Brian Piccolo, Daryl Porter, and Bengals Geno Atkins and Gio Bernard.

Bosa was named a unanimous first team All-American, the 27th Buckeye to be picked as such in 84 years.  At 6’5 285, he still has room to grow.  If Bosa stays healthy, he is probably going to be a top 3 NFL draft pick when he decides to be tired of living in Columbus and chasing around below average looking women.

Alabama right tackle, Austin Shepherd will be tasked with blocking Bosa.  Shepherd, while not looking like much of a monster, can play too. Shepherd’s resume this year includes holding Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, the SEC sacks leader, to one combined sack and the Texas A&M freshman defensive end Myles Garrett, who had 11 sacks, did not record a tackle for loss or sack against Alabama this season.

Ohio State will be starting a third string quarterback, whose name is not important. Alabama is favored by only 9, probably because all of the bad betting coming out of the delusional Big 10 fan base.  The spread should really be more like 14.  By the way, there are 14 teams in the Big 10.  I guess when a Columbus girl says she is a size 10, she’s really a size 14.

Ohio State cannot hold Alabama down enough on defense to win and they really have no one to cover WR Armani Cooper.  Urban Meyer had a very high scoring offense this year; especially considering the injuries he had to deal with.  But with that said, Arkansas has a better resume than Ohio State, especially in a playoff scenario.  Look people, Bosa is a stud but lets put that into perspective.  Alabama has had 60 unanimous All-Americans, 2 this season in Cooper and safety Landon Collins, and 20 over the LAST SEVEN YEARS.

That is all in the past, I know, but if Urban Meyer can bring a 3rd string quarterback to the Sugar Bowl and beat Alabama in the first playoff ever, Jim Harbaugh has no chance and he might as well quit right now.

Ohio State struggled against Navy.  Cincinnati exposed some weaknesses in the Buckeye defense.  Virginia Tech scored 35 and handed the Buckeyes a loss.  Penn State, Michigan State, and Minnesota gave OSU fits.  The Buckeye fans will travel well and keep every Red Lobster and Captain D’s in New Orleans busy this week.  But in the end, they are facing a very good team that is practically playing a home game.  There is no question that OSU is the 4 seed in this playoff and I believe they will once again be exposed.

Here is one quick note from Sports Illustrated:

Perhaps the most impressive number from Alabama’s sparkling season is Sims’ pass efficiency rating. His 161.9 mark ranks No. 7 in the FBS, ahead of stars like Dak Prescott, Brett Hundley and Connor Cook. Sims staying efficient and turnover free will be the key for Alabama. It’s really that simple.

My prediction: Alabama 42, Ohio State 16

The Sugar Bowl will be played on New Years Day night at 8:30 on ESPN.

Finding Hope Where There Is None: Reds Left Field

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”
~Robert H. Schuller

Okay.  It’s almost 2015.  Pitchers and catchers report in less than 8 weeks.  Who is going to play left field for the Reds on opening day?  We still don’t know; but I will tell who will be playing left field before 2015 is over, Jesse Winker.

For those not familiar with the Arizona Fall League (AFL), it is a six team league ran by MLB that begins shortly after the regular season is over.  The league is composed of primarily AA and AAA minor league prospects. Each MLB club holds a position draft to determine who is going to play in the AFL and each club can opt to send 1 Class A player.  The league was created to provide a controlled, monitored scouting opportunity for MLB execs before players left for the winter.

The AFL is used to figure out where a prospect is in their developement.  Players who do well in the AFL environment can jump ahead minor league levels.  It is a quality league that resembles the futures all-star game on a nightly basis but over the course of a 32 game schedule.

This past fall, Jesse Winker did well in the AFL.  He won the AFL batting title while hitting .338/.440/.559.  The 6’3 210 pound Winker turned 21 last August and spent 2014 at high A Bakersfield (.317/.426/.580, 13HR, 53 games) and AA Pensacola (.208/.326/.518 in 21 games).  The most exciting thing about Winker is his combination of power and plate discipline, In 2014, he totaled 68 SO and 54 BB in 74 games.  Exhale.

Although a different type of hitter than Billy Hamilton, he is a far better hitter than Hamilton at similar ages and levels.  His list of comparables includes Anthony Rizzo, Oscar Taveras, and Freddie Freeman.  Now that is really exciting news.  Of course there are naysayers out there.   Not everyone loves him, but you would be hard pressed to find any prospect list that didn’t have him in the top 50.

If scouting is your kind of thing, Ethan Purser had this to say:

The ceiling, while not incredibly high, is that of a B.J. Surhoff-type hitter in his prime, one who can hit for a .280-plus average with home run totals in the high-teens/low-twenties with plenty of gap power. Despite the lack of plus tools across the board and the left-field profile, that’s an above-average regular in today’s game. He’s only 20-years-old in the Southern League, and while he has struggled initially to adapt to the way pitchers are attacking him, I see Winker eventually adjusting and making his way to the majors at the end of the 2015 season.

B.J. Surhoff.  Are you freaking kidding me? That is wonderful.  Surhoff played 18 seasons in the majors and did this over his career: .282/.332/.413.  Those numbers include catching in over 700 games.  I believe Winker has more power than Surhoff and the plate discipline numbers he is putting up probably mean some of those singles will turn into doubles and some doubles will turn into home runs. The Reds starting left fielder slugged .375 in 2014.  It cannot get worse than that.

If this was some other organization, we may see Winker in the lineup sooner than later.  However, this is the Reds and we are probably going to have to suffer through at least 80 games or so of a retread before we get to Winker.   Here’s hoping Winker gets at bats very soon that matter in the MLB standings like this one.

Bengals vs. Steelers Preview, Week 17, December 28, 2014

199323-330-0Only the Bengals would be a 3.5 point dog one week after waxing the sweethearts of the AFC.  In writing this preview, I just keep flashing back to 2005.  I’m pretty sure that season caused the entire Bengal fandom to experience PTSD.

Marvin’s motto over the last few seasons has been, “don’t flinch.”  After being punched in the face so many times as a fan, it is hard not to flinch.  The Benglas  cuddled with us on Monday night.  They held our hands and kissed us on the mouth.  They were very unselfish lovers.  They gave us hope that this time they were changed men.  We believed.  We let them back in and handed them the keys to our heart.

Now, they have to leave again.  Another road trip to Pittsburgh.  We hope and we believe as we sit and wait, wait for their return.  Will they have a relapse?  We still have questions and so does Vegas.

The game has been flexed to primetime (8:30 p.m.).  This is the biggest game in the NFL thus far this season.

The winner on Sunday night wins the division.  The AFC North division is nothing to sneeze at.  Its big boy football that has brought home multiple Superbowl appearances and wins over the last 15 years.  I’m worried.

After all, this is what I have lived with:

Passing Leader (all-time): Ken Anderson – 32,838 yards
Rushing Leader (all-time): Corey Dillon – 8,061 yards
Receiving Leader (all-time): Chad Johnson – 10,783 yards
Winningest Coach (all-time): Marvin Lewis – 100 wins

Two of those guys, you wouldn’t want in your living room.

How can the Bengals win?

Not by giving up 25 points in the 4th quarter as they did just 3 weeks ago.  The Bengals must play defense and stop the run.  That is their recipe for success. No one can beat the Bengals only throwing. NO ONE.  Dre Kirkpatrick can’t start for the Bengals.  The Bengals backup secondary is better than what most teams have starting.

The last time these two teams met, Andy Dalton threw for 322 yards.  The Bengals rushed for 85 yards and went MIA in the 4th quarter.  They were embarrassed. I have to wonder how much of Dick Lebeau’s game plan was to bet that Andy Dalton couldn’t do enough to win.  I also wonder how much of that loss three weeks ago had to do with Hue Jackson not realizing he was being taken out of his game plan.

The Bengals have an identity now which makes writing a preview a little easier.  They play great pass defense, they sometimes are good against the run and they can pound you on offense if you let them.  Defenses are closing off the Bengals game breakers, leaving Gresham as the go to option.  Dalton has been able to find him.

But this is the Steelers, at home.  Anything bad can happen.  The Bengals have not been good against tight ends this year (or ever) and Heath Miller is having an All Pro year.  Rey Malaluaga must have information on Marvin Lewis.  He continues to fall down way too often. He gives himself up to blockers and seems lost at times, still.  That can’t be part of his positional assignment.

I believe the Bengals will win.  How can you be so sure they will lose after last week?  James Harrison is starting for the Steelers again.  Pittsburgh is aging at some very key positions.  The last time the Bengals lost to the Steelers they had just won three straight games on the road. I see growth.  I feel loved.  But then I look at Roethlisberger’s season and realize that he deserves the MVP.   I am as confused as a drunk girl in a bathroom stall.

I look for the Bengals to run and run and run then find the deep ball.  Dick Lebeau knows how to defend the Bengals and that means Andy Dalton is going to get shots over the middle of the field.  He better take advantage. There is too much on the line.  Legacies are at stake.  Reputations.  The opportunity is too big to pass up.  Lebeau is going to go all in to not be embarrassed like the Broncos were on Monday night.  Dalton and the screen package will be big Sunday night.  The deep ball will return. I wouldn’t want to be Ike Taylor.

The Steelers have played over their heads.  They can’t possibly put up 500 yards against the team we saw Monday night.  They can’t possibly be prepared to stop Jeremy Hill since he has been named starter.  It was the last Pittsburgh game that earned Hill this start.  Hue recognized the team was going in the wrong direction.

Bengals we miss you and we love your face.  We will be here for you.  Don’t take advantage.  Be gentle. Please win.

Scott County to Take on Shadow Mountain, Arizona in the Beach Ball Classic

The Scott County boys basketball team is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina playing in the Beach Ball Classic.  The tip off is Saturaday, December 27 at 7:00 p.m. against Shadow Mountain, Arizona.  Shadow Mountain is coached by former NBA guard Mike Bibby.  Bibby’s son Michael is a key player for Shadow Mountain.  You can watch the live stream of the game here.  Knott County, playing in the same tournament, won earlier today, beating North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Monday Night Football: Bengals vs. Bengals Preview

We all know the Bengals beat themselves under the lights on a regular basis.  With that out-of-the-way, how can they win?

Peyton Manning is 38 years old.  The oldest Super Bowl winning QB in NFL history was the 38-year-old Denver Bronco, John Elway, in 1998.  The next oldest was Brad Johnson at age 34 in 2002.  In 1998, Elway threw for 2,806 yards, (22 TDs, and 10 INTS) and Terrell Davis rushed for over 2,000 yards.  Football is a young man’s game.

Manning has not been very Manning lately; throwing only 20 times each of the last two weeks.  In the last 7 weeks, Manning has 4 multiple interception performances.  It is certain that he has been injured, the seriousness of the injury is unknown.

The Broncos are favored by 3.5 vs. the Bengals on Monday Night Football.  We Bengals viewers know that the Bengals are the Bengals biggest opponent.   We would all feel a little better about this game if it had taken place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, on a desert isle, with no television cameras.  For we have seen the Bengals fail time after time on national television.  Let’s be honest, would you really be all that surprised if they found a Bengal doing heroin in the Newport Pavilion Kroger tonight?

Peyton Manning, for all of his success and hall of fame numbers, has never been known to dominate the big stage either. He looked like he had never played the game before in last year’s Super Bowl.   The post season failures of the Colts during Manning’s time there is well documented.  At Tennessee, Manning failed to win a national championship with arguably UT’s most talented team ever.  Knocking Manning may seem like a stretch, but this is the NFL and crazier things have happen than Manning fumbling snaps and throwing interceptions on primetime television.

The Bengals come into this week with the 9th ranked defense in points given up.  Those are legitimately good numbers considering the schedule the Bengals have played thus far.  The Bengals have lost to the Steelers, Browns, Colts and Patriots.  In those losses, the opponents rushed for 193, 170, 171, and 220 yards respectively. The Broncos are 16th in rushing and really have only put together 2 impressive rushing games this season (exceeding 170 yards rushing only twice).

The Broncos have not been great on the road and the Bengals have not been great at home.  And so it goes.

I think we will see a close game with the edge going to the Broncos on Monday Night; if Manning is playing and playing reasonably well and getting support from the running game.  That is a big if.  However, if the Broncos show up and expect to throw the ball 45 times against the Bengals and win, they are mistaken.  Throwing every down is a recipe to get Manning killed tomorrow night.  If the Bengals can keep the Bronco running game at bay as New England (43 yards) and St. Louis (28 yards) were able to do, they will win and win convincingly.

Look for the Bengals to air it out.  I do not think the Broncos have an answer for AJ Green.  I would be really surprised if the Bengals are able to pound out 200 yards rushing vs the Broncos.  But if they do rush well, something went really right for the Bengals and they are better than I thought.  Dalton is going to have to show up and play well and he just might vs this Bronco pass defense.

Still crazy after all these years…

Sophomore Austin Crawford Sinks Pendleton County At the Buzzer

Good stories are where you find them and in Kentucky high school sports, the best stories are usually found in unexpected places.  For example, it is pretty much agreed upon by everyone with any sense about Kentucky history, that Kelly Coleman was the greatest Kentucky High School basketball player of all time.  Over the course of the 1955 and 1956 basketball seasons, the “King”, as Coleman was known, averaged 46.8 points per game for the Wayland High Wasps.  Yes, the Wasps. Wayland used to be a coal company town in eastern Kentucky’s Floyd County.  Adolph Rupp called Coleman the greatest high school basketball player that ever lived.   Somehow, that’s a compliment that entitles you to be called “the King” here in the bluegrass.

As I was driving down the AA highway to Brooksville this evening, on my way to watch the Pendleton County Wildcats take on the Bracken County Polar Bears, I was reminded about how important, for good and bad, that high school sports are to the various small town communities all over the Commonwealth.  That there is a sense of uniqueness to where we live and what we find important.

Outsiders find it peculiar in the way we Kentuckians respond when asked where we are from.   On hundreds of occasions, I have told someone, “I’m from Campbell County”.   Only Kentuckians understand why I name where I am from by county.  I have lived in Kentucky, Michigan, and Florida.  I have traveled to almost every state in the union and Kentucky is the most unique of all of these places.  There are 120 counties in Kentucky, 67 in Florida, and 83 Michigan.  Twenty million people live in Florida, ten million in Michigan, we have four million.  It’s just a different deal.

Watching two schools compete, while wearing their perspective county names on their jerseys is where the thread of this story begins and ends.  For starters, an outline of the political boundaries of Bracken County can be found at center court in the high school gym.  It matters.  It is purely Kentuckian.  Public high school athletics is one of the most rewarding and interesting things going on in Kentucky.  For all of this state’s conservative bent and traditions, the things we hold most dear to our hearts are, often times, brought to you by something as basic as local government.

Enough already, on to the game…

Bracken County opened the game with a 7-0 run and maintained the lead well into the third quarter.  Shots that had fallen for Pendleton County in their previous wins were simply rattling off the rim on this evening.  Bracken County played under control and was able to fend off assaults on their lead for most of the game.

The Wildcats opened up the second half by falling for a trick inbound play.  To begin the third quarter, Bracken County put all but one player in the back court and then inbounded the ball to a free Austin Crawford who dunked it home.  The Wildcats were obviously tricked into defending their own basket.

From that point forward, Crawford, a sophomore, dominated the game by knocking down 15 footers at will.  The Polar Bears led 54 – 46 at the end of the third quarter and seemed to be in control.  Then the Wildcats went on a run in the fourth after  some clutch three-point shooting by Wade Browning, tying the game up at 54.  Moments later, the Wildcats took the lead for the first time with 5:39 left to play in the game.

After the lead changed back and forth several times in the final minutes, Michael Antrobus, who had struggled from the field all night, took to the free throw line and knocked down both free throws with 13 seconds remaining, giving Pendleton the lead once again, 69 – 68.

With the Cats up 70-69 with 6.9 seconds remaining, 8th grader Deontaie Allen pulled down a rebound and was seemingly tied up for a jump ball.  However, Allen was called for travelling as the official believed he had control of the ball and had shuffled his feet under the defensive pressure.  On the ensuing in bound pass, Hunter Lea made a scrappy defensive play forcing another jump ball.  The possession arrow went to Bracken County.

With seconds remaining, Crawford took the inbound pass, penetrated inside the lane to the left and knocked down an 8 footer taking the lead for Bracken County at the final buzzer.  Crawford finished the night with 44 points.  Allen led the Wildcats with 24.

Kentucky Hires Former Mumme Assistant As “O” Coordinator

Several sources have reported that the University of Kentucky football team has hired Shannon Dawson to fill the vacancy at offensive coordinator left by the nomadic Neal Brown.  Dawson is in his 12th year of coaching and most recently was the offensive coordinator at West Virginia.   Notably, his coaching career includes a stint as an offensive assistant at Southeastern Louisiana to former UK head coach Hal Mumme.

The Clinton, Louisiana native has also served as offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin and Millsaps.   Dawson has coached in two bowl games, both with West Virginia, in 2011 and 2012.

Dawson’s Coaching Career
2013: West Virginia (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks)
2012: West Virginia (offensive coordinator/receivers)
2011: West Virginia (inside receivers)
2008-10: Stephen F. Austin (offensive coordinator)
2006-07: Millsaps (offensive coordinator)
2005: New Mexico State (graduate assistant/offense)
2004: Southeastern Louisiana (running backs)
2003: Southeastern Louisiana (offensive quality control)
2002: Wingate (wide receivers)

There are mixed reports about how much control Dawson had over the Mountaineers offense,  He shared play calling duties with the skullet.  However, everywhere Dawson has coached, his teams have been productive on offense.   But, maybe the biggest benefit Dawson brings to Lexington is that hIS recruiting territory at West Virginia included Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

How does Dawson’s hiring affect the current Wildcats?

Patrick Towles led a Kentucky team that rushed slightly more than they passed in 2014.  Dawson’s 2014 Mountaineers passed 60 percent of the time.  I do not believe a heavier emphasis on the passing game bodes well for Towles, whether it had Neal Brown or a new OC. If Drew Barker can stay out of trouble, he will likely be the starting QB for the Wildcats in 2015.  Barker still has a lot to prove after a roller coaster high school senior season that produced a first round playoff loss to Anderson County.

No matter who is playing quarterback for the football cats in 2015, the expectations will be higher.  Dawson is Stoops’ man.  Neal Brown was probably going to be the offensive coordinator at UK no matter who was hired as head coach after the departure of Joker Phillips.  The spotlight will be on Dawson as he embarks on the biggest challenge of his career, putting points on the board in the SEC.