Cincinnati-Xavier brawl

Stories, videos relating to melee between Bearcats and Musketeers on Dec. 10, 2011.

On surface, nothing changed for Xavier, Cincinnati

1 Comment

Just moments after Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates landed a nose-crushing right hook on Xavier’s Kenny Frease, everyone had an opinion on how it would shift both programs.

Some thought the squeaky clean reputation of the Musketeers had been muddied, while others were sure that the Bearcats would take a step or two back in their progression under head coach Mick Cronin.

In the weeks ahead, the obvious angle was that everything had changed for both programs.

Xavier flat out stunk, losing  five of their next six games and finishing 10-6 in Atlantic 10 play. By February, it was easy to write this team off and label their season as a major disappointment.

Cincinnati suffered more severe suspensions, but kept winning. Mick Cronin took an incredible amount of heat for tough love followed by lenient suspensions, and questions abounded as to the best way to handle Gates, allegedly their most important player but someone who the Bearcats proved they could win without.

But with all that, if you fell into a coma on December 9th – when Xavier was undefeated and the Bearcats were 5-2 but clearly talented to be a tournament team – and woke up this past Monday morning to scan an updated bracket, you’d have absolutely no clue how tumultuous things were for both programs throughout the regular season.

But here they are, both through to the second weekend of the tournament. A place that, in retrospect, would have shocked nobody way back when the season started. The fact that their still standing feels perfectly normal.

Preparing for their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five seasons, the Musketeers have essentially become the de facto two-seed of the South Region, a seed that was theirs to lose pre-brawl.

Think about it.

It’s the same team as December; same players, and same talent level. They’re a little banged up but hopefully will play with a normal rotation against Baylor, and should be treated as the top 10-type team that they were to start the season.

It’s cliché to say it, but whatever turmoil they went through in-house during the winter is completely in the past. Irrelevant, really.

For Cincinnati let’s not forget that they were named a pre-season top 25 team by some publications, returning their top four scorers from a season ago where they won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2005.

While December 10th, 2011 didn’t seem to have much of an effect in the standings for the Bearcats, who knows what sort of residual undetectable impact it had.

If anything, losing by 23 to your hated rival could serve as proper motivation to right the ship.

Both teams will be underdogs in their respective Sweet 16 match-ups, but both have validated themselves as worthy of serving as two of the only Division I programs still standing.  You shouldn’t be shocked that we’re still talking about both clubs.

We thought so much changed, but really everything is in line with what we originally anticipated heading into the second weekend of the tournament.

Xavier and Cincinnati are legit. We don’t need to fight over that.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

Must-read material on what happened to Xavier’s Tu Holloway

0 Comments

Xavier started the season as a Final Four darkhorse. Now, just winning a game in the NCAA tournament would be a delight.

But it wasn’t an injury that derailed the season. It was a fight.

The Xavier-Cincinnati brawl on Dec. 10 remains one of the season’s most notable events for its sheer ferocity and fallout. Most sports fans saw all of some of the video footage or photos. Punches were thrown. Faces were bloodied. Suspensions were issued.

Cincinnati suspended star center Yancy Gates for six games and switched to a four-guard lineup with impressive results. Since the brawl, the Bearcats are 12-4 and tied for fifth in the Big East.

Xavier issued various suspensions, but hasn’t been close to the same team since that day. It was 8-0 until then. Since? 8-8.

None of this is news. But what’s new is a recent package by ESPN that focuses on the brawl’s effect on the longstanding rivalry between the programs and another feature by Dana O’Neil on how it’s affected Xavier star Tu Holloway. Holloway was an All-America candidate before the season. Now?

From O’Neil:

What’s wrong with Xavier probably can be best summed up in one Chris Mack exhortation from practice.

“C’mon, Tu,” the coach yelled the day before the Musketeers hosted Saint Louis, “I want my tough guard back.”

He’s in there somewhere, lost in the maze of Holloway’s mental anguish, paralyzed between humiliation and confusion and tangled up in a naive hope that, by playing like more of a pleaser than an aggressor, he’ll change people’s opinions.

“I think it all took some of the life out of me,” Holloway said. “I know I need to get it back. I just don’t know how. I’m thinking too much, way too much. To be great, you have to play with emotion and passion. I’m trying.”

There is no undoing what Holloway said. In this age of gotcha media, Holloway’s words after the game — “We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room. Not thugs, but tough guys on the court. And we went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game.” — will live forever.

The defense Xavier has offered — that Holloway never threw a punch — is not much in the way of a balm on this festering wound. Holloway gets that. He has taken and is willing to accept blame for what he said.

What he doesn’t get, what he can’t shake, is how, in that handful of seconds, everything changed, seemingly forever.

It’s compelling, insightful writing and more than worth a read. (So is the Cincy-Xavier feature.) A little heavy for a Friday, but it couldn’t be helped.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Forgiving Frease on Gates’ actions: ‘People make mistakes’

0 Comments

Yancy Gates is eager to move on from his role in the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl last weekend.

So is Kenny Frease, the guy Gates slugged.

Xavier’s senior center, who caught a right hand from Gates and was stomped by Chiekh Mbodj while on the ground, suffered a substantial cut near his left eye that required seven stitches. (Prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Gates or any of the other players.)

More on the brawl

But he says he’s not holding a grudge. Frease texted Gates several times over the last couple days, all in the name of helping rebuild the image of the programs and the players involved in the ugly incident.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I just wanted to let him know that…I mean, I saw a lot of the stuff coming out about how the police and stuff were looking into it and I just wanted him to know that anything that was coming from that wasn’t from my end. I never wanted to press charges against him,” Frease said Wednesday at Cintas Center.

“People make mistakes in the heat of battle,” he continued. “I’ve made mistakes in my life in emotional situations. I don’t think that’s a reason…especially in a basketball game. Obviously there’s no room for that in a basketball game. But to pursue somebody criminally for something that happens in something that’s that competitive – it seemed immature to me. And I didn’t want him to be punished for something for his whole life because of something that he did in a game that is that emotional.”

That’s no small thing from Frease. Give the big guy credit for reaching out and for trying to move on. No doubt he’s trying to focus on the rest of Xavier’s season, and with good reason. The Musketeers are one of nine unbeaten teams remaining.

That’s worth thinking big picture.

Related stories:

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Video: Feinstein says college hoops needs less ‘woofing’

0 Comments

Few things have prompted more opinions this season than the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl. So what’s one more?

John Feinstein’s been part of the college basketball scene for about 30 years. He’s seen everything in that time, so his Tuesday segment on SportsTalk is worth a listen.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Related stories:

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Xavier player comments reopens debate on athlete free speech

0 Comments

Because of Saturday’s Xavier-Cincinnati brawl, and the subsequent PR disaster that ensued when Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons took to the podium for the post-game press conference, there has been a renewal in the conversation over free speech and the college athlete.

Critics condemned Holloway and Lyons, and rightfully so, for their words, but the question ultimately comes back to the administration.

What the unfortunate post-game press conference shows is the lack of education, whether a last-minute briefing before the players took the microphone or an organized, concerted effort to teach media skills, or both, on Xavier’s part.

The result was a series of sound bites that, contextualized or not, associated “thug,” “gangster,” and “zip ‘em up” with the eighth-ranked team in the country.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

And though Mick Cronin and Cincinnati won the public relations game that day by restricting their players from comment, they are not above the blame.

An alarming trend is developing in this age of new, more accessible digital media and conventional wisdom is backwards and paradoxical. The restriction of freedoms supposedly translates into a development of maturity, when handling those freedoms in a public forum.

Cases have emerged where players have mishandled Twitter and other outlets, notably Josh Smith calling Loyola Marymount players “bums” and Mississippi State’s Ravern Johnson going off on head coach Rick Stansbury about his role on the team.

Both instances have drawn criticism, including the suggestion that schools ban athletes from Twitter all together, which Stansbury did, in the wake of the Johnson incident.

And that has been the prevailing sentiment.

If a player can’t use the outlet correctly, ban the whole team from it. Some schools have done it preemptively, in an attempt to stop problems before they happen.

Schools are within their right to do so, but the question remains: should they? And why has there not been some sort of dissenting opinion, in favor of the players?

Mick Cronin was correct in a press conference on Saturday, saying that few of his players, and few in the NCAA as a whole, “are ever going to make a dollar playing basketball.”

With that in mind, will any other profession coddle and protect these athletes in the real world? Will another boss spend his time making sure his employees are in line on social networks?

No. If you mess up, you get the boot, and that’s that. Rules are clearly outlined from the beginning and, if broken, have consequences.

And for those chosen few who will play professionally, mishandling of social media and public image immediately cuts away at marketability, when it comes to endorsements and sponsorships.

On the other hand, an athlete who can not only handle social media, but excel in exploiting its benefits, can become an even more marketable figure.

The operating principle of the First Amendment, dating back to its earliest form, was the idea that the government could not practice “prior restraint.” The government could not keep one from publishing something, but certain words are not immune to prosecution, once published.

In the late 18th century, words that were “false, scandalous, [or] malicious” toward the government were liable for punishment.

Why don’t schools operate on a similar principle with their players?

A concerted effort at education, rather than prohibition, would help to develop valuable skills for their athletes that, in the end, appear to be a better public relations move than sweeping restrictions.

There, programs should draw distinctions between proper and improper use of social media, teaching how to handle digital media criticism, and growing a personal brand, all part of an education that takes place outside of the traditional college classroom.

The NCAA says, as part of its core purpose, “to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”

“Higher education” is as much about what is learned in the classroom as what is learned through the experiences that only college can offer. Athletic programs often rally around the idea that they turn young men into grown adults, but how does limiting public, free speech move in that direction?

Coaches say they recruit players based on both character and skill. Those who don’t say it aloud wouldn’t dare publicly say they could care less about a player’s character.

But the irony is that limiting a player’s free speech through Twitter is ultimately showing a distrust in the player’s character, which was, supposedly, important in the recruitment of that young man.

And assuming that a small detail like freedom to use Twitter won’t shift a recruit’s view of a school in the future is to overlook the trends of the NCAA.

Athletes are already prohibited from profiting directly from their skill, cannot sign endorsement deals, and are subjected to schedules that, many times, cut into family time, especially around the holidays.

Now they’re asking to hand over free speech?

Opponents will point to the way in which many young people use Twitter, usually for chatter amongst friends, reporting of mundane daily activities, etc. Who cares if players can do that? Why don’t they just text?

But speech is speech.

The aim of protecting it is not necessarily so Player A can tell a friend his half-thought-out, 140-character review of the latest television show.

Instead, it is for players like North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall and Missouri’s Kim English, who have shown their personality through their tweets, building their personal brand and showing their maturity in handling such a platform.

I am 20-yearsold. I’m six days younger than Kendall Marshall. Take a look through my Twitter feed. Would any college coach throw me off a team for what I’ve said?

You cannot punish the many for actions of the few. Prohibition is the easy way out.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Miller’s odd comments part of Xavier’s botched post-brawl PR

0 Comments

Cincinnati has handled the aftermath of the Crosstown Knockout about as well as you could possibly imagine.

Mick Cronin hid his players in the locker room while he made a strong statement to the media about the future of the program. After levying the suspensions on Sunday, he brought both Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj up in front of the cameras and the reporters to apologize — without reading off of a statement — for their actions. It seems like he’s done an adequate job of driving home his point that his players are going to understand just how valuable it is to have the privilege of being a scholarship basketball player; Gates, the guy that was tough enough to throw a sucker-punch that dropped Kenny Frease, was in tears as he apologized.

“My actions were just not what I’m about as a person, as an athlete. I’m sorry for the embarrassment I put on myself, the University of Cincinnati and the city of Cincinnati.”

Not choked up. Not sniffling. He cried.

“I don’t know about the environment. I can take responsibility for my actions,” Gates said. “I should have grabbed the freshmen instead of going out there throwing punches. Some people are going to say it’s fair, some people are going to say it’s unfair. That’s not up for me to decide. All I can do is take my punishment.”

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the only mistake that Cronin has made is that he may have come out too strong after the game. He got our hopes up. We were expecting blood. And when all we got was a pair of six game suspensions, we went nuts and some very good writers landed blows that were just as powerful as a right hook from Yancy Gates.

Xavier, on the other hand, did not.

Dezmine Wells sparked the melee when he shoved Ge’Lawn Guyn with 9.4 seconds left, but we were only in this situation because Tu Holloway decided to yell the Cincinnati bench that “this is my city”. Then he decided to spout off in the press conference as well, calling his team “gangstas” — which, ironically, is what every racist white person that witnessed the fight was calling him as well — and saying that they “zipped ’em up”. You know, as in Xavier put Cincinnati in body bags.

Mark Lyons was up there as well, talking about how retaliation and not allowing someone to put a hand in your face, specifically referring to Yancy Gates. The irony there is that, if you watch the entire fight, Lyons — who threw a couple of haymakers at one player on Cincinnati’s bench — is the only guy that actually settles down Gates, patting him on the chest after getting in his face.

In case you didn’t realize it before hand, but putting two young men — or, rather, old kids — in front of the national media in the internet age while the testosterone of a full-blown brawl still flowing through their veins is a bad idea. Of course they said something stupid. Obviously they didn’t show any remorse. You could see it coming a mile away.

And while their apologies the next day seemed genuine, it shouldn’t be surprising that they couldn’t control themselves with the media. The guy that recruited them to Xavier, coached the seniors for a year and was the head of the program before Chris Mack took the job couldn’t either. From the Arizona Daily Star:

Sean Miller said he was not surprised Saturday’s Xavier-Cincinnati intra-city rivalry game featured a brawl that resulted in eight player suspensions.

“Happens every game. I’m proud of those guys, I really am,” Miller said of Xavier, his former team. “I would fully expect there to be a fight.”

There’s more:

“If Cincinnati tries to do what they did (Saturday) they’re going to get a fight,” Miller said after UA beat Clemson on Saturday. “So I’m proud of those guys.”

[…]

“They have a chance to win it all,” Miller said. “It’s just such a great story. I’m really proud of those guys and I watch them any time that I can. No one’s going to bully those guys.”

Sean, buddy, what the hell are you doing?

I know that you still love Xavier and you have a bond with the people in the program, but do you really need to come out and say it publicly? That’s the kind of conversation you save for the fifth round at your local bar sitting at a table full of your drinking buddies.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with what he said. I know how heated the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry is, and I know that when you’re dealing with a bunch of fiery and competitive kids, you run the risk of this happening. Sean clearly knows it too. And given his history, I don’t expect him to pick sides. But the quotes he gave can easily be twisted. He can easily be criticized. And even with the understanding that he was asked about it and that we don’t know the context of what he said, it just makes him look bad. He later issued a clarification, but it clearly came too late.

Is it any surprise that a program couldn’t control what their players said to the press when the guy that mentored their current head coach and recruited the upperclassmen couldn’t control what he said 2,000 miles away?

“No comment.”

“It’s bad for the sport.”

“I hope no one is hurt badly.”

It’s that easy, Sean.