April is the perfect time to assess Cincinnati’s sports landscape. Not only does baseball begin in April, but the NFL draft takes place, leading to summer workouts and eventually training camp. College basketball practice begins during football season, then the regular season spans the winter months and brings us all the way back around to March Madness.
With this cycle in mind, it’s time for CityBeat’s yearly analysis of Cincinnati’s five major sports programs: the Reds, Bengals, UC’s football and basketball teams and Xavier hoops.
It’s been 14 seasons since the Reds last made the playoffs, and while no one’s necessarily predicting them to win the World Series this year, there’s reason for optimism. The team enters 2010 with its most established starting rotation in years, with Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey already penciled in. The possibility of 22-year-old Aroldis Chapman — who’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during spring training — has fan excitement hovering around the Ken Griffey Jr. level.
All-Star Edinson Volquez will return at some point after having elbow surgery last year, and there are several young arms at AAA ready to make the jump should injury or a trade open a spot (Harang and/or Arroyo could fetch additional young talent at the trade deadline should the Reds fall out of contention). The bullpen, which was one of the league’s best last year, led by Francisco Cordero, returns last year’s main contributors.
Comparatively, some of the organization’s best hitting prospects are nearly ready to make the jump to the big leagues, while the major league club runs out one of its best defensive lineups in years: Third baseman Scott Rolen, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and second baseman Brandon Phillips (pictured) each have won Gold Glove awards. The offense might not be in full force until some of the young kids develop, but it should be more consistent than last year with a healthy JoeyVotto and growth from outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs.
With the NFL draft quickly approaching (April 22-24), the Bengals have only one pressing need: tight end. The March signing of free agent wide receiver Antonio Bryant makes drafting a receiver less of a priority, though analysts expect a solid group to be available in the second and third rounds. An additional offensive playmaker (former UC star Mardy Gilyard, perhaps?) could give the offense a chance to return to its 2005-06 form.
The team’s solid young defense will return most of its playmakers, but the Bengals will look to add muscle through the draft possibly in the form of a safety and depth on the defensive line. As the division champs, the Who Deys will have a more difficult schedule next season, including out-of-division contests against four 2009 playoff teams.
It’s been a wild couple of years down at Nippert Stadium. After going 34-6 and winning two Big East championships in three years, Head Coach Brian Kelly left UC for Notre Dame, leaving the future of the program in the hands of new coach Butch Jones.
The Cats enter the 2010 season as one of the favorites to win the Big East again, armed with one of the most talented collections of skill position players in the conference, if not the country. Junior quarterback Zach Collaros last year proved to be an excellent replacement for Tony Pike, starting four games and throwing 10 touchdowns against two interceptions and rushing for another four TDs. Junior running back Isaiah Pead will return along with three highly touted receivers in Armon Binns, DJ Woods and Southern Cal transfer Vidal Hazelton.
The defense will again be a work in progress, but who doesn’t like a college football shootout? The 2010 Bearcats will be tested early, with road games at Fresno State and North Carolina State and a home game against Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium before Big East competition begins.
Mick Cronin’s fourth season as head coach didn’t go according to plan. The Bearcats missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year due to their inability to win close games (going 0-3 in overtime against solid opponents hurts the record and also the heart).
UC fans hope the return of Big East Freshman of the Year Lance Stephenson will lead to a better finish next year. Cronin’s incoming recruits will include 6-foot-8 power forward Justin Jackson, who will team with junior Yancy Gates in the post. The team will rely on several seniors to replace the production of four-year starter Deonta Vaughn, though 6-4 freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick, who redshirted this year, could be an immediate contributor.
It doesn’t seem to matter who coaches or plays for Xavier, the proverbial rulers of the Atlantic 10 Conference. First-year head coach Chris Mack just led the Musketeers to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and third straight Sweet Sixteen.
Though Xavier will lose only one senior to graduation (and it’s a major contributor in 6-9 center Jason Love), the real worry for Mack is whether or not sophomore guard Jordan Crawford will return for his junior season or enter the NBA draft. Mack’s four-player recruiting class includes highly a rated shooting guard in 6-6 Justin Martin and 6-8 power forward Jordan Latham.
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