The text message from Mick Cronin to his players was sent on Monday night. Instead of practicing the following afternoon at the usual time of 3 o’clock, everybody was required to be ready to go at 7:30 on Tuesday morning.
“When he sent us the text, everybody was like, ‘Yo, this is not looking good,’” said Sean Kilpatrick. “Usually when a coach wants you to come in at 7:30 in the morning it means you have to get your track shoes ready.”
But Coach Cronin’s objective was not punitive.
“We don’t have class until 11 o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I was just trying to keep it fresh for the guys,” Mick told me. “It gives them more recovery time until the next day and changes the routine up – which I think is important this time of year. Also, it allows the coaching staff to get on the phone and recruit and do the things that they need to do.”
The twice-a-week early morning practices are expected to continue until the end of the academic quarter and while they are not meant to be punishment, the players have been doing plenty of running.
“It has been ‘get out the track shoes’ to be honest with you,” said Coach Cronin. “I think that lately we’ve played too slow and as a coach, you always have to look in the mirror. Coaching is not about telling guys what to do; it’s about getting them to do it.”
In their last two games, the Bearcats scored 53 points in their loss to Syracuse, and 54 in their loss at Rutgers. Coach Cronin disputes the notion that they’ve changed their offensive approach from the attack that helped them win five of their first six Big East games.
“You have to get easy baskets,” said Coach Cronin. “When we were 5-1, we were averaging 11 steals a game. The telling stats for easy baskets are ‘points off turnovers’ and ‘second-chance points.’ If you have to rely on all of your baskets in a Big East game coming in the half-court, you’re not going to win. You have to get second and third shots, and more importantly, you have to get easy baskets in transition. We’ve worked really hard at practice this week on getting back to being aggressive on what we’re doing on the defensive end to get us some easier baskets on the offensive end. We’re trying to get back to running on every possession and trying to attack teams before they can set the defense.”
Cincinnati is hardly the only team that has had low-scoring games in Big East play. Connecticut scored 44 points in Wednesday’s loss at Georgetown, the Hoyas were held to 49 points in a victory over Providence on December 31st, and Pittsburgh managed 39 points in a home game against Rutgers on January 11th. It didn’t mean that Jim Calhoun, John Thompson III, and Jamie Dixon forgot how to coach.
“Fans are entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think they realize how hard it is to score in the Big East,” said Kilpatrick. “Every day you face something different. Teams have scouting reports and they adjust their defenses to the way that we play and the way that everybody else plays. Lately, the teams in the Big East have been doing a great job of that.”
“Look at Syracuse,” said Coach Cronin. “They are number one in the country in steals, but in their last three games, they scored 58 at Notre Dame, 60 at Cincinnati, and 63 against West Virginia. Their scoring totals are coming down because teams are not giving them all of those fast break points.”
So in an effort to get the Bearcats back to forcing turnovers and getting some easy hoops, Coach Cronin has been “cracking the whip” at the crack of dawn.
“No mistake has gone unchallenged or unpunished this week,” Mick told me. “But the guys’ attitude has been great. Winning will take of itself if your focus is on playing smart, having intensity, and staying together as a team.”
“You never know what’s going to happen with Coach Cronin,” said Kilpatrick. “I think it’s been a good idea though. We looked at the last couple of games that we played and it was embarrassing. Everyone knows that and everybody’s mindset has been different. The past few days have been great.”