As I watched an angry and frustrated Mick Cronin barely touch his postgame meal after Wednesday’s loss at Providence, I was reminded of the advice he used to get from his mother. As the wife of a long-time basketball coach, the late Peggy Cronin didn’t necessarily want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“My sister has multiple degrees and is highly educated and my mom – God rest her soul – told me to do better in school,” Mick told me recently. “I should have gone to law school and then I would be able to eat and sleep at night.”
But as a huge fan of the Godfather movies (the theme song is the current ringtone on Mick’s cell phone) he is also quick to quote the fictional mobster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II by saying, “This is the business that we’ve chosen.”
Business has mostly been good for Cronin and the 17th-ranked Bearcats, but they came up short against a Providence team that is no pushover. The Friars are in the Top 100 of the RPI rankings and were coming off of a road win at Villanova on Sunday.
“People get the schedule at the beginning of the year and they go through it and say, ‘There’s a win,'” said Coach Cronin. “My brother loves to do that. I always tell him, ‘I don’t want to hear it, and I guarantee that it won’t be close to what you think.’ You can’t think about March right now and you can’t think back to November and December. You’ve got to try to get better each and every day and know that the minute you let up, you’re going to lose in this league.
“That’s how we clawed and scraped our way to rebuilding Cincinnati basketball. It’s not because we have five NBA draft picks running around. We did it by staying focused on just winning the next game. My job is to make sure that the guys are focused on that and nothing else because if you go into a game thinking you’re supposed to win, you will lose.”
The Bearcats scored a season-low 50 points in Wednesday’s defeat and have averaged just 54 points in their five losses this season. While UC has limitations on offense, ESPN’s Jay Bilas says that the Bearcats are deserving of their national ranking.
“I think that Cincinnati is one of the Top 20 teams in the country and they grade out that way from an efficiency standpoint,” Bilas recently told Mo Egger on ESPN 1530. “Defense is primarily carrying it for them. Cincinnati is an excellent defensive team and a really good rebounding team. Where the Bearcats can get into trouble is when they turn the ball over.”
Bilas made those comments one day before the Providence loss and proved to be prophetic when Cincinnati committed 15 turnovers against the Friars.
“That really hurts us in a lot of ways,” said Coach Cronin. “You can’t score if you turn it over, and you might get an offensive rebound if you get a shot off. The turnover also fuels the other team’s fast break and eliminates our defense. Just don’t throw it to them and we might score. We have some guys that can play.”
“Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are their two best offensive players, but JaQuon Parker does a terrific job when he gets the ball in the right spots,” Bilas told Egger. “A lot of basketball comes down to ball movement and player movement. We can sit and talk about running this play or that play but it’s not plays – it’s players. I know that Mick Cronin tells his guys, ‘Be a player, don’t just run the play.’ The plays that he runs are all really well-designed.”
For the Bearcats to operate at peak efficiency on offense, they need Wright to play as well as he had before spraining his knee against DePaul. In four games since the injury, the senior point guard is 9-for-41 overall (22%), 5-for-24 from three point range (21%), and has as many turnovers as assists (9-9).
“He’s been banged up and just can’t catch a break,” said Cronin. “He may not look as tough as (former Bearcat) Bobby Brannen, but he’s every bit as tough. He’s every bit as tough as any guy that I’ve ever been around as a coach.
“For him, it’s just a matter of staying healthy and getting his rhythm back. The more he practices and plays games; he’ll get back to being his normal self. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to play well.”
Wright and his teammates certainly don’t have time to rest and recover. They begin a critical stretch of three tough home games in seven days on Saturday night against Pitt.
“The longer you’re in this business – and this is my 10th year as a head coach – you come to realize that this is a game of survival,” said Cronin.
His mother tried to warn him.
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