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Talking basketball schedule with Mick Cronin

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We take a break from your reguarly scheduled football program to talk a little basketball with UC hoops coach Mick Cronin.

The program has been more in the news than normal this time of year thanks to the three-game sweep in Canada. But, the real basketball season begins once the schedule is announced as it was on Friday.

Here is the full schedule.

Most of the games were already known before the schedule release, but there were a few interesting twists with the release.

The top things the stick out to me are the Xavier game being moved from December to Jan. 6, two road games in the MAC including the first trip to Oxford since 1993 and the early January gauntlet of four of five games on the road including Villanova, St. John's and Syracuse.

Outside of that, no major surprises. Still, I caught up with Cronin to talk about the schedule and his decision to ruin my New Year's Eve with a home game at 8 p.m. against Seton Hall.

Between all the Big East television options, teams playing in different venues, it takes quite a while to put the final schedule together. But Cronin said he accomplished what he was hoping to get out of it.

"Scheduling is tough. It's one area in life everyone is allowed to look out for their own interest," Cronin said. "But getting the right schedule is important. You want to get a couple of big-name games, obviously. Having Oklahoma on national TV, Xavier on national TV, Dayton is a neutral site game for us, not part of season ticket package."

Personally, I will continue to back the MAC as an Ohio U. alum, and going to play on the road in the MAC is no easy task. There is a reason the conference continually wins games in the Big Dance. UC twice goes into MAC arenas to play at Miami and at Toledo. They are obviously games the Bearcats should win and can be nice RPI point boosters, but they can be trap games much like traveling to UAB was last year.

"You have to try to play a couple of road games," Cronin said. "You don't want to wait until conference play to play a couple road games.

"With Toledo and Miami, obviously, it is dangerous playing MAC schools. We have great rivalry with Miami. Toledo is a result of Memphis dropping us from the schedule when they had the coaching change. We were able to have a home and home series with them. You accomplish a couple of goals there. You and I know the MAC is tough, but hopefully we can steal a couple road wins and get some RPI points. But those games are dangerous."

 

Last year UC made a splash playing in the Maui Invitational and earned some huge out of conference wins against Vanderbilt and Maryland that nearly pushed them over the top into the NCAA tournament. The big names like that aren't on this year's schedule. Outside of Xavier, Oklahoma will be the biggest name game and they are down after a rough year where they lost thier final nine games in going 13-18.

Luckily, when you play in the Big East, a year where there are no Vandys or Marylands isn't a big deal. It's not like they won't have opportunities for Top 25 victories.

"We play 18 Big East games," Cronin said. "Our fate is going to be decided in the conference. When you have 18 games in this league, imagine playing 12 SEC games. It's crazy. And then go play the tournament. Like last year we played 21 Big East games. We get all we want in our conference. Preconference is important to get your team on the road. You got to get them on the road at some point and get in some nationally televised games."

Last year, UC played Xavier in early December and for the first time in a long time it was booted back to ESPNU. Neither side was about to let that happen again this year -- unfortunately it meant moving the game into conference play. UC worked with the Big East, however, to get an open week prior to meet all the obligations with Skyline.

It was well worth it to assure the game is on ESPN or ESPN2.

"We just wanted to get it on a national stage," Cronin said. "That's where it belongs. Unfrotuatnely with the whole ESPNU situation there are just too many local people not being able to watch the games."  

The Big East schedule is a monster. There will be few stretches of five games more difficult for any team in the country than when UC goes @Villanova, vs. USF, @Syracuse, @Notre Dame, @St. John's over the course of 13 days.

"It's like that every year," Cronin said. "That's why you need a veteran team." 

Cronin believes he has that more than any previous year in his tenure.

"This is best we have been equipped from a mental standpoint to go through it," he said. "Defintiely from a maturity standpoint. Guys that understand the grind. The biggest for us is going to be Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker because they are still only sophomores." 

Cronin talked about the encouraging aspects of the team's trip to Canada. But most notably was the business-like attitude with which the team traveled and handled the games. They never let anybody back into games. It's a sign of the maturity needed to manuever through a Big East schedule.

"Our togetherness has to be real because adversity comes in our league," Cronin said. "You are not going undefeated -- nobody is. You lose a game, you need to turnaround bounce back and win the next one. Everyone has to stay together an grind it out. That is what Big East basketball is all about. It's a grind. It tests your togetherness and toughness. We have a more veteran team. Hopefully those are things we'll be able to pass the test on all that stuff."

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