Mick Cronin is not afraid to get second-guessed. Case in point - last night's decision to start five subs in a 94-58 win over St. Francis.
Think about it. What if the Red Flash had jumped out to quick early lead, gained a little momentum, and made it a game? Mick would have been blasted for everything from not having enough respect for the opponent, to jinxing a team on a winning streak. Admittedly, after seeing St. Francis in action, the odds of the move backfiring were slim, but it still took some guts.
Call it a gut decision that worked out perfectly.
"We talk a lot about being unselfish as a team and the importance of sacrificing for each other and there are a lot of guys who have been doing that," Coach Cronin said. "There are guys here who are good enough to play a lot of minutes at other schools and they're here giving us great effort and leadership off of the bench. I just thought it was the right thing to do to let those guys hear their name called at the beginning of the game - I would have liked to start Justin Jackson too, but you can't start six guys. We told the guys the plan at our morning shoot-around, and the way it was received by the starters was indicative of why we've been having some success. They were excited for those guys."
In his first college start, Sean Kilpatrick erupted for 21 points in 25 minutes. It was his third 20-point outing of the year, meaning that SK has more 20-point outings in his career than anyone else on the roster.
"Sean Kilpatrick was not a highly-rated recruit because he doesn't wow you with great athletic dunks," Cronin said. "The advantage that Tony Stubblefield and I had in recruiting Sean is that we saw him play in high school games and not in summer events. In real games you could see that this guy knows how to play. He knows how to get fouled and knows how to get open. Little things on the offensive end that don't always show up in the summertime."
Larry Davis and Yancy Gates also had big games as each scored a season-high 18 points. Yancy was especially efficient as he hit 8 of 10 shots. All but one of his baskets came in the paint, including three dunks.
"The more patient we are, the better chance we have of getting Yancy Gates the ball with two feet in the paint," Cronin said. "If we can get him the ball with two feet in the paint, he's going to score or get fouled. But it takes time. You can't just plant him in the paint because the other team is going to stand three guys around him. People say, 'Why is he out on the perimeter?' Well, don't worry - he's going to end up in front of the rim if we run our offense and don't shoot before he gets there. The more we get him the ball with two feet in the paint, the better we'll be on offense."
There was a scary moment in the first half as Cashmere Wright walked off the court with his left arm dangling straight down and was rushed to the locker room. The sophomore guard returned to the bench a few minutes later but did not return to the court.
"He's had a problem with his left shoulder all year," Coach Cronin told me after the game. "We're just being cautious with it. I don't know what happened tonight - something with a loose ball - but you saw him immediately grab it and common sense rules the day in that situation. It's something that he may have to get fixed at the end of the year. He's been having that issue all year but I think he'll be OK."
The Bearcats will take a 12-0 record into Tuesday's Big East opener against DePaul, but Coach Cronin knows what you're thinking: Has the non-conference schedule sufficiently prepared the team for the meat grinder they're about to face over the next 2 ½ months?
"We have juniors and seniors that have years of Big East experience and that's the most important thing," Cronin said. "We're just trying to fine-tune ourselves to get ready to go. I love our team attitude, but we still have some things we're tying to improve."
Hard to second-guess that.
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