We had an interesting media availability yesterday. One of the rewarding aspects of press conferences with Mick Cronin is he almost always says something interesting or revealing that makes you think. That may be less so for somebody who has been around the program longer than the two seasons I have, but I doubt it.
With Bob Huggins coming to town, all the old questions creep up about what he did here and following in his footsteps. I didn't know Mick Cronin's history of addressing Huggins legacy, but thought now that the program is more safely established than it had ever been he might be more open to embracing all the controversy which came before his arrival.
He mentioned it being a very fine line between embracing what was done here in the past as apposed to promoting the future.
He said his approach is just to state the facts:
"The facts of the case are Cincinnati athletics resurgence in the modern athletics is all due to the winning that coach Huggins brought to the table here. We would not be in the Big East. Our football team would never have had the winnings they had because they never would have been able to recruit to a Big East conference. We would have never gotten into a BCS conference if it wasn't for our men's basketball program and their national status and that is due to Bob Huggins. That is a fact. It would be delusional to think that we would be even in the Big East without what he has done here."
But how much does any of that resonate as far as recruiting kids to Cincinnati, outside of being in the Big East conference? Not much, Cronin said.
"You'd be amazed kids now, their aunts, uncles, fathers, they know, hey Cincinnati has always been a basketball tradition-rich school. What happened to our program being stripped to the bone and having to go through the losing due to lack of personnel hurt us because today's kid only knows what happened the last three or four years. The lunchroom mentality prevails. There is a reason kids pay $200 for gym shoes and $100 for certain kind of t-shirts, because that is what is cool in the lunch room. When you can win and get on television and announcers talk about you kids actually believe that certain coaches put players in the NBA. Where certain guys they could go to Northen Kentucky, with all due respect, and still be the first pick in the draft. Today's kid thinks that. So, for us, winning is important. Making sure we show continued progress and getting on television because recruiting is everything. You are only going to be as good as your players. You have to develop them, but development is relative to the talent you bring in. Winning is everything. So, the winning of the past, it helps, but it's not what you would think."
And one final anecdote on the topic:
"Kids this day and age, kids we recruit now it is because we are in the Big East. It's not because Oscar Robertson played here. They don't know who Nick Van Exel was as a player and how awesome he was and what kind of pro career he had. Today's kid doesn't even know. They even ask who the guy is on the statue."
Maybe not earth-shattering stuff, but an interesting look into the world of recruiting and another side of the business of rebuilding a program.
Even in Huggins final years here he could sell Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount and Danny Fortson to recruits. There was a reason strong, physical forward like Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks continued to show up on campus.
In Cronin's case, no 17-year-old wanted to hear about those guys. He had to recruit to a hope of the future, to a belief in progress. That's one of the reasons the get of Lance Stephenson was so impressive. That's one of the reasons Cronin hopes to be on the brink of cycling through his own tradition. Being able to walk into the gym as the guy who recruited Lance to Cincinnati suddenly earns the respect of top NY players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas.
All that said, playing Bob Huggins every year, the novelty wears off and Cronin admitted it to being "just another game" for his crew, but it will be fantastic to again see Bob Huggins on the Fifth Third sideline. Huggins arrival adds extra intrigue pretty much for the fans only.
--- Dan Hoard wrote yesterday about beating WVU at home two years ago feeling like a turning point for Cronin and the program. It didn't quite turn out that way. Saturday feels like it could be as well.
--- Dixon had a funny moment. It was hardly a secret among the reporters that Dixon was requested for Thursday's session to discuss the turnover at the end of the West Virginia game in the Big East tournament. In particular, to discuss how it affected him as a guy that was incredibly motivated this offseason and improved as much as anyone on the team.
Sometimes the guys don't see our motivations. Dixon was not among them.
Dixon closed talking about the topic saying, "I really don't think about that stuff."
Bill Koch followed with stating we (the media) like to think about it.
Dixon said, "I know," with a face that just screamed of a desire for people to stop asking him about that game. "And I knew that was why they brought me in here!"
--- It's hard to argue with the improvement in Dixon's game, however. He's averaging 12.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 26.6 minutes a game.
Last season, he averaged 15.8 minutes per game. His scoring average was 4.9 points and 2.0 rebounds.
If you paced those numbers out over 40 minutes, he would have averaged 18 points this year compared to 12.4 last year.
"(The turnover) affected me majorly," he said. "I just wanted to go work hard. It showed me you got to work if you want to get better."
--- Huggins confirmed leading scorer Casey Mitchell will not play on Saturday and has not made the trip. Of course, when Cronin was asked if he thought Mitchell would play, he only responded with, "yes."
Remember, Notre Dame's Carleton Scott was supposed to be out until early February with his injury and returned against UC to spark the Irish's early surge.
Regardless, there's no denying WVU could have used Mitchell in their loss to Louisville on Wednesday. They were 4 of 22 from the floor in the second half and blew an 11-point halftime lead.
They believe their backs are against the wall in this story from the Daily Mail.
--- Joe Mazzulla is the secret weapon in the absence of Mitchell, according to the Charleston Gazette.
--- WVU will be forced to have a 10 a.m. shootaround for the 8 p.m. game on Saturday. That's because UC needs to clear the gym for the women's game against UConn that afternoon.
I'm sure that news went over well in the Huggins camp.
--- Want to know more about the state of WVU hoops right now? Here you go.
--- Did you see Bearcats Sports Weekly last night? If you didn't, I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. You can make it up by watching it here.
--- Great story and extremely relevant to the Bearcats from Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger. He wrote about the strength of the Big East affecting seeding (or being left out) in the NCAA tournament.
Of course, some people think the Big East as the top conference is a matter of size over substance.
--- Speaking of great stories, here is one on UC's Shelly Bellman and all the injuries she has overcome.
--- If Tom Izzo turns this mess around and takes MSU to the Final 4 again, we should just name the trophy after him.
--- Ivan Maisel writes about the nightmare that a relationship between boosters and ADs can be in the wake of the UConn debate.
--- Some randomness...
--- Brian Wilson is cuckoo for Cocoa Pufffs.
--- It has officially been too long since Indiana had a big win if this is how they react.
--- The Internet went down in Egypt. Yes, the Internet.
--- Not much, but some more snow last night. I've about had it with winter. I'm over it.
This collection of Winter fails makes me feel slightly better.