With five wins in six games and a 22-point drubbing of No. 17 Georgetown in the pocket, Cincinnati enters the Big East tournament one of the hottest teams in the conference.
Rarely does the Bearcats leader lose an intense scowl or pause furious calculation of tactics on the sideline.
But, as Sean Kilpatrick's 3-pointer from the wing dropped in the middle of a 26-8 Bearcats run to close out the 17th-ranked team in the nation, Fifth Third Arena exploded.
Cronin smiled. And applauded. It's difficult not to these days.
There may be teams playing better basketball than the
During a Senior Day lovefest there was no hiding the realization of what's occurred in this arena over the last five months. A team off the radar and picked 12th in the conference preseason bullied its way to a third victory against a Top 25 team in the last two weeks. It blew out the storied Georgetown Hoyas by 22 points on the final day of the regular season to complete a stretch of five wins in six games.
Cronin loves what this team has become right now. Judging by the near deafening response of 12,197 around him, the fan base approves as well.
Kilpatrick jumped on top of the scorers table following the win and celebrated in front of his student section. A line of UC players paraded around the court for a victory lap with the fan base.
Scenes like the one Saturday haven't been commonplace on this campus for a long time. Why not enjoy the ride?
"When you are coaching at a big-time place in the Big East with the tradition that we have, Final 4s and national championships," Cronin said, "that's how it should be."
Even if asked how they thought Saturday should be before the game, it would be hard to imagine Cronin, any of his six seniors or the most optimistic of staff members writing a more fulfilling script.
Yancy Gates of the 50 percent free throw shooting midway through conference play knocked down all 10 of his shots from the line. The entire Bearcats team of 65 percent free throw shooting on the season made 20 in a row at one point.
Larry Davis, whose struggled throughout Big East play with his 3-point shot, delivered a momentum shifting triple from the corner that Cronin called the "biggest shot of the game."
Darnell Wilks, of the freakish athletic ability, used it constructively to leap over
Rashad Bishop, whose footprint on the program will be stamped as the defensive stopper making the plays not seen in the stat sheet, took over the game during the decisive final stretch despite never scoring a point. His defense of
Senior walk-on Eddie Tyree was able to take the court to a fan base chanting his name for almost two minutes at the conclusion of the blowout.
The team built on depth saw nine players score a bucket and nobody contribute more than four.
Depth and defense struck again.
"This is the perfect time to find what you do best to help yourself win," Gates said. "For us, that's defense."
Because of this run, anticipation of the postseason -- which UC will kick off Wednesday night at in
"Early in the Big East we were a little shell-shocked with the games we had to play," Cronin said. "I don't think we had the confidence to win those games. Our guys are really confident. You got to believe in your talent. My goal with this team is to get them to believe in themselves. You are seeing it now. They are really starting to believe in what they are capable of."
For Cronin and the Bearcats, that's a development worth smiling about.