For Mick Cronin, losing the Big East Tournament championship to Louisville was painful because you never know when you'll have that opportunity again.
Notre Dame has been in the league since 1995 and has never advanced to the Big East Tournament final. Villanova went to the NCAA Tournament for the past seven years and made it to the Final Four in 2009, but the Wildcats have not made it to the final game of the Big East Tournament since 1997.
But as difficult as Saturday's 50-44 loss to the Cardinals was for Mick to stomach, making it to Saturday night at Madison Square Garden seemed like a pipe dream in March of 2006.
"Six years ago when I got the job, my first team meeting looked like a golf team," said Coach Cronin with a laugh. "It was a foursome - Ron Allen, Branden Miller, Ced McGowan, and Connor Barwin. I had a walk-on, a football player, a hurricane victim, and Cedric. Six years later we're playing for the Big East Championship, so yeah, we're proud. That's what I was brought here to do, but the kids need to get the credit."
The sting of Saturday's loss would be far worse if Cincinnati was not headed to the NCAA Tournament. The 6th-seeded Bearcats are headed to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville where they will face 11th-seeded Texas on Friday afternoon at 12:15.
"We're probably most happy that we don't play until Friday, and also that it's in Nashville where our fans can get to the game," said Cronin. "Texas is a big-name team and that will get the attention of my players. My biggest concern was if we were a 5 or a 6 seed and played a team that wasn't a big name."
The Bearcats enter the NCAA Tourney with seven wins in their last nine games, highlighted by Friday's 71-68 upset over #2 Syracuse.
"It was a great run in New York by our guys," said Cronin. "We got a little emotionally drained by having to do what we had to do on Thursday and Friday, but we learned two lessons: When we're at our best we can beat anybody - (the Syracuse win) was not an aberration and we beat Georgetown when we were not at our best. But we understand what happened against Louisville. We understand why we win and why we lose. So we have a chance to get rested up and get ready for Friday."
It's been a wild year. The highlights include a school-record seven wins over ranked teams and a trip to the Big East final; the lowlights include a loss to Presbyterian and the brawl with Xavier.
"The kids had great resiliency to hang in there this year," said Cronin. "We needed to develop as a team that lost five seniors and it was going to take us some time. It was a little more eventful than we had hoped, with injuries and suspensions and what we had to go through and some tough early losses, but I think our togetherness was the key for us. I'm just really proud of the kids."
I hope you'll join us on Monday night at 8:00 at the original Montgomery Inn for the Mick Cronin radio show. We had our biggest crowd of the year last week and hope to top it tonight. If you can't make it, you can tune in on 700 WLW.
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