Last year after the Bearcats' thrilling road win at Villanova, a woman stopped Mick Cronin on his way to the team bus. It was the mother of one of the 'Nova players and she told Mick how much she appreciated his postgame comments after the Xavier brawl.
A few weeks later, a few of us were having dinner with Coach Cronin during the NCAA tournament when a similar thing happened. This time it was a man who identified himself as a Musketeers fan and he praised Mick for the same thing.
I bring this up now because the Bearcats have dropped three of their last four games and I haven't received a single e-mail criticizing Coach Cronin. It's my belief that the way he handled himself after last year's Xavier game caused many people to look at Mick in a different light and reconsider what he's accomplished as Cincinnati's head coach.
"I don't know because I'm not sure how people look
at me," Mick said when I asked if he agreed.
"You know me really well, and I'm concerned with being a great father, a
great friend, a good brother, and a good son, but most importantly a great
father. (My daughter) Sammy's opinion of
me is the one that matters most."
Of course, the key for any coach to win over fans is to win games. Cincinnati has increased or equaled its win total in each of the last five seasons, made it to the Big East Tournament championship game for the first time last year, and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.
Simply put, Mick Cronin has successfully rebuilt Bearcat basketball.
"We had to rebuild a winning culture," said Cronin. "Now the expectation of winning is there and the players are willing to listen, practice appropriately, and give the required effort - I don't like to say extra effort - the required effort that it takes to win games."
After starting this season 12-0 and climbing into the Top 10 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Bearcats have stumbled over the last two weeks in home losses to New Mexico, St. John's, and Notre Dame. Scoring was a problem in all three defeats as Cincinnati averaged 55.3 points.
"Offensively, we're just leaving too much on the table," said Cronin. "We had seven second half turnovers (against Notre Dame) and they were all unforced. We shot over 50% in the second half, but we didn't get enough shots off. We have to get 'tighter' on offense and the guy with the ball has to slow down so he can make a play. Whether it's a simple ball reversal, making an assist, or putting the ball in the basket - when we slow down we're fine."
It would obviously help if Cincinnati had a reliable low post scorer.
"Would it be nice to have some guy down low that's a monster that we could throw it to? Sure, but that's an easy excuse," Mick told me. "We just have to do a better job of moving the basketball. The key to making shots is taking easy ones. I need to do a better job of coaching our guys so that our passing improves. As our passing improves, we'll make plenty of shots."
Additionally, the Bearcats need to get more offense out of their defense. Last year in a 71-55 win over Notre Dame, the 'Cats had 11 steals. In Monday's 66-60 loss, UC only managed two steals and 21 deflections (UC's goal is 40).
"We're constructed to play in the passing lanes, run up and down, and stay on the attack," said Cronin. "We need to be on the attack. The key for us is to get into transition."
At one point last year, the Bearcats lost three straight Big East games to fall to 5-4 in league play. After that, they did not lose back-to-back games for the rest of the season.
There are at least 16 games remaining this season, and Cronin and the 'Cats will look to get back on the winning track on Saturday at Rutgers.
"When you're coaching basketball, it's never as bad as it seems when your team is struggling and it's never as good as it seems when your team is winning - that's why you have to watch the film and evaluate," Mick told me.
"They don't give away wins in this league. We have to take it as a learning experience and do what we have to do to get better."
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