The Crosstown Classic teaches lessons every year. This 2013 edition has Mick Cronin hoping to find toughness in his team going forward.
CINCINNATI -- For 50 minutes following the final horn of Xavier 64, Cincinnati 47 of the Crosstown Classic, Mick Cronin disappeared into the locker room inside the hallways on court level of U.S. Bank Arena.
Four Musketeers players made their way to the media quarantine area discussing the 364 days anxiously awaiting a shot at revenge and dedicating themselves to the team concept.
Chris Mack followed soon after. He opened with the word "grit" and closed six minutes later explaining the pressure leading up to this game.
Then silence and anxious shifting set in. Cronin was nowhere to be seen, still buried in the post game catharsis with his team. It was time to ask the hard questions.
This game and the raucous 10,250 shaking the downtown arena of the city's game always offer a telling revelation. This game peels back the layers to expose what exists inside the core of these players. This game teaches who responds to adversity, who embraces pressure, who embodies toughness.
When eventually slipping through the curtains to the media podium following the locker room soul search, Cronin took a drink of water and allowed his stream of consciousness to tell the story of what he saw behind the layers Saturday night.
"We are not good enough right now," Cronin said. "We are not tough enough. That's just the facts of life."
Sunday morning analyst hats will be worn across the Christmas parties in West Chester and bars of Clifton. Trickling outside following mass at St. Saviour, UC alums will almost certainly discuss the struggle to find a second offensive weapon. Over chicken and waffles at Taste of Belgium two students are likely to breakdown the cons of this small lineup being beaten handily on the boards.
At Stones Lanes in Norwood Xavier fans will reflect in amazement at the repeated open looks as the Musketeers buried 11 of 16 from deep.
For Cronin and the players who looked at themselves in the mirror for 50 minutes following Saturday's loss, none of those strategic tactics will resonate.
The concern for the coach going forward isn't talent. This group holds as much or nearly the same amount of talent as many that have dominated this game and advanced in March. Those groups hung their hat on defense. They hung their hat on being tougher than their opponent.
"Right now defense is our problem," he said. "It's inexcusable. We are not tough enough on the defensive end. We are not tough enough on the backboard. We are not tough enough to get the ball to the open man. Really anything that involves toughness right now is a big problem for our team."
This game offers a glimpse into the state of a team like few others in the country.
"We walked into a street fight with a pink outfit on," Cronin said. "We got outplayed, outcoached in every facet of the game. There's not a whole lot to talk about the way I see it. It's pretty self-explanatory if you were here tonight."
The road doesn't become easier for the Bearcats. Their season has only just begun. If they thought the bright lights of the city were blinding, try those of the nation at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.
Then a conference schedule featuring six games against teams currently ranked in the top 16. Those 50 minutes inside the locker room at US Bank Arena might be looked back on as a moment of truth, clarity. At least, that's his hope. Of course, the time may not amount to much more than a temporary postponement of a post game meal. Time will tell.
"We've been down this road before," Cronin said. "It's not my first time. We either toughen up, meet the challenge, become a team that is tough enough to win games, tough enough to get the job done."
Cronin paused for the concerning flip side.
"Or we won't."
For 50 minutes, that amounted to a lot of introspection critical to the long-term growth of this edition of the Bearcats. Time will tell how important those 50 minutes proved to be.
"We need to do a whole lot of soul searching about who we are and what we are going to be," he said.
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