After having a few days to reflect on one of the most successful and challenging seasons in Bearcats hoop history I am left with the following observations as I look ahead to next year.
Mick Cronin can coach and motivate players. I know I have said this before but I am more stating the obvious for those who have had trouble letting go of unfounded criticism of the coach. He has rebuilt; won; gone to back to back NCAA tournaments; advance to the Sweet 16 and maintained the integrity of the University and the athletic program. I hope that no matter where this team ends up next year, you don't ignore these past two years and the groundwork he put in to reestablish this program. More high school recruits are taking notice as well as the national basketball circle.
Observation number 2: Yancy Gates had a successful career at UC. He benchmarked his 4 years with a Big East Finals appearance and a Sweet 16 stamp of approval. Did he dominate the way many of us thought he would? No; not in the way we hoped but he did in other ways. I saw him leading on the floor and on the bench communicating with his teammates. Taking a chance on a university when he had the option to go to a college with a winning program and a veteran coach. He wanted to be part of the turnaround and was. Any excitement you had during this run in the NCAA tournament started when people saw the best player stay home and buy in.
Observation number 3: A large majority of fans came back. After the first of the year, UC averaged over 10K fans per game and the visiting team and broadcasters could tell the difference. Even the players noticed, and that makes them more attractive for those nationally televised games that bring notoriety and other benefits to UC and the city of Cincinnati. What a statement you made about backing your team and they need you now more than ever.
Observation number 4: The Big East is still the Big East. With the departure of West Virginia and the pending departure of Pitt and Syracuse this conference can still lay claim to being one the premiere basketball conferences in the country. It still has brand value and add to that Madison Square Garden, the basketball Mecca, will still be the home of one of the few conference tournaments that actually have a full house during its post season. I know some of the new additions aren't sexy and located in metropolitan areas but they will benefit from the affiliation in their recruiting as well. The reality is UC has a chance ironically to sit atop the conference in football and basketball with Coach Cronin and Coach Jones maintaining their consistency of effort within their programs.
Observation number 5: The Women's basketball program is slowly but surely gaining ground as a player in the Big East and basketball in general. While many of you were caught up in the men's run and rightfully so, Jamelle Elliott is putting pieces in place every chance she gets; and their NIT appearance, first round win and marked improvement are reaffirmations she was the right hire. I hope they can now solve the dilemma that plagues so many women's programs and that's getting people to the games. I have no doubt she will not rest until this team can look the UConn's and Tennessee's of the world in the eye and play on par.
My final observation: The athletic department seems to be in great hand with Whit Babcock. My conversations with him and my conversation with others where his name surfaces have yielded the same responses: very sincere and is genuinely interested in the people who run the programs and how collectively they can make the athletic department better. His presence in the stands at games, at various events and low-key approach certainly allows him angles of understanding many could potentially miss in leadership positions. I think he will grow the program the right way and I hope Cincinnati welcomes his family accordingly.
I am looking forward to the next chapters of sports in UC athletics and all that comes with it including baseball, track and field, golf, Lacrosse, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, cross country and soccer.
It's one for all and all for the Paw!
That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat