Heard it From Hoard: Column 38
Before Cincinnati beat Louisville on New Year's Day, Rick Pitino's won/loss record against his former assistant coaches was a ridiculous 21-4.
That's an incredible stat when you consider that the Pitino coaching tree makes up a "who's who" of the profession, including Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Herb Sendek, and NBA head coaches Jim O'Brien and Reggie Theus.
All of Pitino's previous losses were to Tubby - until Mick Cronin added his name to the list with a 58-57 win at Freedom Hall.
"People can say 'Mick did a good job coaching,' but it's not Mick Cronin vs. Rick Pitino," the Bearcats head coach told me after the game. "My players won the game. If you look at John Williamson - he totally outplayed Earl Clark who's an NBA draft pick someday. Jamual Warren had 7 assists and 8 defensive rebounds for a point guard - that's huge. We took on their best lineup and their best shot. They played all of their main guys and Rick had 'em prepared to play. Our guys did a tremendous job."
Mick's right - the players deserve the credit. But a key coaching decision helped. With 4.8 seconds to go and UC leading by a point, Pitino called a time out to diagram a game-winning attempt. Since Mick spent two years on Pitino's staff, I asked if he knew what his former boss was going to do.
"I didn't think he knew what I was going to do since he's never been on my staff - he's obviously never going to work for me," Cronin said with a laugh. "We went to a 1-3-1 zone and our guys did a great job of execution coming out of that time out. Louisville ended up with a desperation shot. I was concerned if we played man-to-man that they'd drive the ball and get fouled. I wanted to make sure they ended up with a jump shot to win it. I did not want to put the game in the officials' hands on the road. With the ball on the sideline like that you can eliminate half of the court with five seconds to go by playing 1-3-1."
After a 4-7 start, I heard plenty of people speculate that the Bearcats might not win more than a couple of games the rest of the season. Well, they've already taken care of that with wins over Miami and Louisville, and narrow losses to Memphis, Xavier, and NC State offer further proof that the Bearcats have come a long way in a short period of time.
"I think our December schedule really helped us," Cronin said after the Louisville win. "If this was our first road game of the year we would have been dead in the water. We got that out of our system. If wasn't good for our overall record, but as I told the players, 'Your fate will be decided in the Big East.' We should continue to improve - key word being should. Effort and attitude are the things that separate teams in January and February when the going gets rough."
By winning their league opener on the road, the 'Cats have taken their first step toward making it to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. Who knows, maybe they'll even face Louisville again, giving Mick another shot at Pitino. According to Cronin, one win over his mentor isn't enough.
"Let's hope we're going to get more of 'em over the next few years because I know I'm not going anywhere and I don't think he's going anywhere either."
In honor of the Big East opener, the topic for "Dan and Chuck's Starting Five" during the Louisville broadcast was our all-time all-Big East team. After much debate, we settled on the following lineup.
Center - Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
Forward - Derrick Coleman, Syracuse
Forward - Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown
Guard - Chris Mullin, St. John's
Guard - Pearl Washington, Syracuse
Finally, this week's obligatory photo of the handsome lad comes from his sledding debut.
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