Heard it From Hoard: Column 84
By now you've probably seen the Doug Gottlieb quote.
Last month in a column on ESPN.com, Gottlieb listed Cincinnati as a team that "he expects to see in the Top 25 at some point next season."
"Mick Cronin's boys will finally be able to score enough to win 23 to 25 games and get in the NCAA tourney," Gottlieb wrote. "The Bearcats compete as tough physically as any team I have watched and now they are developing the skills to match."
Coach Cronin had not heard of Gottlieb's flattering comments until I passed them along in a recent phone call.
"People base preseason predictions off of returning players and we'll be returning 90% of our scoring, rebounding, and assists," Mick told me. "We're also going to add Ibrahima Thomas, Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and at least one other player to the mix. I think with natural progression we're looking to have a big year this year. I think it's also important to have Doug Gottlieb and different ESPN people talk about us that way. That's obviously a positive for the program and I welcome it."
Immediately after the disappointing end to last season, Mick was tough to reach - not because he was dodging my phone calls but because he was traveling far and wide for additional recruits.
There are only so many good players available in the spring and the battle for them is always unpredictable. But to me - strictly as an outside observer - it seemed especially cutthroat this year.
"Spring recruiting is crazy," Cronin said. "Players get over-recruited in the spring. Coaches are changing jobs left and right, and the dynamics are changing by the hour, not by the day. For fans it's tough because all you can do is follow what you read on the internet, and the truth is far from what you read. There are a lot of instances where you stop recruiting a player for whatever reason but can't comment about it. The coaching changes in the spring changed the landscape of a lot of things. We obviously walked away from one recruiting situation and we have one scholarship and we know what we're going to do with it. We should be announcing something soon."
While recruiting never really stops, May is a so-called "dead period" where coaches can't make visits, so Mick has been back on campus working on individual player development.
"It was good to get back to Cincinnati," Cronin said. "I think our guys needed a rest - we were a beat-up team mentally and physically. But we've had a great spring. Guys have really been working hard so it's been good to get off the road since the end of April and get back into workouts.
Mick's former boss at Louisville, Rick Pitino, has a reputation for being one of the best coaches in the country at getting his players to improve their bodies and their games in the offseason. I asked Mick what he learned from Pitino in that area.
"It's a commitment to individual improvement," he answered. "You get two hours a week with your guys off the floor and you have to use it to motivate them to take ownership of their own game. We talk about owning your own business. When it comes to basketball, your game is your private company. You've got to know its strengths and weaknesses and know what you have to do to improve your business."
Of course, it helps when rival businesses get weaker. After placing four teams in the Elite Eight last year, most of the Big East's top teams will suffer major losses on their rosters. NBAdraft.net, projects 13 Big East players to get drafted and that does not include several non-seniors (Scottie Reynolds, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Luke Harangody, Mac Koshwal, and Dar Tucker) who have entered their names into the draft.
"It's all about players," Coach Cronin told me. "We have a team that's played a season together, had some ups and downs, and learned what they're going to have to do to accomplish their goals. We're back to normal. We have returning talent, an influx of new talent, a returning all-league player (Deonta Vaughn) and a returning all-freshman team player (Yancy Gates). I believe us and West Virginia (Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks) are the only teams in the league that have two all-league (including all-freshman) players returning. I believe 10 of the 15 all-league players are gone and I don't think anybody else has two. Villanova is bringing a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans in to go with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes so that's a little bit different. I think they'll be picked to win the league."
Gottlieb has Villanova, West Virginia, and Georgetown in his preseason Top 25, and lists UConn, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, and Cincinnati as teams to keep an eye on.
That's pretty good company to keep, don't you think?
I'd love to hear from you. The address is email@example.com.
Also, if you're looking for reading material, check out my summer adventures with the Pawtucket Red Sox at http://danhoard.mlblogs.com/
Finally, enjoy a recent photo of the handsome lad who turned 3 in early May.