Adversity tends to bring out one’s true colors – even with a college basketball program. And when Mick Cronin was forced to sit out most of the 2014-15 campaign for precautionary reason due to a vascular condition known as arterial dissection, fans quickly learned the wherewithal of Cincinnati basketball.
A young team without any returning starters from the previous season, the Bearcats overcame the loss of their head coach, won 23 games and managed to reach the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive year. But more importantly, the group’s determination, toughness and togetherness illustrated the winning culture that has grown under Cronin’s leadership.
Ever since Cronin was named head coach in March 2006, the Cincinnati native and UC alumus has displayed a steadfast determination to return the Bearcats to national prominence. Facing a rebuilding job that started with a roster featuring only one returning letterman, Cronin’s commitment never wavered. Even while competing within arguably the sport’s toughest league ever organized – the old BIG EAST Conference.
Despite the surroundings, Cincinnati began the retooling process, becoming the only program from a major conference to improve its win total every season from 2007 to 2011, building from 11 wins in 2007 to 26 victories and a return to the NCAA tournament in 2011.
Now a fixture at the Big Dance, Cincinnati can include itself on an elite list of 11 programs appearing in each of the last five NCAA tournaments, along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, San Diego State, VCU and Wisconsin.
// FIVE CONSECUTIVE TRIPS TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
2014-15: A young, inexperienced group of newcomers and role players overcame the loss of its head coach due to health reasons and banded together to register a 23-11 mark and advance to the program’s first third-round NCAA tournament appearance since 2012. UC finished third in the conference but swept league-winner SMU and registered a victory at second-place Tulsa (in the only meeting between the schools) to secure the school’s fifth consecutive NCAA tournament invite. The Bearcats outlasted Purdue 66-65 in overtime in the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to previously unbeaten Kentucky, 64-51.
2013-14: Cincinnati won a share of the inaugural American Athletic Conference regular-season crown, the program’s first conference title since 2003-04, behind the efforts of AP All-American Sean Kilpatrick and league defensive player of the year Justin Jackson. Kilpatrick led The American with 20.6 points per game and Cronin was named The American’s Coach of the Year in leading UC to a 27-7 record – its most wins since 2001-02. The Bearcats strung together 15 consecutive wins, including their first 11 league games. UC was listed among the top 15 teams in the AP poll during each of the last eight weeks of the regular season, climbing as high as seventh.
2012-13: Senior Cashmere Wright fought through nagging injuries and, along with fellow senior JaQuon Parker and junior Sean Kilpatrick, helped lead the Bearcats to a 22-12 overall record and third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Wright finished his career as UC’s all-time steals leader (198) and Cronin claimed his 200th career coaching win. The Bearcats ranked sixth nationally with 6.1 blocks per game.
2011-12: Cincinnati advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, registered 26 wins for the second consecutive season and defeated a school record eight nationally ranked teams, including No. 2 Syracuse in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship. The Bearcats posted a school-record 12 wins in the BIG EAST en route to tying for fourth place in the league standings and finishing as runners up in the league tournament. Yancy Gates capped off his career as one of only six players in program history to compile more than 1,400 points and 900 rebounds. The Bearcats outlasted Texas and Florida State before falling to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.
2010-11: Cincinnati won its first 15 games of the season and closed strong with five victories in its last six regular-season contests to secure its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. Yancy Gates led the Bearcats with 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds and Sean Kilpatrick was named to the BIG EAST All-Rookie team. UC defeated Missouri 78-63 before falling to eventual national champion UConn 69-58 in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats finished 26-9 overall.
Cronin has guided Cincinnati to 124 wins since the start of the 2010-11 season, highlighting one of the most successful periods in program history with five 20-win seasons, including three years with at least 26 victories.
Tenacious defense and continuous all-out effort reflect the Bearcats’ standard. Cincinnati is one of only six programs in the nation to rank among the top 25 in scoring defense in each of the last three seasons, joining Florida, Louisville, N.C. Central, Wofford and Wyoming. The Bearcats allowed only 55.8 points a game in 2014-15, the third fewest in school history (since 1960).
You can also find Cincinnati’s name listed among the top 25 teams in field-goal percentage defense and blocks per game in each of the last three seasons. The 2012-13 Bearcats squad set Cronin-era high marks, ranking 14th in shooting defense (.387) and sixth in blocks (6.1).
In nine seasons at Cincinnati, Cronin has compiled a 185-118 mark and owns a 254-142 record in 12 years as a college head coach.
// PRIOR TO CINCINNATI
Success seems to follow Cronin, who came to Cincinnati after serving three years as head coach at Murray State (2004-06). As mentor of the Racers, Cronin compiled a 69-24 overall record while earning a pair of NCAA tournament berths.
In his debut season as head coach, Cronin directed Murray State to a school-best 28-6 record, the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. His 28 wins were the sixth most in NCAA history for a first-year head coach at the time. He earned OVC Coach of the Year honors two seasons later, guiding Murray State to another OVC regular-season title, league tournament crown and NCAA tournament appearance with a 24-6 mark in 2005-06.
Prior to Murray State, Cronin built a sterling reputation for his ability to evaluate and recruit top talent. In his stint at UC as an assistant coach for Bob Huggins from 1997-2001, Cronin recruited several top players, including NBA Draft selections Steve Logan (Golden State); DerMarr Johnson (Atlanta); Pete Mickeal (Dallas); Kenny Satterfield (Dallas); and Jason Maxiell (Detroit).
Following the 2000-01 season, Cronin became the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville, under Rick Pitino. In his first year, Cronin helped attract a top-10 ranked recruiting class.
// COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Cronin’s passion for success on the court also carries over to the local community where he is committed to making a difference. He currently serves as a board member on the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer of Southwest Ohio chapter.
He also assists with a major fundraising event - Soul of the City Soiree - for Our Daily Bread that has generated more than $100,000 each of the past four years to assist the soup kitchen and community center in Cincinnati.
Cronin also annually speaks with the Young Executive Group of the Catholic Inner-City Schools Education (CISE) Fund. The group raises money from area corporations to help give children from low income urban settings the opportunity to attend Catholic schools.
During the 2013-14 season, Cronin also wrote a column in the Cincinnati Enquirer highlighting the dangers of texting while driving as part of the AT&T sponsored “It Can Wait” campaign. He spotlighted the campaign again during an on-campus awareness event in October 2014.
// PATH TO COACHING
Cronin has long held great pride in the Queen City, the University of Cincinnati and the sport of basketball. As a child growing up on the west side of town, he used to follow his father Harold “Hep” Cronin -- a highly successful local high school coach with more than 400 career wins -- around the gyms of Cincinnati. A product of LaSalle High School, Cronin had his playing career end sooner than expected due to a knee injury in high school.
That didn’t stop his desire to find his place in basketball. While completing his undergraduate degree at UC, Cronin served as assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach at Woodward High School. He helped develop six players who went on to play Division I college basketball, including former Bearcat Damon Flint, who ranks among the top 25 scorers in program history.
Cronin made the jump from high school to college coaching during the 1996-97 season joining Huggins as video coordinator at UC. A year later, Cronin was elevated to an assistant coach for the Bearcats, setting the stage for his long tenure in college basketball.
Cronin resides in Cincinnati with his nine-year old daughter, Samantha.