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Cronin's keys: Defense and rebounding

Feb. 17, 2010

By Bo Jessee

After nearly every Bearcats loss, fans point to the team's anemic offense or poor shooting as the reason for defeat.

And it's hard to blame them, as the University of Cincinnati men's basketball team ranks last in the Big East in 3-point percentage (29.3 percent) and is tied for ninth in field-goal percentage (44.4 percent).

However, coach Mick Cronin usually blames the team's lack of rebounding and defense as the reasons for losing.

"We are not a great shooting team," Cronin said. "We are a capable shooting team. We have some nights where we shoot it well, but we can't rely on our perimeter shooting. We can rely on our rebounding. We are big and athletic and strong enough where our rebounding and defense have to be our constant."

The statistics reinforce Cronin's message. The Bearcats rank first in the conference in rebounding margin and fourth in field-goal percentage defense.

In recent losses at Notre Dame and against Syracuse at home, the Bearcats shot poorly, but the bigger issue was getting beat on the glass and allowing both teams to shoot high percentages.

The same was true in the team's latest defeat at South Florida. UC barely outrebounded USF and allowed the Bulls to shoot 48.8 percent from the field, well above their average.

The box scores of the Bearcats' two biggest wins of the last month, Notre Dame at home and Connecticut on the road, also back up Cronin's point.

At home against Notre Dame on Jan. 16, UC shot just 32 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range, but still pulled off the victory thanks to a 48-28 edge on the glass.

However, the Bearcats were favored to beat Notre Dame in that game. They were seven-point underdogs playing at Connecticut in head coach Jim Calhoun's first game back from a leave of absence.

Yet the story was the same. Cincinnati shot poorly but pulled off an important victory by dominating UConn on the glass and holding the Huskies to their lowest point total (48) since 2003.



"Whenever you can reinforce your message with a victory then your players buy into it more," Cronin said. "You can show them and talk all you want, but when your guys have success when they shoot 3-for-17 from the 3-point line and dominate UConn on the road, it definitely helps the cause."

One of the biggest keys in UC's win at Connecticut was the performance of Ibrahima Thomas. Against a talented UConn front line, Thomas pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds (four offensive) and scored 10 points with a block and a steal.

"He gives you a 6-11 guy out at the four spot," Cronin said. "When he is playing well you are such a bigger team, you are going to be a better rebounding team and a better defensive team. He's tough to score over."

Thomas has had his ups and downs, but Cronin said he has been pleased with his forward's continued improvement throughout the season.

"Thomas is only in his fourth year of organized basketball," Cronin said. "The more minutes he plays, the better he continues to get. As the game slows down to him he becomes a better player."

While Cronin has talked to Thomas all year about being more patient, he has not had trouble convincing the Senegal native how important the team's work on the glass is.

"Our main focus is about rebounding," Thomas said. "We are a much better team when we rebound the basketball. That is a fact."