Everyone is well aware that the Cincinnati Bearcats head coach, Mick Cronin, has signed a 3 year extension to push his contract through the year 2017. With every deal that's done in any field, there are pros, and there are cons. While most of the reaction to the Cronin extension has been good, there are probably a couple of party poopers out there who don't like it. I come down on the side of the fence where I like it. Expect that to be a pro. The pros in this article will be +, and the cons will be -. So creative I know. I'll give you a minute to gather the pieces of your brain that exploded after that key.
+ Mick Cronin has done a great job at spearheading the return to, well not glory, but return to the big equation. Mick has put the Cincinnati program back on the map, after it had fallen off following the Andy Kennedy year. The turn around hasn't been smooth, but the past 3 seasons, UC has built and built and eventually made the NCAA tournament. Everyone has beaten this point into the ground, so there is no point in continuing, but this has to be noted.
- There really can't be a counterpoint to this. Even if you hate Mick as much as Oscar Robertson does, you have to give him props for the relevancy of UC hoops.
+ UC has buzz. In the way too early top 25 polls that came out for next season, Beyond the Arc has UC 14, Gary Parrish 18, the Big Lead 14, and the great, great Luke Winn has UC ranked 12. The Bearcats have their top 4 scorers coming back, and a very good recruiting class coming. Not only are the fans excited about next season, but obviously the national perception of the Cincinnati program has changed. The Bearcats are expected to do some big things next year. If you rank a team in the top 15, you expect that team to have a top 3 seed, and compete for it's conference championship. Expectations are back.
- Expectations happen to be something that Cronin teams have struggled with. The 2010 team turned a lot of heads with their great performance in Maui, making the Maui Invitational finals, where they fell to Gonzaga in overtime. The Bearcats ended up being ranked in the top 25. From there, they lost to Xavier, and were crushed by UAB to lose the buzz. When it started creeping back with UC at 10-3, the Bearcats lost their next 3 Big East games. The Bearcats clawed back to 6-6 in the Big East, and 15-9 overall. When hopes for a tournament run creeped in minds, UC lost 5 of 6 to close the season. Even last season, on the heels of a 15-0 start that propelled UC into the top 25, the Bearcats lost 6 of the next 10. The Bearcats ended up bouncing back yes, but the pressure of the expectations ended up hurting them for a short run. When the pressure was off, the Bearcats won. When it was on, they did not.
+ Mick can teach defense. The lowest Cincinnati has been in the Ken Pom rankings defensively was 104. What year did that come? Not the year you would think. It was in 2009 that the Bearcats weren't good. In Cronin's first year, the Bearcats were at 98, to 72, to 104, to 59, to 18. The trend has been very positive. The players buy in to Mick's defensive scheme. As the talent level has gotten higher, so have the Bearcats defensive rankings. It's a good thing.
- Mick can't teach offense. The highest the Bearcats have ranked in the Ken Pom offensive rankings is 51, which happened this season. From his first year to now, it's been 139, 132, 78, 114, and 51. While the trend is positive, it's not really that telling. UC played trash in non-conference this season. In Big East play, UC was middle of the pack. That was an improvement, but the offensive improvement has been very late to the party. UC has never been ranked higher than 157 in effective field goal percentage. In a much more telling stat, UC hasn't been good at getting to the line at all during Cronin's time. The Bearcats ranked in the bottom third in the NCAA every year before this one. Some things are starting to come around, but offense continues to be the big problem.
+ Cronin has landed some very good recruits. Mick has brought in the likes of Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates, Lance Stephenson, Sean Kilpatrick, Cash Wright, and some members of the class next year who are ranked highly. Darnell Wilks and Biggie McClain were 4 star recruits for the Bearcat program.
- Has Cronin really developed his recruits though? Vaughn was his best as a sophomore. His last season especially, he didn't seem to fit with UC's scheme. The Bearcats seemed to play better without him at times. It's kind of weird how he left and no one talks about him anymore. Did he fall off a cliff? Is he alive? If you are Deonta, shoot me an email. Lance Stephenson was widely thought of to be a one and done, and he was. He was very up and down, before putting it all together in the Big East tournament. I think Stephenson being back would have helped the Bearcats this season, because he would have been a scorer and another rebounder. I don't know why everyone threw him under the bus for last season. I think Vaughn was just as big a problem. I don't think they meshed as players. Yancy Gates had some lofty expectations, but for the greater part of his UC career, he hasn't been what everyone thought. It wasn't until ala Shawn Michaels, Gates found his smile and turned up his production. Darnell Wilks was uber athletic, but his basketball IQ never seemed to be there. He tried hard, but he didn't live up to the hype. Unless he was dunking. Biggie had injuries that really derailed his career. Unfortuante. Cash has grown a lot in his 3 years as a Bearcat. Going into his 4th year, he redshirted, Wright should hopefully be injury free, and could really show off the flashes of greatness he had last season.
+ Cronin seems hell bent to deliver upgrades to the way UC runs things basketball wise. I don't think he would have signed on if the committment from the UC administration was there. I think things are going to turn up that way. It might not be visible to the fans, but better practice facilities and a higher budget lead to better practices and upgrades on whatever they spend money on.
- Cronin could assume this is happening, and it could not happen. Yeah, I wasn't really sold on any of these two points either.
+ Cronin has changed the culture of losing.
- But the fans have not come around. I don't think that this one is purely on Mick, but I think it's partially on Mick. As head coach, you have to galvanize the fan base. You have to get the bull by the balls to get out there and fill up 5/3 Arena. Way too many games last year were met with subpar attendence. Late in the year, the crowds picked up, and so did the UC performance. I asked Dion Dixon once if it was weird playing at DePaul because it was so quiet and empty, and he said yes. Atmosphere means something to players. If the arena is rocking, it's an advantage. I know everyone hates Duke, but when Cameron is rocking, that's a tough place to win. When Pitt is rocking, again. Xavier is the same way. There is a thing about going into the Cintas Center. You know you are gonna have to pack a lunch because no one wins there. That's not the atmosphere at UC. It's something that needs to change. I think Mick has to find a way to rally the fanbase. Then again, it's not really his fault there are still people out there who want Huggins as UC coach. Those people are pretty much dead to me, so I don't care about them, but other people have to buy the tickets they aren't.
+ Mick takes pictures like this.
Hitting a Bret Hart pose while Dion Dixon looks at him like he's lost his mind. Great stuff.
- There are no negatives to that.
The list of pros and cons can continue, but the biggest pro is simple. The deal needed to happen. Whether you like Mick or don't like Mick, you can't deny that he's the best man for the program right now. The guys on the roster really believe in him, and they will go all out for him and each other. I don't know what more you could ask for. UC played so hard last season. As a fan, that's all I want. I want to watch the game and be able to see that my team wants it more than the other team. That my team will go the extra mile. Mick has brought that out in these young men. It might not last forever, hell, nothing does. But, it's happening right now. I'm all aboard for the ride.