The feisty Bearcats have won three of four since dropping five in a row in December, and have already equaled their 2007 Big East win total of two.
Bearcat fans were beginning to lose patience with Cronin earlier in the season. Home losses to Belmont and Bowling Green were uncharacteristic of the program, but a 73-54 thrashing at UAB on Dec. 1 was the low point.
In a postgame interview, Cronin said, “We have to get tougher. And that starts on the defensive end and on the glass.”
Starting with the Xavier game on December 12, the Bearcats began scrappin’ and clawin’ all over the court, becoming much more aggressive on defense and crashing the boards with no regard for human life.
UC (7-8, 2-1) has now outrebounded No. 17 Xavier, No. 2 Memphis, Miami (OH), Louisville, and Syracuse—while collecting only one less errant shot than NC State.
It hasn’t hurt that sophomore fullback/guard Deonta Vaughn (16.8 PPG) has scored in double-figures the past seven games, including 29 against Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.
The point is this: Mick Cronin can coach. In the second season of a massive rebuilding process, the 5'7" Cincinnati native clearly has this program headed in the right direction.
The recent success may shock some fans, but it comes as no surprise to this reporter—especially considering Cronin has been the understudy to Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins.
Not a bad combination.
Listen to Mick on the radio after games and you’ll hear a man who knows what he’s talking about. You’ll also hear a confident yet realistic tone.
Given how young the Big East is this season, as well as some key injuries around the league, it seems like the Bearcats should be able to win a few more ballgames while gaining valuable experience the rest of the way.
There will be ups and downs, but “Stick With Mick” should be the mantra in Cincinnati.
Just imagine the possibilities when 6’10” man-child Yancy Gates and super-quick creamy-shooting point guard Cashmere Wright arrive next season.
Until then, enjoy the journey.