After a week of watching flights and incessantly refreshing Twitter, the Cincinnati Bearcats received some much needed relief when Mick Cronin announced he was officially turning down the open UNLV job and will remain UC’s head basketball coach.
It’s clear that a portion, albeit a very minimal portion, of the fan base wish he had accepted the gig with the Runnin’ Rebels. But after 200+ wins, six straight NCAA Tournaments, recruiting classes and rosters that continue to improve, and a system that, for all of its warts, quite simply works, what’s also clear is how indispensable Mick Cronin is to UC.
Could Mike Bohn had found a quality replacement? Sure but would it have been someone who would put together that resume and not jumped for a program that could offer him a brand new arena, unlimited resources, and top tier facilities? Probably not.
That’s why it’s critical for Bohn to appease Mick’s demands as we head into his second decade. The Fifth Third Arena timeline needs to be etched in stone as its construction date is currently, and unfortunately, a moving target. Originally they were set to break ground right around now, following the 2015-16 basketball season. Then the Bearcats would spend the 2016-17 season as nomads, playing their home games at whatever local venue would take them in anticipation of returning to Fifth Third in the Winter of 2017.
But an aggressive timeline forced UC to postpone the project one year which, to Bohn’s credit, you can’t really fault him for. He was likely trying to get Fifth Third upgraded lickety-split and simply didn’t hit the checkpoints. Hopefully Mick Cronin doesn’t hold that against him. However, with more leeway to raise funds, Bohn must ensure that renovations don’t get further delayed beyond the Spring of 2017.
There are more immediate improvements that can be addressed in the meantime, not the least of which being the renovated locker rooms. Money has been set aside, and fully funded by Mick himself I might add, and there really isn’t much of reason for UC to not begin construction as early as next month. Plus, a few hundred thousand more dollars in the budget for a private plane and other recruiting expenses could be added right now.
In return, Mick needs to take this program to the next level. Over the last six years he’s led the Bearcats to six straight NCAA Tournaments but advanced out of the first day in just half of those appearances. Cincinnati has only made it to the second weekend, the Sweet 16, once.
Given the level of talent pouring into this program, consistent, deep NCAA Tournament runs has to be the expectation from Mick. He’s already done a nice job getting the team there but that’s where the bar’s been set. Anything short of that is a massive disappointment but even simply making the field seems like he’s accomplishing the bare minimum. Over the next decade Mick needs to not only lead the Bearcats to the Tourney most of those years but also advance out of the first round.
Additionally, finishing in fifth in the conference standings can’t happen again. Regardless of whether or not Cincinnati finds themselves in the Big 12 or ACC sometime over the next decade or are relegated to the American, UC must compete for championships annually. That’s not to say that any season that doesn’t end in the Bearcats winning the conference’s regular season and tournament titles should result in Mick Cronin’s firing. Not at all. But Cincinnati needs to be in a position to take home some AAC (or Big 12 or ACC) hardware each and every year.
Finally, and this is absolutely secondary to those above, Mick needs to start sending players to the NBA. Sean Kilpatrick is doing a nice job with the Nets but wasn’t drafted out of college and really had to do a lot of work after his career with Cincinnati to finally get the recognition he deserves. But if Mick claims that the only thing holding him back from landing top tier recruits is a bigger budget, sparkling renovated arena, and upgraded locker rooms, he needs to start reeling them in and, more importantly, developing them into NBA prospects.
Again, I’d rather he focus more on the NCAA Tournament and conference championships but for Mick to truly elevate Bearcats basketball to the level of the elites, a status UC had touched under Bob Huggins, sending players regularly to the pros is the way to do it.
Overall, the limitations holding this program back for the last 10 years can be fixed simply by having more investments from the athletic department over the next 10. Fifth Third Arena renovations need to be brought into reality, so too do the upgraded locker rooms, and Mick needs to have more money to recruit and attract better players to the program. In exchange, the longstanding UC coach needs to simply win bigger games. Six straight 20+ win season aren’t anything to sneeze at but when they rarely result in hardware to add to the Lindner Center, that’s problem that needs to be rectified.
Hopefully with Mick and his bosses seeing eye-to-eye for a change, those improvements and then some will be awaiting us over the next decade.