This is the reality that we live in.
The loss to Houston hurt for a number of reasons. We had a chance to win a share of the league title at home on senior day and we were embarrassed by a much better team that is more prepared for March. The Mick Cronin haters complained about the offense while the Cronin apologists said there was no reason to whine about the offense when the Bearcats gave up 85 points. Both camps make great points but I agree more with those who criticize the offense because that has been Cronin’s weakness for over a decade now. When he first started at Cincinnati, he had to focus on defense because that was his philosophy and his first few recruiting classes greatly lacked offensive prowess due to the status of the program at the time. The great equalizer for those early teams was their gritty defense and affinity for grinding out games. This led to wins in games they probably should not have won.
This year’s Bearcats have outperformed expectations, plain and simple. I would not have guessed they would have been 25-6 in a “rebuilding” year. So why are people so down after Houston’s game? Because expectations change and fans move the goalposts during the season. Is that fair? No, but it’s the nature of sports. Also, Mick Cronin has the same flaws as a coach that he had ten years ago. Some fans go way too far and call Cronin a bad coach which he isn’t. You don’t make it to the tournament eight seasons in a row (soon to be nine) being a bad coach. Cronin just has very defined limitations and they stem from recruiting and his invasive coaching style.
Cronin’s recruits all virtually have the same basketball DNA. High 3-star, low 4-star recruit, plays good on-ball defense, but needs work on the offensive end. Obviously, there are outliers (Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Lance Stephenson, etc). However, Cronin is not a good offensive coach. Guys like Jermaine Sanders, Shaquille Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Trevor Moore, and Rashawn Fredericks did not or will not develop into dynamic offensive options over their college careers because Mick refuses to focus on developing players’ offensive skillsets.
Couple this with the fact that officiating rules have changed in favor of faster and more offensive-oriented basketball and the Cincinnati Bearcats look like they are playing in the stone ages. Just look at the percentages of the last five games the Bearcats have played.
Houston 38.0% FG 28.6% 3-Point FG
UCF 37.1% FG 33.3% 3-Point FG
Memphis 38.6% FG 21.1% 3-Point FG
SMU 26.6% FG 19% 3-Point FG
UCONN 41.5% FG 31.3% 3-Point FG
These are not championship-winning numbers. At some point, you have to hit shots. You can beat the dregs of the American with these numbers but you are not going to consistently beat the best teams in the conference, let alone the country, by consistently shooting under forty percent from the field. And the worst part is that this is not new in the Cronin era.
Cronin can take a team like this to a 25-6 record, but he can also drag a 31-4 team down like last year against Nevada. Cronin is a micromanager during a game. He yells at his point guards and tells them which play to run on almost every trip down the floor and he is quick to pull out any and everybody that makes a mistake. This is probably Cronin’s worst trait as a basketball coach. You cannot take players out each and every time they make a mistake because they will lose their confidence and rhythm when you initially take them and when they realize the pattern, they will only focus on not making mistakes so they aren’t taken out instead of just trying to win the game. How many times have you seen a Bearcat player turn the ball over or commit a foul and then look over to the bench to see if they are coming out? That should never be the case. Players should not play in fear of making mistake because then the focus isn’t on the game itself. This causes players to play tight and they do not let the game come to them.
Now, Cronin is not out there shooting the ball, I get that. But he recruited those players and the amount of guys that provide no outside shooting threat is staggering. Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Cane Broome, Rashawn Fredericks, and Logan Johnson are all shooting under 30% from 3. That type of recruiting is simply not paying attention to the changing basketball landscape.
Again, Mick Cronin is not a bad coach. He just has severe limitations that will keep him from making a deep run in the tournament. The Bearcats were 0-4 against ranked teams this year. You have to show up against the best teams on your schedule because you will play the best in March. Beating teams like Memphis, Temple, UCONN, SMU, and Ole Miss will get you to the tournament, but beating UCF, Houston, and Mississippi State will get you past the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament at least.
Things could be a lot worse. Would you want to be Tulane right now?