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The conundrum of Mick Cronin

Mick Cronin wins, that can’t be argued, but does that make him a good coach?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Cincinnati
He’s whining. Odd.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve likely all seen it by now. A local newscaster asks Mick Cronin, head coach of the UC Bearcats, how he prepares for the Crosstown Shootout. In a two minute answer that perhaps explains Cronin’s 4-8 record in the game, he dismisses Kerem Kanter as “Enes Kanter’s brother,” devalues scouting, and generally comes across as a smashing cross of sanctimonious and uninformed. This stands in stark contrast to a man who has coached a team to no worse than 43rd in the KenPom standings since 2010. In two minutes then, the question that is Mick Cronin.

For starters, it’s important to recognize Cronin’s success at Cincinnati. Cronin staggered in this first four years after taking over from Andy Kennedy, but has made the NCAA tournament eight years running since. As mentioned before, none of those teams has ranked below 43rd in the KenPom rankings. One of those teams even made it all the way to the Sweet 16. Cronin’s teams have played slowly and defended as if their very lives have depended on it. Whatever you think of the American Athletic Conference, UC has never failed to finish out of the top three in the regular season and won the conference tournament last season. There is no question that Cronin has led his team to success.

And yet, there’s something about Cronin that sits wrong with large portions of the sporting public. The “St. Mick” moniker came after his players initiated violence that he addressed limp-wristed way while criticizing the much harsher punishments laid down across the way. Last season, Cronin was caught on camera repeatedly comparing one of his players to “a f*****g retard,” this in addition to his incessant, arm flopping, histrionics on the sideline every time something fails to go his way.

In addition to what may come across as moral failings, there is the question as to whether Mick really wins when it matters. If AAC tournaments are your thing, Cronin’s Bearcats have been eliminated by UConn four times and managed only one conference tournament championship. Cronin’s struggles in the NCAAs are well documented, but it essentially boils down to eight berths, three first round losses, and only one trip to the second weekend. Regular season acclaim certainly matters, but when sport’s brightest light is shining on college basketball, Cincinnati frequently fails to deliver.

And then comes the Crosstown Shootout. Far more often than not, it’s the best non-conference game on UC’s schedule. While the Bearcats plow through a feast of Tech’s and directionals, Xavier stands out as a chance for a genuinely good win. Cronin has, oddly, insisted on trying to distance himself from the game, claiming that it doesn’t matter than much to him while sending the contradictory signal of trying to start fights with players. The coach’s March complaint about seeding could frequently be addressed if his team would win the best non-conference game they have but, two thirds of the time, they don’t. Cronin has appeared in the Shootout 12 times, and has won it only four of them. All the victories over Arkansas Pine Bluff in the world can’t replicate a win over legitimate competition.

So is Mick Cronin a good coach? He does win in the regular season, that cannot be denied. From November-February, Cronin’s teams are a force to be reckoned with and figure to be for quite some time. So long as conference titles are there to be snatched from the Tulane’s and ECU’s of the world, Cronin’s Bearcats figure to be the team to do it. If wins when the spotlight is at its most glaring are how you measure a coach though, if coming through in rivalry games and tournaments are what you want, maybe Mick Cronin isn’t your man. Your definition of success likely frames how you solve the conundrum of Mick Cronin.