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Profile of a Possible Savior: Mick Cronin

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Cronin! I just like saying it. Cronin. Sounds similar to Crootin’, a good sign IMO.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

I agreed to do the Cronin POAPS because I thought it would be easy – I could just update the one we did 6 years ago. But I couldn’t find that old one. I realized that we HADN’T POAP’d Cronin in 2011 because the POAPS committee was so disheartened that he was a real candidate. Time proved us wrong, as discussed below.

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

No. He’s advanced to the Sweet 16 only once in 8 NCAA trips. The Bearcats rank 11th in the AP poll at present, reached as high as 7th before finishing 15th in 2013-14, and have spent at least some time in the polls during 7 of the past 8 season (including this one). But they have been unranked more often than not.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

You could go either way on this one. Under Bob Huggins, Cincinnati reach 14 straight NCAAs and finished in the AP top 11 8 times. But Huggins was forced out in August 2005, the 2005-2006 season was played under interim coach Andy Kennedy, and understandably that all took a toll on the roster and recruiting per reports. Cronin went 11-19 in his first year. Things slowly improved – a winning record in year 3, an NCAA tournament bid in year 5. Most impressively, there has been no backsliding. Cincinnati has reached the NCAAs in each of the last six seasons, and they are a lock this year with perhaps Cronin’s best team yet.

So: Cronin did not build Cincinnati up after years from irrelevance – Huggins did that. But he did build them back up from the implosion at the messy end of Huggins’ tenure.

Before Cincinnati, Cronin was the head man at Murray State for three years. He did well there, but it is a strong program in its conference traditionally. Cronin’s predecessor had good results, as did HIS predecessor…Mark Gottfried.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

At minimum, you’d have to say he’s done this at Cincy.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

Indeed, see above.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

How you answer this depends on how you characterize the Cincinnati gig. More on this below. If it’s considered high-major (and I would personally), then yes. Besides his stint as Cincy’s head man, he spent three years as a Pitino assistant at Louisville, and a few years as a Huggins assistant at Cincy before that.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

Absolutely – they are a half-game behind SMU for first in the American conference, and have compiled a gaudy 22-3 record overall, with only one conference loss (to SMU).

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Yes, sir (or ma’am). D is Cronin’s calling card. His KPom AdjD rankings by year, going backwards, starting with 2017 going through 2011: 11, 16, 16, 9, 15, 24, 13. Both outstanding and consistent, and needless to say a huge improvement over what we’ve seen in recent memory. NO NC State team has EVER had a defense in the top 25 going back to the start of the KPom rankings in 2002.

Cincy under Cronin typically excels at making opponents shoot a low percentage. They don’t foul much. They do pretty well at creating turnovers. Defensive rebounding is adequate.

Review this summary from a Cronin talk on his coaching philosophy on defense and other things. Basically the opposite of what we’ve seen this year. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART:

"He believes winning teams shoot free throws and limit turnovers. That’s a commonly held belief among college coaches, but Cronin goes all-out to make it part of his game plan. If players commit bad fouls (he considers fouling a player away from the ball "inexcusable") or commit turnovers, he will not put them on the court.

His defense is driven by analytics. Cronin’s core tenets of defense are denying layups, limiting free-throw attempts and closing out on the opposing team’s best 3-point shooters—which happen to be the three most efficient ways of scoring, by any metric. That may sound obvious, but Cronin practices what he preaches, regularly sending his players video edits of their defensive miscues.

Playing time has to be earned. There are three things a player absolutely has to prove he can do before Cronin will put him on the floor: Play defense, take care of the basketball, and be in the right spot."

8. So how about offense?

Not to the level of the defense, but not awful. Cincy is 41 in the current KPom AdjO rankings, the best of the Cronin tenure. During this 7 year NCAA streak they’ve ranged between the 50s and the 110s. I haven’t seen anything about him playing a particular offensive style. Maybe it’s out there. Feel free to research on your own. I’m not getting paid for this.

9. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

I counted 6 Cincinnati recruits in the RSCI top 100 composite rankings during Cronin’s tenure, but 4 of those came in his first two years. Unless I missed something, he’s not really drawn big time talent to Cincinnati (but won anway).

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

Not that I can tell.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

1. Positive: That article I linked earlier has some good stuff about how he demands accountability and buy-in from his players, while working every day to steer them clear of negative outside influences. Read it, it’s impressive. Again, the obvious comparison to where we are now.

2. Positive: Despite having over a decade of head coaching experience at Cincy, he’s still only 45 somehow.

3. Negative? They play s l o w. Tempo down near the slowest in the country, year in and year out. Defense first, slow tempo…think something like UVA (though I think the defensive scheme is different).

This is not the way I want to play. My preferred style, as much as it pains me to say it, is UNC’s under Roy: Run like hell, balanced offense (i.e. not chucking threes all day), annihilate your opponent on the glass at both ends. But beggars cannot be choosers. If we have to play a variation of soul-deadening Bennett-ball to win, so be it. And, perhaps, with better recruiting using NC State’s platform in the ACC, Cronin could marry his stifling defense with a better offensive scheme.

4. Negative: Cronin had to sit out most of the 2014-15 season due to an unruptured aneurysm. All indications now are that he’s fine, and hopefully he is, but he seems like the typical workaholic/super-intense coach so you’d have to worry a little about his health.

Summary (note: I changed these up a bit):

Would he be better than Gottfried?

Yes. Cronin has hit a 6 seed or better 3 times in the NCAAs in his Cincy run, whereas Gott has never had that seeding at State. Moreover, Cronin’s record and philosophy describe a guy who works hard and smartly to build a sustainable program with patience. I think his ceiling exceeds Gott’s and that he would avoid the wild swings and unpredictability of the Gott tenure.

Two caveats: (1) Cronin’s lack of experience in the ACC region could hurt with recruiting; (2) there’s a possibility of a health problem (but that’s true for all of us, I suppose).

OK, so what is his ceiling?

He’s gotten Cincy to the consistent top 25-ish/non-bubble team level that we want to reach here. I don’t know if that’s his ceiling or if he could do even better with more time and the NC State platform. I’d love to find out.

Would he take the job if offered?

It seems like the answer should be "no." Mick’s a Cincy native and UC is his alma mater. He’s got them rolling.

And yet, Cronin has had dalliances with other jobs in the past. Most recently, he took a hard look at UNLV last year, to the point where UNLV’s AD alleged that Cronin reneged on a verbal agreement to take the job. Cronin, for his part, acknowledged that he "chose to evaluate his career and his life" but claims he never "officially" accepted.

Of course, Cronin was a candidate for the NC State job last time around. Reports at the time were that he wanted the job, but couldn’t take it due to a personal situation preventing him from moving. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News, in a very good and level-headed column on our job opening, reported that we low-balled Cronin last time. If so, then he may still have hard feelings towards Yow.

So, who knows. Query whether the uncertainty around Cincinnati’s place in the college basketball pecking order gives Cronin pause. Perhaps no school has suffered more from the conference musical chairs game. The American conference includes a bunch of total non-entities in basketball – UCF, USF, ECU, Tulane. I think the conference straddles the line between high-major and mid-major. Cincy has bounced from the Metro to the Great Midwest (the what?) to Conference USA to the Big East and now the AAC. Stability and the best basketball conference in the nation might be appealing.

How would I feel if he were hired?

Great! My bottom line: Among quasi-realistic options (if you consider Marshall unrealistic), Miller and Cronin are 1(a) and 1(b), and maybe even not in that order.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

I think everyone would be very happy to hire a coach away from a top 20 team with Cronin’s track record. The only possible blemish on his resume is a lack of tournament success, though he’s basically performed in line with expectations.