The UC fans have moved on but the local media hasn’t. Every year at some time or another it seems the local media needs to explain why Huggins didn’t actually have great years (as if we all weren’t around) and why that means the Bearcat fans should support Mick. To most fans, this is not an either or scenario. The smart fans get that program is in a different situation and are evaluating Mick’s performance mostly independent of what was achieved under Huggins. We want Mick to get the program to that level again and even beyond, but we are not grading Mick against Huggins. My support of Mick Cronin and his Bearcat program is not dependent on tearing down the accomplishments of the Huggins era. I know many Bearcat fans that feel this way.
The media using Huggs’ tournament losses to justify why UC should stick with Mick Cronin is idiotic because it misses what makes Mick the right guy for Cincinnati. He’s not right because he can lose in the second round too…he’s right because of the stability he brought the program and the direction he is moving the program. To be perfectly frank to date Mick hasn’t accomplished anything near what Huggins accomplished at UC, but that doesn’t mean he won’t or cannot. The comparison with what Huggins accomplished to what Mick has so far is idiotic because Huggs is so far ahead by those measures, but those measures fail to appreciate the situations and context.
Here’s how I would rank every Bearcat season by accomplishments of the team since Huggins came to UC (I bolded the seasons where Mick is coach):
The Great Seasons:
1992- Final Four, Regular Season Champion, Conference Tournament Champion, Four Seed in the Tournament.
2000- Ranked Number 1 most the season, Undefeated Regular Season Conference Champions, 1st in the RPI, 10-2 against the RPI top 50, 19-3 against the RPI top 100… just a dominating season. 2 seed in the tournament
1993- Elite Eight, Conference Regular Season Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 2 seed in the tournament
1996- Elite Eight, Conference Regular Seasons Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 2 seed,
2002- Conference Regular Season Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 1 seed, RPI #3, 8-2 v. RPI top 50, 17-3 v. RPI top 100. #2 kenpom adjusted efficiency (first year he kept that stat)
The Very Good Seasons:
1999- Only 6 losses, Regular season champions, 3 seed in the tournament, won great Alaskan Shootout over Historically great Duke team. Made round of 32. 8-3 vs. RPI top 50, 12-4 over top 100.
2012- Clearly Mick’s best overall season despite a disappointing start. 4th in a loaded Big East, Conference tournament finals, sweet 16. 8-6 v. RPI top 50, 11-8 vs. top 100. Only 31 kenpom but they were a different team once they went small.
1998- Regular Season and Tournament Conference Champions, 2 seed in tournament. 9th in Final AP Poll.
1997- Preseason number 1, Regular Season Conference Champions, 3 seed in tournament. Final AP Rank of 10. Disappointing overall season, but still a really good season.
2014- Tied for regular season conference title with defending champs ahead of eventual champs, 5 seed in tournament, 6-6 v. RPI top 50, 10-7 v. RPI top 100, tourney results disappointing, but that team ahead a really good year. Only 27 in kenpom, but top 10 in adjusted defense.
2017- 16-2 conference record, 6 seed, 3-4 RPI top 50, 6-5 v. top 100, no bad losses, conference tournament finals, 2nd round NCAA tournament. 22 kenpom. Top 15 in Polls on multiple occasions.
2004- Regular Season and Tournament Champions, 4 seed in tournament, 7-6 v. RPI top 50, 12-6 v. top 100, no bad losses. 17 in kenpom. Maybe should be higher but hard to get 2nd round dismantling by Illinois out of head.
The Good Seasons:
2001- Regular Season Conference Champion, Sweet 16, 5 seed in tournament, 2-4 Vs. RPI top 50, 9-5 vs. RPI top 100. 4 losses outside RPI top 100. Nice break in tournament, but not a great overall season.
2011- 6th in loaded Big East, 2nd round of NCAA tournament, team that put UC back in the NCAAs, 21st in kenpom. 7-9 v. RPI top 50, 8-9 v. RPI top 100, no bad losses.
2005- 2nd round NCAA tournament, 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, 9-6 v. top 100. 7 seed in NCAA tournament. 19 kenpom.
2015- Round of 32, 6-4 v. RPI top 50, 9-8 v. top 100. Only 43 kenpom. 8 seed.
2016- First round exit, 5-5 v. top 50, only 7-10. 32 kenpom. 9 seed. Team seemed close, but as we know lost a ton of close games.
2013- First Round Exit, 5-10 vs. top 50, 9-12 v. top 100. 40 kenpom, 10 seed.
1995- Conference Tournament Champion, 7 seed, 2nd round exit.
1994- Conference tournament champions, First round exit, 8 seed. 25 in final AP poll.
2006 (AK’s year)- NIT quarterfinals (lost when players suspended), 4-8 vs. RPI top 50, 11-11 v. top 100, 44 kenpom.
2003- First Round Exit, only 17 wins (against 12 losses), 3-6 v. RPI top 50, 8-9 v. top 100, 36 kenpom
2010- NIT second round, 3-11 RPI top 50, 8-16 RPI top 100, kenpom 68, great start, team not quite ready.
1991- NIT, 18 wins, 10.62 Strength of Record According to Sports Reference
1990- Huggs first year, NIT, 20 wins, 7.19 SOR According to Sports Reference.
2009- 1-9 v. RPI top 50, 7-12 v. RPI top 100. 86 kenpom
Of note I would rank 5 Huggs seasons as great. Mick has yet to break through but I am optimistic he does next season. All of Mick’s seasons since he got back to the tournament have been good and very good. Like Huggins he’s consistently kept UC in position to make the tournament and has avoided real down years. Unlike Huggins he has yet to break through for those next level quite season. My hope is that is coming and ultimately would love to see him achieve even beyond where Huggins had the program.
Mick Cronin and Bob Huggins inherited two different programs in two different situations in two different times with many different sets of obstacles. The decimation of the program that took place before Mick arrived has been well documented and I do not know a single Bearcat fan that doesn’t appreciate the job Mick did resurrecting the program from the ashes, back to the NIT in year 4 and the NCAA in year 5…where UC has been each of the last 7 years. He brought stability to the program, made it nationally relevant again and brought the kind of sustained, consistent success few other programs have. I believe UC is one of 8 programs to make the NCAA tournament the last 7 seasons. That means something.
Most of those who criticize Mick do so because they believe this program needs to get to the next level. I tend to agree with those people that this cannot be it. While UC has been consistently good to very good under Mick, he has not had that breakthrough great season. I think it is coming next year for many reasons and believe he will start delivering those type of seasons on a semi-regular basis, but that isn’t an unfair or unreasonable expectation.
Why hasn’t that season come yet? Well at least in the first few years Cronin was severely handicapped by the programs decimation. However, we are long past that now. Mick just completed year 11 on the Bearcat bench. That’s a long time. That is no longer an acceptable excuse for why we cannot break through. However, I would argue there are reasons to this point Mick has not quite made the jump from strong, consistent program, to one capable of being a contender from time to time. Whether it was facility issues, conference instability or a couple missed recruiting classes after SKs class, UC just hasn’t quite gotten over the hump we all want to seem them get to.
However, this has been slowly changing. The 2015-2016 showed promise despite losing a ton of heartbreakers. The underclassman were clearly players. The team continued with UC’s trademark defense but began to show much improved offense. That trend continued this season as UC hung around as a borderline top 20 type team by most metrics all season. They were better in conference, had better out of conference wins, a better offense, a similar defense and advanced further in the tournament. They finished 22 in kenpom efficiency and earned the 22nd spot on the committee’s bracket. They were good, but not good enough to avoid a tough second round matchup and went home.
That 22 was 10 spots higher than the prior season and similar improvement next season would finally make UC a legit final four contender and likely earn them a top 4 protected seed. That would be a big step for the program and one I am confident Mick Cronin will make. The hardest thing for fans to appreciate is consistent success at the same level. Fans always want more.
Mick’s achievement of sustained success is probably undervalued by many, but it ultimately cannot be the peak for UC basketball and I have plenty of confidence based on recent history that it will not be. I firmly believe Mick Cronin is the right guy to lead this Bearcat program forward and believe next year’s team will be well positioned for a tournament run. In a one game and out tournament things can happen, the key is putting together great teams that are real contenders… eventually you will break through. Next year could very like be that first great Mick team and I am happy the administration has had the confidence to stick with him as we move towards making that break through and the clear appreciation for what he has already done.