Coach's Corner: Mick Cronin Looks Ahead

While the UC men's basketball team is still focusing on their final two regular season games, we here at Bearcat Insider are looking a little farther down the road. First stop: Madison Square Garden and the Big East Championship tournament.

If the season ended today Cincinnati would enter the Big East tournament as the number eight seed. Their match-up with number nine seed Syracuse would be the first contest of the tournament. A win against the Orange, and awaiting the Bearcats in the quarterfinals would be… the number one seed in the tournament.

But breathe easy, Bearcat fans! While the number one seed could very well be the Hoyas of Georgetown, whom UC suffered a 20-point loss at the hands of, it could just as easily be Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals. If it be the latter, January 1st's Bearcat victory in Louisville could fill Cincinnati fans with good thoughts going into the game. The Hoyas and Cardinals will do battle in Washington D.C. Saturday afternoon to decide the Big East regular season title, and Bearcat fans should watch with great interest. Louisville won the first contest between the two teams this season, 59-51 in Freedom Hall.

But wait. We may very well be getting ahead of ourselves. We all know there's nobody like a coach to set us straight, so we take the issue to the head Bearcat himself, Mick Cronin. What does he expect from or think his team is capable of achieving in the Big East tourney?

"I just try to expect that we come in with the right mindset and mentality- that we're going to scrap and fight to win our first game," said Cronin before the team practiced Wednesday. "Past that you can't worry about it. You've just got to make sure you win your first game."

We should have known. When it comes to the conference tournament, you won't find coach Cronin thinking any farther ahead than Wednesday, March 12th, the day of the tournament's opening round.

So we'll look even farther ahead, then. Next stop: post season. With a regular season finish in the top half of the nation's toughest conference, post season play for Cincinnati is easily a possibility, despite possibly finishing at best .500 for the regular season.

Cronin acknowledges that the only way the NCAA tournament selection committee will call his team's name come selection Sunday is if the Bearcats win the Big East tournament. However, we're all familiar with the post season alternative, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Oh, and meet the new kid on the block, 16-team first year tournament, the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

"I think they've (the CBI) contacted the whole country, just educating people about their tournament," said Cronin, admitting that the tournament has already contacted Cincinnati. "I think we should all support it," he added, saying he would "absolutely" be interested in participating if the tournament invited his Bearcats to the party.

The coach possessed an interesting view on collegiate post season play in general, and he makes a valid point.

"Half the teams go to bowl games in division one football," noted Cronin. "Right now we only have about, with the NIT at 32, we're at 97 out of 340 plus going to post season in basketball. That's a considerably lower percentage than what goes on in football. I think there needs to be an expansion in the NIT, expansion in the NCAA tournament, and the CBI, and I think all the coaches would probably echo those sentiments."

Sound like bowl season for basketball? Possibly. But despite their somewhat negative popularity with the general public, the football bowl games are meaningful to the schools involved. Multiple post season tournaments on the basketball side could give more teams something to play for late in the year.

We'll have to wait until March 16th to see where Cincinnati ends up playing its post season ball, and in which tournament. Any post season play has to be more than even the most optimistic of UC fans could have expected heading towards and early into the season.

With all of this looking ahead we've done, let's take a quick look back on this memorable Bearcat year.

"We've had a fun season; we've been through a lot," said Cronin. "It's been a tough year with Mike (Williams) out and with Jamaul (Warren)'s injury and our schedule being ridiculously tough, but we've hung in there and made the most of it. We just want to make sure we finish it out strong, and give these guys a chance to play as long as they can."

Whatever the destination, we'll be along for the ride, coach. Oh, and thanks, we've enjoyed the journey thus far.

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