"It's not fun, I'd rather not play against him, to be honest," said Cronin of Wednesday night's matchup with Bob Huggins and West Virginia University. "I've played against Rick Pitino three times. Both of my former mentors play in the same league as me, so I don't have much choice.
"You don't want to see anyone lose," continued Cronin, as he explained the primary reason he dislikes facing those close to him. "It's much easier to enjoy a win if you don't know the other guy. For example, I'm good friends with Jamie Dixon at Pitt. You win the game, but then you feel bad for Jamie. I know Huggins was the same way with Charlie Spoonhour at St. Louis. We were fortunate enough to beat Louisville earlier this year, and even as I was enjoying the win I'd think Coach Pitino and how he has to deal with the fallout from that loss."
Cronin believes both of his former bosses share several key characteristics.
"First, they have way more money than me," he joked. "But they are big time winners, and if they keep doing it instead of retiring, they will both end up in the Hall of Fame. They are both very competitive, and they take losses very hard. That's characteristic of people that are highly motivated and want to win."
"I learned so much from Huggins that there isn't enough time to tell you about it," Cronin continued. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. He taught me how to win. He is a great competitor, and a winner. The biggest quote I steal from him is, "If you are going to play, you might as well try to win."
The same competitive fire fuels Cronin, who ran halfway across the court in West Virginia's last appearance at Cincinnati to dispute a call. As might be expected, he and Huggins butted heads on occasion.
"We got in an argument one summer, and we took a bad player each and played two on two. He won 10-9, and that still bothers me. If we played today you'd better have an ambulance parked next to the court," he joked.
Cronin expected to get some of the questions posed about his first matchup with Huggins, but hasn't taken the pulse of his team to determine if they will be affected, or are even conscious of, his first game against Huggins.
"You'd have to ask them. I have no sense of that," he said brusquely. "We aren't real happy about losing our last two games by a combined four points. They are unhappy with what's going on and that we haven't been able to get over the hump and win the last two. All I am worried about is trying to get a win."
As for the game on the floor, Cronin believes that West Virginia is a better team at home than on the road, and thus worries about making the trip to Morgantown.
"West Virginia is a great team at home and a solid team overall. Playing them in Morgantown, where they are coming off a tough loss, I am sure they will be chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle and get a win. It will be a tough task for us. They pose a lot of problems, especially when they shoot the way they do. They shoot over 40% from the three-point line at home, and if they hit that mark we are in deep trouble." RIFLE REPORTS
One member of the Cincinnati media still refers to Huggins as "Coach" – perhaps an indicator of the regard in which he is still held in the Queen City.
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Bearcat John Williamson, who was injured in UC's last game, will be evaluated in practice today to determine his availability for the West Virginia game.
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Cronin, like Huggins, is battling the problem of a short bench and inexperience.
" We are 4-4 in the Big East, with two losses by one point and three points. You have to look at our Big East record [to evaluate us]. We are still young, and don't have the depth, experience and toughness of some of the teams that will shake out at the top of the league at the end of the year.
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Cronin's time with Huggins was a different experience than what both coaches are now going through.
When I was with Huggins, we had bigger players, more athletic players with size. He's smart and is playing to his personnel now. He sees those guys every day, and is trying to hide weaknesses, and is doing a great job of it. Look at his record and they way they have won this year. When I was with him, the fewest wins we had 25, and we won five league championships. We could play man-to-man all the time."