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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Mick Cronin hasn't faced a situation exactly like the one he confronts during his first year at Cincinnati, but it's close. Only one player of consequence, forward Cedric McGowan, returns to the Bearcats after last year's tumultuous season, but unlike Cronin's second year at Murray State, when only one man came back, he hasn't even seen McGowan play. The new UC boss had at least been familiar with the sole returning Racer.
"I'm a new coach with new players and I'm at a different level," Cronin said.
That he is. The man who took Murray State to a pair of NCAA Tournaments during his three seasons there has returned to his alma mater to bring some stability to a messy situation. Last year at this time, Andy Kennedy was still trying to figure out who his staff would be after taking over on an interim basis for embattled Bob Huggins, who had "resigned" after losing a power struggle with school president Nancy Zimpher.
Although Kennedy won 21 games and did an admirable job holding things together after Huggins' departure, it was clear the school wanted to make a fresh start. Kennedy was, after all, a long-time Huggins aide who even brought his former boss out on Senior Night to say goodbye to the departing Bearcats.
Cronin may represent a new direction, but he certainly isn't unfamiliar to UC. He not only holds a degree in history from the institution, he has four years of assistant coaching experience at the school on his resume and was also the team's video coordinator for a year.
"It helps that I'm a local guy," said Cronin, who graduated from Cincinnati's LaSalle High.
OK, so the transition hasn't been tough. Instead, it has been a homecoming, with plenty of well wishers. And plenty of work to do. Cronin must establish Cincinnati's identity in the post-Huggins era. Last year was crisis management, and Kennedy performed his job well. Now, Cronin has to build a team that fits his style.
What will it look like? Well, a quick spin through his recruiting class gives a good indication. He brought in a variety of physical players who have multiple ball skills. That means the 'Cats will try to be a tough Big East program and a versatile, attacking offensive outfit that tries to push the ball and score points in bunches. Cronin knows you can't win in the Big East with finesse, so that's why five of the players on his roster weigh 225 or more. He also understands there is a need for success right now. That's why all but one of his eight newcomers is a transfer.
That's a figure that's bound to raise some eyebrows -- and elevate Cronin's blood pressure. Under Huggins, the Bearcats had the perception of a program that didn't care about graduating its players. Junior college transfers came in and often weren't able to graduate. When Cronin is asked about the surfeit of JUCO players, he bristles some.
"It's disturbing to me that people ask those questions," he said. "These young men are recruits who will play well and do their work. We won't ever sign a significant number of junior college transfers ever again. At the same time, the guys we signed are tremendous kids. We tried to be selective.
"We had a lot of playing time to offer recruits. We looked at a lot of guys, but some didn't fit from an academic standpoint or a character standpoint."
Cronin and his staff would have liked to add several freshmen, but because he didn't get the job until April, there weren't many high school prospects out there. Those who were available either had academic issues or weren't good enough to play in the Big East.
"The worst thing you can do is bring in freshman who you're going to recruit over," Cronin said.