After starting the season with a 12-game winning streak, the Cincinnati Bearcats ended it by going 3-6 in its last nine games, placing head coach Mick Cronin in the coaching hot seat in the eyes of many.
It is likely that the Bearcats will be heading to the NCAA basketball tournament for the third consecutive year, but it is Cronin’s style of coaching and the way his teams play which have people questioning his effectiveness.
Since Cronin took over at UC for Bob Huggins in 2006, he has preached the importance of playing solid defense in order to win basketball games. It is hard to argue with that, and the Bearcats are certainly a strong defensive program; but people are demanding better offense from UC, and rightfully so.
The Bearcats are shooting worse this season than in any of the previous six seasons under Cronin. In Cronin’s first season as the head coach for Cincinnati, they shot 40.5 percent from the field. This season they are shooting 40.3 percent, putting them 306th out of 347 Division I basketball teams.
UC is also shooting worse than a lot of other teams this season in general. Cincinnati has shot more three-pointers than any other team in the Big East this season (677 attempts, 21.8 per game) but aren’t very efficient, making only 31.6 percent of them which ranks 273rd in Division I and 11th in the Big East.
The Bearcats rank 301st in Division I and 14th out of 15 Big East teams in free-throw percentage, shooting 64.7 percent from the line. They are scoring 67.6 points per game, which puts them at 172nd out of 347 teams.
Those are some awfully low numbers, especially considering the regular season is over and the team should have improved its shooting consistency since earlier in the season. After the first 20 games of the season, Cincinnati was ranked 204th in field-goal percentage (42.5 percent) and 158th in three-point field-goal percentage (34 percent). Cincinnati was ranked 294th in Division I and 14th out of 15 Big East teams in free-throw percentage, shooting 64.4 percent.
While there are people calling for Cronin to be fired, I don’t see that happening. Cronin is signed to a contract with UC through the 2016-17 season, and as long as the team makes it into the NCAA tournament, I don’t see a coaching change happening despite the team’s abysmal shooting this season.
Cronin has some options which I would urge him to exercise this offseason and for years to come in order to get off the hot seat and continue coaching in Cincinnati until he retires.
It’s going to come down to a change in his coaching philosophy and recruitment of more efficient players. Cronin can, and should, continue preaching and teaching defense in the way he has at UC for years, but he has to learn how to balance that with more offensive coaching geared toward shooting the ball more consistently.
He can do this by changing his play-calling to get players in open spots and higher-percentage scoring areas, holding extended practices focused more on offense and shooting than on defense and rebounding, and by recruiting more efficient offensive players compared to the fast, athletic and defensive types of players that comprise typical Cronin teams.
UC teams under Cronin have always been strong defensively, but it’s time to add to that strength with better offensive play.