UC’s Cronin explains how Bearcats lost to Wichita State/
Mick Cronin’s team isn’t playing well. If that hadn’t occurred to you, he’s happy to fill you in.
How’s the defense playing, coach?
“It’s really gross.’’
“Our defensive breakdowns were mind-boggling. Egregious after egregious defensive breakdowns.’’
How’s the senior leadership at the moment?
“Not happy with it. Beyond disappointed.’’
But the attitude. The general attitude is still upbeat, right? Number 5 in the country, at least until Monday.
“Gotta play with humility. All great teams have it. All great players. When you have the wrong attitude and you don’t listen, you get exploited. We better get back to unselfish play, toughness, defense and rebounding.’’
In case you missed Cronin’s point – which would be like a starving man missing breakfast – it would be this: “We’ve lost focus of why we’ve been winning, which is defense and rebounding. We’re not in a good place right now, for a lot of reasons.’’
Well, they’re still in 1st place in the American Athletic Conference, if that means anything. Even after what was apparently the mother of all losses Sunday, 76-72 to No. 19 Wichita State. Which, for the record, is pretty darned good.
Playing good cop here, in the wake of UC’s second loss in a row:
The Bearcats outrebounded the Shockers, becoming only the second team to do that this year. Wichita is 2nd nationally in rebounding margin. The Bearcats gross defense held the Shockers to 10 points under their season average and was, at times, exhaustingly good.
Cronin said his team isn’t doing “the uncomfortable, physical things that go into winning games.’’ Maybe not. On Sunday, he coached one more game than I have, career. But the defense I saw got the Bearcats back in the game in the 1st half, and almost stole the game in the last minute.
“We’re not going to score enough points to beat a team that shoots 53 percent,’’ Cronin concluded. That’s the biggest truth. And that has only some to do with defense.
It’s a defense, crying out for a dance partner. For consistent scoring. For an offense that can score on its own two feet, that can grind out big baskets without the assist of steals, blocks, deflections or other acts of defensive brilliance.
At times, UC’s D was full-blown malevolent. There was a stretch in the first half that began with Jacob Evans flying after a loose ball headed toward the Shockers bench, knocking a Gatorade jug into the walkway behind the bench while sending a shocked Shocker reserve backward onto his butt. Seconds later, Justin Jenifer was on the floor after another wayward basketball, diving at it, cradling it, getting fouled in the effort and making the two free throws.
Suddenly an 11-point Wichita lead was down to three. All it took was max effort and determined disregard for personal safety.
Then, defense almost made the highly unlikely very real. Ahead by four with 16 seconds to play, Wichita needed three tries to inbound the ball beneath its basket. Try No. 3 resulted in a Jarron Cumberland steal and a Nysier Brooks dunk to cut the edge to two.
Of course, it all fell apart when the Shockers then tossed a full-court inbounds pass, which was caught and laid in, to seal the win. It was also perfectly executed.
What these eyes saw, as much as anything, was inconsistent offense, again. Kyle Washington had four points in the first minute-plus of the game. He had two more points in the next 38 minutes. Jacob Evans, who should be the go-to man in big games, managed 16 points. But he took just 10 shots, the same number as Cane Broome and seven fewer than Jarron Cumberland.
Cronin carped about the lack of offensive rebounding because much of the Bearcats offense comes from second-chance points. But the Bearcats had 10 offensive boards; they average 13. Not great. Not disastrous, either.
And by the way, Wichita State has lost exactly eight roadies in the last five years.
The bigger wonder now, as the regular season hits twilight, is where does a big, seed-boosting win come from? UC’s best win is a home W over Houston. That’s not exactly sexy for the selection committee. UC gets the Shockers again March 4, and possibly Wichita or Houston in the AAC tournament. That’s it. Teams playing mediocre schedules and in mediocre conferences can’t afford lots of missteps.
UC had one Sunday. Was it as bad as Cronin believed?