CINCINNATI -- What's the Crosstown Shootout like for Cincinnati Bearcats coach Mick Cronin?
“This is my job,” Cronin said. “It’s fun for everybody else, but it’s my job.”
Cronin has himself one tough job this year.
Saturday’s game with Xavier has many challenges for Cronin and his team. It's on the road, there are seven players in UC's rotation that are playing in the Shootout for the first time and for a 7-0, 12th-ranked team, the Bearcats are thoroughly untested.
They wrapped their pre-shootout schedule with an 83-51 win over 0-7 Alabama State. It was fourth time UC faced a winless team. Alabama State is 308 in the RPI; Xavier is 45th.
The Bearcats aren’t in the cupcake aisle anymore.
Xavier moved to 6-1 with a 76-63 home win over No. 16 Baylor on Tuesday. The Musketeers' only loss was was to No. 20 Arizona State.
"They're really good," Cronin said. "They're even better at home. They’re really, really good. They also played another Top-20 team, which is an advantage for them because we did not play another Top-20 team.”
Cronin said Arizona State played as well as he’s seen any team play this year in beating Xavier 102-87.
“(A loss like) that makes you look in the mirror, which is good thing,” he said. “It’s happened to them. It hasn’t happened to us yet.”
Cronin deliberately kept the schedule light early to give his team a chance to get used to new point guard Kane Broome and to get his four freshmen used to college basketball.
There’s college basketball and then there’s rivalry college basketball.
UC senior Gary Clark is edifying his young teammates on what that means.
"It's your biggest rivalry in your high school, times a 100," Clark said, "with a bunch of people that really do not like you whatsoever. Just go in there and don't even look at anybody up there in the stands. Just focus on everything that we practiced and stay connected. If one guy gets jitters or loses focus, the ship can go south.”
Cronin says he leaves the history lessons to players, new and old.
“All I care about is winning,” Cronin said. “That’s for former players. If I got to talk about guys about that, we’ve got no chance.”
What Cronin is talking about is playing on the road. UC’s played four games at “home” (at their temporary home at Northern Kentucky University) and three in Cayman Islands Classic.
“We’ve got to get ready to win any road game, especially a road game against a Top-20 team,” Cronin said. “The formula for that is you’ve got to be able to score some points. Last time we were over there, we lost 63-53. You can’t get 53 and win. We’ve got to to be able to get quality shots, be we’ve got to be able to generate offense off our defense.”
UC won the Shootout 86-76 last year at Fifth Third Arena, but the Bearcats have lost six straight at Xavier.
“We’ve got to work really hard on execution against a high-major defensive team that knows you well, is going to be at home, is going to be physical,” Cronin said. “They’re going to take things away from you. You have to be able to know that and have enough poise about you and toughness about you to get some execution and shots that are open.
“If you can’t do that, you really have no chance to win. That’s something we have to work hard at because we haven’t played anyone who’s been able to take our offense away from us. They’ll be able to do that.
“They’re not going to just let you throw the ball to Gary Clark. We’ve got to be ready with Option 2, 3, and sometimes 4. And that’s against any top team in the their gym.”
UC does have a lot of offensive options. Clark is the leading scorer at 13.7 points a game. But UC has distributed the shots and minutes: Jacob Evans III averages 11.7 points, followed by Jarron Cumberland (11.0), Kyle Washington (10.4), Broome (9.0), Justin Jenifer (8.3), Trevon Moore (6.3) and Keith Williams (5.5).
It will be interesting to see how the scoring and minutes break down when the competition gets steeper starting Saturday.
Cronin’s job is to figure that out.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.