CINCINNATI — Mick Cronin was confident his team was in the NCAA Tournament.
But he admits — with the way things have gone lately — he was relieved when he heard the Bearcats named called on the Selection Show.
The Bearcats made the NCAA Tournament as a ninth seed in the West Region. UC will play eighth-seeded St. Joseph’s in Spokane on Friday. Should the Bearcats win, they’ll like face No. 1 seeded Oregon. Oregon was the fourth of the four top seeds.
“I’m happy for our seniors,” Cronin said. “That’s what I told (my daughter) Sammi. She said, ‘Dad, are you nervous?’ I said, ‘I’ve coached in a lot of tournaments.’ I was worried about Octavius (Ellis) and those guys. Hopefully, nothing crazy would happen today.”
Something crazy did happen to the Bearcats in the semifinals of American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats lost 104-97 in four overtimes after an 80-foot shot fell at the buzzer for Connecticut Fricday. Cronin would say after the buzzer.
“When clock starts on time, we’re really difficult to beat,” Cronin said.
That kind of loss stings.
“It’s still in my head,” Octavius Ellis said. “I’m still dreaming about it.”
Cronin addressed bouncing back from having a game taken from you.
“I told them it’s the final straw, let’s get all bad luck, unfairness and bad things are out of the way,” Cronin said. “It’s our time to be lucky.”
The first bit of luck change came when the Bearcats heard they were playing Friday. Shaq Thomas, Gary Clark, Coreontrae DeBerry and Farad Cobb have all been dealing with injuries. The extra day of rest will help.
“As soon as they said we were in, I said: When?” Cronin said. “Friday is good. Gary was smiling. A lot of guys were smiling. As it turned out, as much as we would have liked to win the conference tournament, with the injuries we’ve been dealing with, the rest time hopefully will be good for us."
Cronin expects all of the players mentioned above to play Friday.
“Shaq would be the worse of the injured guys,” Cronin said. “We’ve had such bad luck. Gary got hurt as I was blowing my whistle to end practice before the UConn game.”
Again, Cronin thinks things are changing.
“So many things happened to these guys,” he said. “That’s a good thing. They’ve bounced off that.”
The players came to Fifth Third Arena Sunday expecting to be in the tournament — but not in the bracket of 64.
“We thought we’d be playing in the play-in game,” Ellis said. “That’s what coach said.”
UC goes in without the burden of expectations.
“We don’t want to put a cap (on our expectations),” Cobb said. “We want to get some wins in the tournament and see what happens. That will take care of all of things up to this point.”
The Bearcats can play defense with the just anybody. Playing well on the offense is key to getting deep in the tournament.
“To win six in a row, you’ve got to have your senior play well and have a guard get hot,” Cronin said. “That is everybody. You might be able to grind out a win or two, but to really advance, you’ve got to get hot ... You’ve got to knock down shots.
“You’ve got well-coached teams, playing hard. It comes down to making plays.”
As Cronin said, St. Joe’s (27-7) won the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn a berth.
“I watched them beat Temple back a long time ago,” Cronin said. “But I was really paying attention to Temple. I do know DeAdre Bembry is a good player. Isaiah Miles is most improved player throughout his career.”
Beyond St. Joe’s, Cronin did not know anything about the bracket.
“I really didn’t pay attention after they put us up,” Cronin said.
UC is one of only eight teams make the NCAA six years in a row.
“We don’t play in a new arena,” Cronin said. “We were yanked out of great conference. We don’t have everything everybody else has. I think the kids helped us get to tournament, that rebuilt the program, not the kids that have made the last six years ... They’ve played with a lot of heart to restore the pride in our program.
“I like to include them in what’s going on. A guy like John Williamson. I think about them. It’s a credit to the kids and their toughness. They play with pride.”