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Is This Mick's Best Coaching Job To Date?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When you consider the injuries to Jermaine Lawrence and Deshaun Morman and the transfer of Jeremiah Davis III, the fact that UC currently sits at 19-2, 8-0 in the American Athletic Conference is astounding. Granted Morman was likely going to redshirt anyway, but he might not have if Davis hadn't transferred. Let's not dissuade us from thinking Mick Cronin is doing a phenomenal job with this team.

With a healthy Jermaine Lawrence, the Bearcats' front line was still thin. The only viable backup was David Nyarsuk and he seldom played. He was forced into action and has done a very respectable job. Throw in Justin Jackson's ankle injury Sunday in the first 6 minutes and UC goes from woefully thin to Titus Rubles manning the "5" spot at times. Yet, they managed to pull out a win. Granted they likely won't be able to do that every game going forward, but they found a way. That's typically what we've come to expect with Cronin's teams. Not overly talented (yet), but consistently playing hard and finding ways to win.

Going to Louisville Thursday night, it's still unsure if Justin Jackson is going to play. He says yes, coach says we'll see. They may get thumped with a front line of Nyarsuk and Rubles. Then again, would it surprise you at all if they managed to pull it out? Even with Jackson playing, it likely won't be at 100% so he'll be limited. Guyn is apparently battling shoulder and foot injuries as well. But, at this time of year I think everyone is a little beaten up so Guyn has no choice but to fight through it for his team.

Looking at the depth, or lack thereof. The only viable reserves UC has right now even with Jackson healthy are Nyarsuk - whose 20 minutes of action was a career high - Troy Caupain - who is pretty much getting starter minutes anyway but is still a freshman - Kevin Johnson - a freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game - and Jermaine Sanders - who might be the most unsung of all heroes this season. Take Jackson out Thursday night in Louisville and you're that much shorter on the bench with ZERO height.

But here we sit on January 29. UC is the 13th ranked team in the country on a 12-game winning streak. They haven't lost since the Xavier game. They haven't all been pretty. Hell, they've been downright ugly. That's UC basketball. That's been UC basketball since Bob Huggins arrived. It's not changing anytime soon. It's a way of life.

When you consider what this team is not good at (offense) you have to question just how they've only lost 2 games. They don't shoot particularly well. They don't dominate the glass. They're ridiculously streaky and they go through painful droughts on offense during games. They're not big. They make brain-dead errors in judgement. But how are they 19-2???

Mick Cronin (and his staff of course) is squeezing every possible ounce of ability out of these guys. There's not a 5 star player (currently). There's not a guy that you look at and say "no doubt he's an NBA player". On paper (yes, on paper) this is a 13-8 team. We can debate this to the end of time and I'm not sure I'd believe they should be 19-2. They're just not that good in my mind. We may find out Thursday in Louisville that no, they aren't very good. But then again, you can only beat who you play. They have some good wins, they have a couple of great wins (Pitt, Memphis). To this day I have no idea how they beat Memphis by 16 in Memphis. Watching Pitt play Syracuse I have no idea how UC beat Pitt. But I don't care. I'll take an "ugly" 19-2 any day over a pretty 15-6 or whatever.

Admit it, when you watched them play New Mexico and especially Xavier you thought something like "Jesus, this team is awful; what the hell is Cronin teaching these guys?" Am I right? OK I'll admit it. During the Crosstown I was pulling my hair out wondering if this program was indeed going in the right direction. Sure it was a knee-jerk reaction, but I effing HATE Xavier and HATE losing to those idiots. But much like the crap from two years ago, it has been exactly what this team needed to turn things around. They apparently need to be embarrassed in a game before they realize it's time to step on the gas. I wish it didn't have to happen like that, but if losing to that team from Norwood means UC has a great season then you can just sign me up for that every year. I'll take a great season over winning one stupid game.

Now, here's my challenge to anyone who has more time than I do. If I'm wrong, and you have the data to back it up, please present it. I'm just being honest here, I have neither the time nor desire to go researching all this stuff to fully back it up. If you want to call me lazy, that's perfectly fine. I admit it. From my own eyeballs this is what I believe. There's no way they should be 19-2. Not with this roster. But unlike last year, I'm enjoying this ride a hell of a lot more. Maybe it's more fun when you don't expect much.