Sunday afternoon’s game against Wichita State, a game in which the Shockers won 76-72 in BBC Arena, has the Bearcats reeling now with back-to-back losses, and seeing their strangle on the lead for the American Athletic Conference start to slip away.
The reason for this slight skid so late in the season, at least in the eyes of Mick Cronin, is his team’s lack of focus.
“We’re not in a good place for a lot of reasons,” Cronin said. “We had eight deflections in the second half. We had 23 in the first half. So our energy level and our identity, we’ve lost focus of why we have been winning a lot of games, which is defense and rebounding. We’ve got too many guys that are concerned with the offensive end.”
Cronin’s words shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After all, he does come from the Rick Pitino coaching tree. Pitino, the Hall of Famer and former Louisville/Kentucky head coach, was a defensive minded guru when it came to college basketball. He was known for always allowing his players to work through offensive struggles, but the moment a player started to slip defensively, they got sent straight to the end of the bench.
So does Cronin have a legitimate point? Well, sure, I suppose. I mean, I normally wouldn’t call a two-game losing streak after ripping off 16 in a row a total lack of focus. Yes, the Bearcats strength all season (heading in to the game they had the second highest rated defensive efficiency rating per KenPom) did fail them Sunday afternoon, allowing Wichita State to shoot just about 53 percent for the game. But, maybe, UC just got a little bored and too comfortable as they skated through a conference that doesn’t feature a gauntlet of tough teams such as the ACC or Big 12.
However, the Bearcats did lose a crucial game against a quality opponent, and one that is gunning for them as the race to the end of the regular season heats up. Maybe Mick is just digging in to his team at a crucial moment in the season in order to get them fully honed in as March fast approaches. Beating Wichita State would have helped secure UC’s lead in the AAC, and, probably more importantly, would have given them a much-needed quality victory to add to their tournament resume. Cincinnati still has a good opportunity in front of them to win the conference and grab a top-seed, let’s just hope they hear Cronin’s words.