The Bearcats 72 – 63 home loss at the hands of the 7th ranked Louisville Cardinals not only put a damper on the Bearcats tournament chances, but also exposed the fact that this young Bearcat team, while having matured tremendously throughout the year, still has a long way to go before they are ready to compete night in and night out with the same intensity as some of the top teams in the conference.
On the heels of that defeat, the Bearcats must now welcome a high-energy West Virginia into the Shoemaker Center in a game that may decide the Bearcats tournament fate.
In an effort to gain the attention of his players, Coach Cronin took a page out of the book of another former Cincinnati head coach, Bob Huggins, by not only banning his players from their locker room, but also taking away all of their gear featuring the University of Cincinnati logo until the players can earn it back.
"You have to deserve to have the amenities that our program stands for," said Cronin. "Our defense and rebounding have been abysmal lately, and I have just had enough. You try to send a lot of messages as a coach, and some are unsuccessful. Obviously everything I passed along last week was unsuccessful. So you just keep searching and try to send it in a different way."
The message sent by Cronin, a message that hopes to inspire tougher play from his team, has been well received by the players. They say despite not being able to indulge in their normal pre-practice rituals such as relaxing by watching television or listening to music, they understand the message Cronin wants them to take away.
"It's because we should be defending our home court," said Alvin Mitchell. "Even though that was a though game, we need to defend home court no matter what. I think it's to prove a point and make us realize what we can accomplish. We aren't accomplishing what we should be accomplishing at this point, and we shouldn't have to wait until late in our career to accomplish these things."
Freshman forward Yancy Gates also understands what Coach Cronin expects out of the players, and admits that at times this season the team hasn't come out with the fire and passion they should have.
"We understand why he did it," said Gates. "We have to play hard when we play that kind of team. We haven't beaten a top 20 team yet and those are the types of wins we need."
While attempting to undergo an attitude change in time to defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers on Thursday night, the Bearcats also find themselves amidst the distractions brought about by the return of former UC Head Coach Bob Huggins, who now holds the same position at West Virginia University.
While some of the players, such as freshman power forward Yancy Gates, grew up in the area and spent most of their childhoods watching Huggins lead the Bearcats to numerous Conference USA championships, they say it will not be a distraction for them once the ball is tossed in the air.
"I don't think it is going to feel like any sort of distraction or anything like that," that said Gates. It's just his team versus ours. He just isn't the coach of the Bearcats anymore."
If the Bearcats can manage to overcome the distractions that are sure to come in a game of this magnitude, and can dig down deep and find within themselves the heart and intensity it will take to win games in the Big East on a nightly basis, they should find themselves on the right side of the scoreboard at the evening. However, like we have seen so many times throughout the season, if the Bearcats do not come ready to play they will find themselves not only on the losing end of the scoreboard, but likely watching the NCAA Tournament from home in March.