The Big East schedule was released Wednesday afternoon and Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin had the chance to speak on the always daunting task after a press conference announcing the Southwest Ohio branch of the Coaches vs Cancer partnership with the American Cancer Society with Chris Mack (Xavier), Charlie Coles (Miami) and Archie Miller (Dayton).
After the formal introduction of the coaches collaborating in the fight against cancer, things quickly turned to the announcement of the 2011-2012 Bearcats schedule. Cronin was in a joking mood after finding out the Bearcats will run the gauntlet over the first 8 league games of the season pit his squad against opponents that made the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
“I fond out today that we're still in the Big East,” Cronin said. “This is a sad day for all Big East coaches when the schedule comes out and the reality hits of how many times you have to play ranked opponents. January looks like I may take vacation.”
It begins on New Years Day as the Bearcats travel to Pitt to take on the defending league champion Panthers. While not the easiest way to start, it was noted that UCONN opened Big East play a season ago with a loss at the Peterson Events Center.
“We start at Pitt and I've already been asked how do you like playing Pitt first,” said Cronin. “You've got to play them eventually and being 2-1 in our league is not a lot different than being 1-2. We play 18 of them any way you like it.”
It doesn't get any easier through the month of January as they will find out what they are made of against Notre Dame, St John's, @ Georgetown, Villanova, @ Uconn, @ WVU and Syracuse on Big Monday before ending the month with a road game at Rutgers.
Stretches like this are the norm for every team in the league, and for Cronin he knows he has to keep pushing forward through the rough patches to keep his team on track.
“You've got to make sure you're improving and stay focused,” Cronin said. “If you get caught up in a bad week and let that effect you it can turn into a bad month and that can ruin your season.”
The biggest difference for the Bearcats this season is they now have returning players that have experienced success. After getting to, and winning a game in the NCAA Tournament a season ago, Cronin will rely on his veteran guys to push through what looks to be a killer start to the 2012 calendar year.
“The good part about it is we're an NCAA Tournament team,” said Cronin. “I try to focus on us and you just have to know that every time you play a game in our league it's an opportunity to get a win and most of the time an opportunity to get a ranked win against an elite opponent.”
The new schedule also marked another milestone for Cronin in his tenure at UC as the Bearcats will host a Big Monday contest against Syracuse on January 23rd at 5/3 Arena. It is the first official Big Monday game for the program under Cronin and he is excited about the opportunity against an opponent he plans to put on his ballot #1 in the league.
“We're excited about having Syracuse come in on Big Monday,” Cronin said. “I think last year at that time they might have been undefeated before they went in to Pitt on Big Monday or close to it. I know I'll vote them pre season #1 in our league. I think they probably have the best players, the most NBA players in the league. It's going to be a big night, which says a lot about the program.”
While the early focus is on the first 8 games in league play upon the schedule release, Cronin has seen after 5 years in the league that you never really know what to expect until the ball is tipped and the season is underway.
“It seems to look on paper like January looks tougher, but you never know as some teams jump up and other teams could suffer injuries (let's hope it is not us), said Cronin. “Today I am going to talk about the schedule and then I'm putting it away and not looking at it again.”
For his sanity that might be the best idea possible.