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Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Whirlwind Week At UC

The entire year has been a whirlwind for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, and maybe fittingly, the tornado that has been UC Basketball this season grew to a Category-5 level last week. This was an odd year for Cincinnati basketball to begin with.

This was a season that saw a lot of strange UC Basketball happenings. UC President, Nancy Zimpher angered Bearcat-Nation, firing extremely popular head coach, Bob Huggins before the start of the season. In retaliation, many fans boycotted games. Several UC players quit the team or were ruled ineligible. There was a transcript problem with highly touted freshman Abdul Herrera, who then hurt his wrist and was ruled out for the season. Starting 6-8 senior swingman, Armein Kirkland blew out his knee and missed the final 18 games of the season. And finally, the Bearcats were snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee.

Interim coach Andy Kennedy managed to handle everything that happened this season with poise and dignity. That didn't make much difference though as the moronic Cincinnati administration refused to re-hire Kennedy, let alone give him a vote of confidence during the season. Instead the UC Administration was happy to fall far behind in recruiting and to keep their team in limbo for the entire season.

All of this made it a pretty crazy year for UC. Then on Thursday, things got insane. It started with former UC Head Coach Bob Huggins accepting a job to coach at Kansas State. This was big news in the tri-state because there's still such a love for Huggins due to all of the things that he was able to accomplish with the UC program while here.

Thursday afternoon there was word that upon the posting of grades at UC, Jihad Muhammad and James White had been ruled ineligible. This was a big loss to an already shorthanded UC team hours before their NIT quarterfinal game. UC looked like major contenders for the NIT Tournament Championship, but many local pundits were sticking a fork in the team with this news.

Thursday night after UC's loss to South Carolina in the NIT, things got even crazier with Mick Cronin accepting an offer to become Cincinnati's next head coach and Andy Kennedy accepting an offer to be the next head coach at Ole Miss.

And in a day filled with news, this was the really huge news. Cincinnati's administration decided to go with Murray State Head Coach, and former Cincinnati assistant Mick Cronin. They pulled the plug on Kennedy's tenure quite literally, unplugging the microphone in the arena at the end of Cincinnati's NIT loss as Kennedy tried to thank the fans and say goodbye.

I think Cronin is a pretty good choice for UC, but I also believe that President Zimpher, and Athletic Director Mike Thomas, who has proven to only be a yes-man for Zimpher, lucked into such a solid hire. Cronin has UC ties, serving as an assistant for the Bearcats 6 years ago, so the fans trust him, and are looking forward to seeing where he can take them.

UC fans should take everything hopeful that happens to this program with a grain of salt however. As long as Thomas, and especially Zimpher are in charge, it's impossible to tell how much leeway Cronin will have, and even if he'll have enough rope to do things the right way for the Cincinnati Bearcat basketball program.

One thing is for certain, Ole Miss got a good...possibly a great coach with Andy Kennedy. The way Kennedy handled this disaster of a program in Cincinnati this season was remarkable. I haven't talked to one Bearcat fan who disproves of Kennedy, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find one. Kennedy proved himself in what amounted to a season-long job application process. Even though the UC Administration didn't have enough sense to hire him, another major college basketball program really made well for themselves to bring Kennedy in as their coach.

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