You have to give Mick Cronin some credit. He sure is sticking to his guns.
The Cincinnati coach has not been pleased with forward Yancy Gates -- the Bearcats' most talented and productive player -- lately. Cronin suspended Gates for Cincinnati's game at Pittsburgh Feb. 5. Since then, Gates has played a combined total of 29 minutes in two games, spending much of his time in Cincinnati's win over DePaul, and its loss to St. John's Sunday, viewing the action from the bench.
There was some minor confusion on this point Sunday. From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
With 1:18 left in the University of Cincinnati’s 59-57 loss to St. John’s on Sunday, junior forward Yancy Gates jumped up from his seat at the end of the bench and ran to the scorer’s table to enter the game after Ibrahima Thomas had fouled out. [...] As it turned out, Gates did not re-enter the game. His call to the scorer’s table was a false alarm.
“I have no idea who told him to do that,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “We’re winning and they’re pressing. Even if he’s playing well, with his free throw percentage, we’re not going to put him in at that point.”
Gates spent all but 13 minutes of the game on the bench. Only one of those minutes came in the second half. He took only one shot and finished with zero points and three rebounds, and Gates didn't seem very happy about that: The Associated Press went so far as to describe Gates' sideline body language as "stewing."
Why isn't Gates playing? Gates' Feb. 5 suspension was reportedly the result of a blowup at an assistant coach; the forward admitted he was wrong and seemed to have accepted his punishment with the appropriate dose of humility. At the time, Cronin said he thought Gates's effort had also slipped, and that seems to be the reason he's kept the talented forward out of his lineup since. Again, from the Enquirer:
“I play the guys that give the Cincinnati Bearcats the best chance to win,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to produce. You can’t just stand on the low block and wait for everybody to throw you the ball.”
It's one thing to suspend or bench a player with nothing on the line. It's another to do so when a) the player in question is your best, b) the team in question is desperately fighting to stay in the at-large bubble picture, c) the opponent in question (in this case, St. John's) is a fellow bubble team from your own conference, d) the game in question is a one-possession struggle with said opponent, and e) the coach in question could really use an NCAA tournament berth to avoid the hot seat in his fifth year at the school in question. (Apparently I really like to use the phrase "in question.") All of those things are true of the Bearcats and Cronin. This is a crucial stretch for Cincinnati's flagging at-large chances, for Cronin's career, and for his program's progress. And still Gates sits.
Admirable? You can certainly make that case. Self-destructive? That will depend on the rest of Cincinnati's season. If Gates gets it together and the Bearcats make the tournament, Cronin will look like a brave coaching genius. If the Bearcats fade and ship off to the NIT, he'll look like a stubborn hard-liner who cares more about proving a point to a petulant star than getting his team back to the NCAA tournament. But whatever happens these next four weeks, you have to hand it to Mick Cronin: He sure is sticking to his guns.