Hickey: Look out, Fran -- Mick Cronin poised to be the B1G's most hated basketball coach
If you surveyed Big Ten basketball fans, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery would be the runaway winner of the competition for league’s most despised head coach.
A sitcom based on McCaffery would probably be titled “Nobody Likes Fran.” (Hey, the show “Coach” was loosely inspired by Hayden Fry. There’s a market for sitcoms about Iowa coaches.)
Wisconsin fans understandably have more ire for Juwan Howard after last season’s postgame kerfuffle with Michigan, but every other fanbase would probably pick Fran No. 1 — and they wouldn’t be using their index finger to point that out.
All of that ignores the fact McCaffery is an unabashed family man. And that the Hawkeyes play the most exciting style of basketball in the Big Ten. These are traits that more coaches should emulate.
But thanks to McCaffery’s volcanic sideline histrionics, those things are easy to overlook if you’re not an Iowa fan.
In the proud tradition of Bobby Knight, McCaffery is the red-faced coach the rest of the Big Ten loves to hate. And it’s not limited to fans.
Former Knight player Mike Woodson is among the coaches to voice displeasure with McCaffery’s lack of impulse control.
But a new competitor is looming on the Western horizon.
Perhaps “looming” isn’t the right word, since that competitor is roughly the size of a jockey. But UCLA’s Mick Cronin brings an outsized lack of likability to the table. And like LeBron James chasing down a layup out of nowhere, Cronin will be coming for McCaffery’s crown.
‘Conspiracy Theory Cronin’ will be easy to hate
Outgoing Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren did somersaults of joy when the league announced the addition of UCLA and USC last summer. It’ll do wonders for the B1G coffers.
But real Big Ten fans? None of us gives a hoot about the Bruins or Trojans.
This is a forced, arranged marriage. There is no emotional connection to Los Angeles.
But thanks to Cronin, it might not take Big Ten fans too long to despise the Bruins. And that’s actually a good thing. A guy like Cronin can stir the pot enough to turn this unnatural alliance into something capable of producing real emotions.
Cronin gave a taste of what to expect this weekend, when he attributed UCLA’s 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament seed reveal to some vast conspiracy.
In Cronin’s deluded mind, the Bruins are being penalized because they’re leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2 years. And that’s why Arizona was awarded the No. 6 overall seed by the selection committee ahead of UCLA at No. 8.
“When we left the Pac-12, it cost a lot of people millions of dollars. There was going to be fallout. And I think it’s a direct result of that,” Cronin said after his team beat Cal on Saturday night. “I’m not going to put the pieces together for you on how that affects that, but comical. If you asked for my one word answer on that ranking? Comical.”
Cronin’s response is the only thing providing the comedy here.
First of all, this is splitting hairs. Both UCLA and Arizona are 2-seeds in the current Tournament picture. The only difference is that the Wildcats were slotted for the Las Vegas Regional, while UCLA was sent to New York.
Given the track records of the 1-seeds, the committee actually did the Bruins a solid by pairing them with Purdue instead of Kansas. Would you rather face the defending champs in the Elite Eight, or a team nervously trying to reach the Final Four for the first time in 43 years?
Furthermore, Arizona and UCLA play again to conclude the regular season, and they’ll potentially meet again in the Pac-12 Tournament final. Whoever wins those games will have a very good chance to move up to a 1-seed.
Arizona is not ranked ahead of UCLA because of some conspiracy. It’s because the Wildcats are 7-2 in Quad 1 games while the Bruins are 5-4 — including Arizona’s 58-52 win over UCLA.
On top of that, both teams are behind Kansas for the final 1-seed because the Pac-12 stinks worse than a hockey dressing room after a triple-overtime playoff game. The Jayhawks are 14-6 in Quad 1 games — more quality wins than Arizona and UCLA combined.
But Big Ten fans aren’t going to hate Cronin just because he’s a tinfoil hat guy. He also brings some McCaffery-style sideline antics that will get opposing crowds going. And Howard-style antics in the handshake line.
Cronin, a supposedly grown man, once had to be held back from going after Xavier player JP Macura in the postgame handshake line when he was the coach at Cincinnati.
Mick Cronin trying to fight the XU bench. #girlbye #LETSGOX @barstoolsports pic.twitter.com/MTza31iuMx
— Mike (@IrishXMan) December 2, 2017
It’s unfortunate Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson will be gone by the time Cronin arrives in the B1G. The potential for that scene to repeat itself would have been off the charts.
But B1G is still Fran’s stomping ground
Alas, it’ll be a couple more years before Big Ten fans can cultivate their ire for Cronin. This weekend merely provided a reminder that it will be valid.
The weekend also provided a reminder that Fran isn’t giving up his crown without a fight. He was ejected for the 5th time in his Iowa coaching career while arguing a missed 10-second violation against Northwestern.
Fran McCaffery has been ejected pic.twitter.com/cmYl6oqBC3
— The Sleepers 💤🏀 (@SleepersMedia) February 20, 2023
McCaffery meltdowns are such a common occurrence that Hawk Central was able to grade it as “the weakest” of his career ejections.
Of course, the irony is that McCaffery should actually be the most beloved opposing coach in the Big Ten. No one in the B1G is more capable of making his team lose a game. In 2014, Wisconsin got 6 free throws out of a McCaffery double-technical — and ended up winning by 4 points.
For a neutral party, Mick vs. Fran is going to be appointment viewing. It can’t get here soon enough. Maybe the selection committee will do us that favor in the second round of this year’s Tournament.
That’s a conspiracy I’d gladly get behind.
Referees, on the other hand, might want to stuff their ears with cotton.