This week for the University of Cincinnati has been a long-awaited process of trying to get in the Big 12. Now, they have their best opportunity.
Cincinnati officially submitted their application to get into the Big 12 on Wednesday, with the vote coming in on Friday.
The last time the Bearcats had a chance at leaving the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12 was back in 2016. Cincinnati’s respected basketball program has changed mightily since then.
In 2019, former Cincinnati men’s basketball head coach Mick Cronin decided to take the job out in Los Angeles, California to coach UCLA. Cronin — at that point — coached the Bearcats to nine-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet-16 in 2012. Cronin most recently coached the Bruins to a Final Four appearance back in March as the No. 11 seed.
With Cronin out of the picture, the university wanted a new look to the program but that would continue to show their success. On April 14, 2019, the University of Cincinnati hired former Northern Kentucky head coach John Brannen. The move at the time seemed logical as NKU made multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament in their early years as a Division I program. Brannen’s play style was, “94-feet, up and down the court.” Brannen also preached about logistic shots, only shots in the paint and three-point shots.
In his first season, Brannen was able to keep Cronin’s three contributing returning players in Jarron Cumberland, Trevon Scott and Keith Williams. With transfers and freshmen, Brannen was able to configure his scheme with his new players with Cronin’s old players. The Bearcats struggled early on but were able to pick up the pieces by March as they were ‘in the bubble’ for the NCAA Tournament at the time. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the season abruptly and Brannen moved on to coach a group of his own players.
In the 2020-21 season, Cincinnati men’s basketball reached their first low in over a decade. Players were out of nowhere transferring, former players were bashing on Brannen. It was getting ugly. After investigation, Brannen was eventually fired in April for an unapproved workout that led players to throwing up and passing out.
Cincinnati men’s basketball was back to square one.
What now? Cronin left, Brannen got fired. Who could bring energy back to Cincinnati?
Enter Wes Miller.
“I am fired up,” Miller said in his introductory press conference.
Cincinnati hired Miller weeks after Brannen was put on administrative leave and a sense of pride returned to the program’s rich history. Many alumni — including WVU basketball assistant Erik Martin — showed their support to Miller.
Miller played under all-time great Roy Williams for North Carolina from 2004-07, going from a walk-on to a starter in 2006. Miller was one of the final three candidates to replace Williams until Hubert Davis got the call.
Miller went on to start a coaching career thanks to Williams and his support. After assisting at Elon and North Carolina-Greensboro, Miller got his first head coaching opportunity for UNCG in 2011.
The former Tar Heel guard within a few seasons made UNCG a respectable mid-major program that you would want to avoid in March Madness. In the two-NCAA Tournament appearances Miller coached UNCG to, the Spartans came close to upsetting Gonzaga (2018) and Florida State (2021).
As of September 2021, Miller is the winningest head coach in the country that’s under the age of 40.
Cincinnati players, alumni and fans are all excited to see Miller bring the energy back to Fifth-Third Arena come this season. Who knows? By the time Cincinnati is officially in the Big 12, Miller could already have the program back to what it was during the Cronin era.
Miller and WVU basketball head coach Bob Huggins had a fun interaction between each other when Huggins returned to Cincinnati for the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment dinner back in June.
The question popped up to Huggins as both Bearcat coaches were on the stage. “Will West Virginia play Cincinnati [this season]?”
“Our schedule is full,” Huggins said.
Looks like a spot will be open for conference play come Cincinnati’s arrival into the Big 12, coach.