One day after telling reporters he was "going to decide who's on the team going forward" in the wake of Saturday's ugly game-ending brawl with rival Xavier, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin doled out punishment that packed less punch than expected.
Top big man Yancy Gates will be suspended for six games as a result of the right cross that bloodied unsuspecting Xavier center Kenny Frease, and reserve center Cheikh Mbodj also will sit out six games for stomping Frease while he was down on the court. Freshman forward Octavius Ellis also received a six-game suspension and guard Ge'Lawn Guyn will sit out just Cincinnati's next game.
Part of the reason those punishments seem lenient is because of where Cincinnati is in its schedule.
The next four games the Bearcats play are against Wright State, Radford, Arkansas Pine Bluff and Chicago State, followed by a winnable nonconference game at home against Oklahoma and the Big East opener at Pittsburgh. Not only could Cincinnati easily go 4-2 or 5-1 without Gates and Mbodj, the Bearcats will only be without them for one conference game even if they do struggle.
The punch from Gates in particular was bad enough that many called for the 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior to be dismissed from the team and a few pundits have even suggested it should be enough to put the city rivalry with Xavier into a hiatus.
In his postgame news conference on Saturday, an angry Cronin appeared to favor severe punishment. He said that he made each of his players take their jerseys off in the locker room and offered no guarantees some of them would put them on again.
"If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati," Cronin said Saturday. "Right now I just told my guys I'm going to meet with my AD and my president and I'm going to decide who's on the team going forward. That's what the University of Cincinnati's about. Period. I told them, the way I feel right now, I've never been this embarrassed. I'm hoping President Williams doesn't ask me to resign after that."
To his credit, Cronin is making the suspended Bearcats do more than just sit out games to earn their way back onto the team. The Cincinnati coach told Sporting News on Sunday that the suspended players will have to make a public apology of sorts and participate in some form of community service in which they explain why their actions were wrong.
Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock defended the length of the suspensions in the statement he released Sunday afternoon and warned "there will be zero tolerance for a repeat of this behavior."
"We want to deal with this in a prompt and direct manner and send the message that we will not tolerate this from those who have the privilege of representing the University of Cincinnati," Babcock said.
Xavier also handed out its punishments on Sunday, suspending starters Dez Wells four games, Mark Lyons two games and Tu Holloway for one game. Walk-on Landen Amos also received a four-game suspension.
Although Holloway didn't throw a punch, the star guard's suspension could easily have been longer since his trash talk played a key role in instigating the incident. Both Holloway and Lyons also failed to express remorse in their postgame interviews, comments for which Holloway has since apologized.