NCAA Basketball

Cincinnati stays in its backyard for next basketball coach

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) John Brannen played pick-up games at Cincinnati's on-campus arena when he was growing up and vividly recalls watching Kenyon Martin dunk over another player. He's coached - and lost - with visiting teams at the same arena.

The local guy is now in charge of the home team.

The Bearcats decided to stay in their backyard for Mick Cronin's replacement, choosing Brannen - the head coach at nearby Northern Kentucky - to try to extend their American Athletic Conference success and get deeper into the NCAA Tournament.

The 45-year-old coach grew up in northern Kentucky and was at the top of Cincinnati's list when Cronin - another Cincinnati-area native - left for UCLA last week .

"Nobody trumped John," athletics director Mike Bohn said Monday.

Brannen led Northern Kentucky to unmatched success in its first three seasons in Division I, leading the Norse to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and winning the Horizon League's coach of the year award. When he arrived on the Norse campus, many students still rooted for the Kentucky Wildcats at tournament time.

That changed when the Norse reached the tournament in their first year of eligibility and gave Kentucky a scare in the first round before losing 79-70. They reached it again this season and lost to runner-up Texas Tech 72-57 in the opening round .

Getting the Bearcats deeper into the tournament will be one of Brannen's main goals.

Cincinnati reached the NCAA Tournament each of the last nine seasons under Cronin, who dug the program out from its mess after Bob Huggins' departure. But the Bearcats reached the Sweet 16 only once, in 2012. A first-round loss to Iowa last month in Columbus, Ohio made it seven straight years of failing to get beyond the opening weekend.

In the short term, Brannen takes over a team in transition at the guard spot. The Bearcats lose senior point guards Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome. Jarron Cumberland, the AAC's player of the year, hasn't declared whether he'll return for a senior season.

The most intriguing question is how much Brannen changes the Bearcats' style. Cronin emphasized defense, rebounding and toughness. While Brannen also likes full-court defensive pressure, his offense at Northern Kentucky was much more wide open.

"Our style of play will invigorate the fan base and capture your hearts," Brannen said.

Bohn indicated that was a factor in the hiring decision. He said the new coach will bring in "an exciting brand of basketball. We like that. That's something we were looking for."

Brannen has close ties to the university beyond those pick-up games. Northern Kentucky allowed the Bearcats to use its home court during the 2017-18 season while their arena was being renovated. Brannen wasn't thrilled with the idea - "I really thought it was going to be a distraction" - but the schools formed a good working relationship.

Brannen also has coached at Cincinnati's on-campus arena. He was an assistant with Alabama when it lost at Cincinnati 58-56 on Dec. 1, 2012. The Norse played at Cincinnati last season and lost 78-65.

Shortly after he was introduced on Monday, Brannen was asked about the annual crosstown game with Xavier for the city's bragging rights. Xavier has taken eight of the last 12 in the series, although Cincinnati dominated on its home court 62-47 last season. The game will be at Xavier next season.

Brannen said he and his wife, Lisa, already had talked about how he'll get a chance to coach in the rivalry.

"I've always watched the game, always knew the coaches involved," he said.


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Updated April 15, 2019

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Teams Score Time
Arizona 27 F
New York 21
Houston 23 F
Indianapolis 30
Jacksonville 27 F
Cincinnati 17
Los Angeles 37 F
Atlanta 10
Miami 21 F
Buffalo 31
Minnesota 42 F
Detroit 30
Oakland 24 F
Green Bay 42
San Francisco 9 F
Washington 0
Los Angeles 20 F
Tennessee 23
Baltimore 30 F
Seattle 16
New Orleans 36 0:48 4th
Chicago 24
Philadelphia   8:20pm
New England   Mon 8:15pm
New York  
Teams Score Time
Vancouver 3 F
New York 2
Montreal 3 F
Minnesota 4
Edmonton 0 00:00 1st
Winnipeg 0
Washington 1 00:00 1st
Chicago 0
Calgary   9:00pm
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 11 Denny Hamlin 23
2 9 Chase Elliott 14
3 18 Kyle Busch 18
4 1 Kurt Busch 15
5 24 William Byron 25
6 19 Martin Truex Jr 11
7 20 Erik Jones 20
8 14 Clint Bowyer 21
9 4 Kevin Harvick 40
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 19 Brandon Jones 2
2 2 Tyler Reddick 4
3 98 Chase Briscoe 11
4 1 Michael Annett 38
5 7 Justin Allgaier 7
6 51 Jeremy Clements 6
7 11 Justin Haley 12
8 23 John Hunter Nemechek 15
9 39 Ryan Sieg 13
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 20 Spencer Boyd 25
2 4 Todd Gilliland 6
3 51 Riley Herbst 7
4 24 Brett Moffitt 8
5 52 Stewart Friesen 10
6 16 Austin Hill 13
7 17 Tyler Ankrum 2
8 88 Matt Crafton 1
9 2 Sheldon Creed 5