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UCLA's Mick Cronin Wins Pac-12 Coach of the Year

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Congratulations, Coach Cronin and Chris Smith!

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at UCLA
Mick Cronin and Chris Smith were the only Bruins to win PAC 12 Conference Awards
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 Men’s Postseason Awards have been announced. Coach Mick Cronin wins the John R. Wooden Coach of the Year Award:

Utilizing a 10-player rotation consisting of seven underclassmen, first-year UCLA head coach Cronin defied most expectations as he led the Bruins – who were picked eighth in the preseason media poll – back from a 7-6 non-conference mark and 1-3 league start to a runner-up finish in the Pac-12 standings just a game behind predicted champion Oregon. The six-spot betterment equals the fourth-best since the league began conducting preseason polls in 1984-85 (WSU +8 2006-07, ASU +7 1992-93, ARIZ +7 1985-86).

Cronin, who is one victory away from his 10th consecutive 20-win season, is the seventh Conference coach to win the honor in his first year with a program, joining Stanford’s Dick DiBiaso (1976), UCLA’s Gary Cunningham (1978), Oregon State’s Jim Anderson (1990), California’s Ben Braun (1997), Washington State’s Tony Bennett (2007) and Washington’s Mike Hopkins (2018).

It is Cronin’s third career conference Coach of the Year award along with the Ohio Valley in 2006 and The American in 2014.

Thank you, Coach Cronin. A well-deserved and certainly earned award. I did not see this coming after the end of the non-conference season. Regardless of what happens in the Pac-12 tournament and beyond, this has been a fun and rewarding season. More important than this season, you have given us a reason to believe in the future!

The voters in the “2019-20 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball All-Conference Awards” are all coaches. The only rule is you cannot vote for yourself or anyone on your team. In a sense, the coaches paid Coach Cronin the ultimate tribute because the UCLA Bruins only had one player for all the awards. In other words, this was a coach who won despite not having the most talented team in the conference.

Even the player that was recognized is a tribute to Cronin’s coaching, Chris Smith, was voted to the first team all Pac-12 and won the Most Improved Player award. On the latter, the Pac-12 release states:

The leading scorer (13.1 ppg) for league runner-up UCLA, Smith more than doubled his scoring average from a season ago (6.3 ppg in 2018-19) while setting single-season career bests in rebounding (5.4 rpg), assists (1.6 apg), steals (1.0 spg) and every shooting category (45.8% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 84.0% FT).

After averaging 11.1 points as the team went 7-6 in non-conference play, the Bruins’ season turned on the improved performance of Smith, who averaged 14.6 points on 46.8 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds in Conference action.

Smith is the first UCLA recipient of the league’s Most Improved Player award which debuted following the 2008-09 season.

It kind of fits together. Cronin wins Coach of the Year BECAUSE he improved players like Smith. The most overlooked part of Smith’s game may be the overall improvement in shooting percentages. Smith used to be a liability from three and I don’t believe anyone saw Smith as an 84% free throw shooter.

UCLA was shut out of all the other categories, although Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jalen Hill did receive honorable mentions for All-Freshman and All-Defense.

Please add your congratulations to Coach Cronin and Chris Smith in the comments.

Go Bruins!