When it comes to defense, Mick Cronin is unapologetically old-school.

The University of Cincinnati basketball coach prefers the man-to-man approach because it encourages his players’ aggressive natures and because it has made the Bearcats one of the top defensive teams in the country.

But Cronin is also fond of winning, which is why he’s not averse to going to Plan B when circumstances dictate it. In this case, Plan B is a zone, which the Bearcats resorted to for long stretches of their 61-54 victory over South Florida on Saturday.

Expect to see more of it as long as 6-foot-9 freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence remains on the shelf with his turf toe injury.

No. 19 UC was forced to go to the zone when senior forward Justin Jackson was saddled with two fouls early in the first half. With 7-foot-1 center David Nyarsuk not offering much in Jackson’s stead and with the Bulls fielding a physically formidable front line, the Bearcats were in a zone for roughly 80 percent of the game.

Cronin’s only regret was that he didn’t go to it sooner.

“I probably should have started the game in a zone,” Cronin said, “but our man-to-man has been so great for us, it’s been such a go-to defense for us, I didn’t want to take any aggressiveness away from our team to start the game. But I probably should have started the game in a zone to try to protect Justin because of the size difference.”

The Bearcats - winners of their last 10 games - continue to roll through the American Athletic Conference. They’re unbeaten through six conference games and own a 17-2 overall record, their best mark through 19 games since the 2001-02 team was 18-1.

Led by first-team All-American guard Steve Logan, that team was ranked as high as No. 4 nationally, went 31-4, and set a school record for victories. Those Bearcats won the Conference USA regular-season and conference championships before losing to UCLA, 105-101, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Playing so much zone defense against USF, the Bearcats forced only 13 turnovers, but they still managed to hold USF to 54 points and 39.2 percent shooting. Asked if he thought his players executed the zone as well as they do their ‘man’, Cronin said the zone might actually be more effective.

“If you look at our charts and the percentage of scoring against our zone, our zone is way better than our man,” said Cronin, who acknowledged that those percentages might be skewed because before Saturday UC had played zone only about 10 percent of the time.