The Cincinnati Bearcats were at the epicenter of college basketball's black eye last season when they brawled on the court with crosstown rival, Xavier. Rather than letting that spin Cincinnati's season in a downward spiral, Mick Cronin rallied his team, which grew stronger as the season progressed. The Bearcats should once again be in a position to make some noise since they return three of their five starters.
Cronin primarily used a quicker, smaller four-guard lineup that allowed Cincinnati to not only really pressure the ball defensively, but also use its quickness and ability to shoot the rock on offense. Three of those four guards return and will be relied upon to lead the charge this season.
Sean Kilpatrick built off a solid freshman campaign to lead the team in scoring thanks to his smooth stroke from distance. Cashmere Wright will once again be the floor general; a role that he has steadily grown into while also providing tons of pressure on the defensive end. JaQuon Parker fits the role of glue guy and was often the guard having to handle bigger, more physical opponents. He can use his ability to break down defenders and get to the tin but also rebounds well for his size.
More than likely, the Bearcats will use a bigger starting five with Cheikh Mbodj holding down the fort and either Justin Jackson or JUCO transfer Titus Rubles at the four. Mbodj backed up Yancy Gates last year and will bring some physicality inside, but he doesn't possess the offensive ability Gates did. Because of a thumb injury to Jackson early on, Rubles has started both exhibition games. Cronin does expect Jackson to be ready for the season opener against UT-Martin on Sunday, and Jackson will make his biggest impact due to his athleticism, shot blocking, and ability to run the floor.
The bench is a bit of a question mark due to a lack of experience. Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jeremiah Davis each played sparingly off the bench as freshmen and should each continue in that role this season. 6-7 Shaquille Thomas wasn't cleared to play by the NCAA last yearm but did practice with the team and will bring some more length and athleticism to the forward position.
Assuming Jackson gets the nod to open games, Rubles will be a valuable reserve since he was one of the top junior-college recruits in the country. Kelvin Gaines and Jermaine Sanders could see expanded roles off the bench, though 7-1 transfer David Nyarsuk might steal some minutes because his height and length.
Cincy will once again play a very rugged brand of basketball. With plenty of experience in the starting backcourt, the productivity of the guys up front could determine how competitive Cincinnati can be in the bigger picture.
Player to Watch: Sean Kilpatrick, SG
In losing Gates and Dion Dixon, that's a little more than 25 points per game Cronin must replace from his starting unit. Kilpatrick figures to pick up some of that slack, and becoming more confident with his dribble-drive ability will help him take his game to the next level.