AAC Team Previews: Cincinnati BearcatsPosted by CD Bradley on November 7th, 2013
Strengths: Defense and athleticism. Under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati has been a defensive force, finishing in the top 25 nationally the past three seasons in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. That shouldn’t change much this year, with a group of long, bouncy forwards – Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas should start, with freshman Jermaine Lawrence adding more of the same off the bench – and quick guards Sean Kilpatrick and Ge’Lawn Guyn. Toughness is never lacking in Cincinnati.
Weaknesses: Offense. Just as the Bearcats have consistently troubled opponents’ offenses, they have struggled to score on the other end of the court. Cronin has said that he expects to pick up the pace this season – Cincinnati has been one of the top 200 most uptempo teams in the country just once in his tenure, finishing at #195 in 2010 – and they’ll need to. Those forwards whose length and quickness are a boon on the defensive end can’t shoot, so getting them out running the floor could help hide that weakness. A strong point guard would help the effort, but Cashmere Wright (by far their most efficient offensive player last year) is gone, and Guyn’s strength isn’t as a facilitator.
Schedule: The Bearcats have a road trip to the Pit in Albuquerque to face New Mexico on December 7, a crucial game where a win could do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume. They face former Big East rival Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden 10 days later. Otherwise, their non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. Their conference schedule is back-loaded with a brutal triple-header – Louisville, at UConn, Memphis – in the last two weeks of the regular season.
If Everything Goes Right: The Bearcats figure out how to consistently score points, and their touch defense smothers foes. They find themselves in a three-way race for second in the conference with Memphis and UConn, earning a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
If Everything Goes Wrong: Despite Cronin’s promises, Cincinnati maintains its plodding pace and the offense is even worse for it. With no particular center and no one with the skill set to create their own shots, points come only with great difficulty. They get no wins of note before January, struggle in conference play, and get passed for fourth place in the AAC by a dark horse, snapping a three-year NCAA streak.
What Will Happen: The defense is good enough to mostly make up for the offense’s struggles, again, and the Bearcats finish the year a solid fourth in the AAC. That’s good enough to earn a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they leverage their size and depth to pull a first-round upset over a team not ready for their defensive pressure.