The Big Picture: Last season, the Bearcats finished 19-16, won two games in the BIG EAST Championship and played in two rounds of the NIT. It was UC’s first NIT bid since 2006. Coach Mick Cronin must find a way to replace guards Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn, the team’s top two scorers. While Cronin will be looking to find some answers offensively, he will have several available choices. Cronin can call on eight players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season.
Who’s Back: Junior Yancy Gates is the only returning double-figure scorer. The 6-9 forward averaged 10.4 ppg and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds. Six-eleven Ibrahima Thomas helped around the basket by averaging 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in his first season with the Bearcats after transferring from Oklahoma State. The senior started 22 games last year. Six-six senior Rashad Bishop made 20 starts and averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 boards. He is a likely candidate to step up offensively. Cashmere Wright was in the rotation at point guard last season as a freshman. He averaged 5.4 points while making 11 starts and playing 18.5 minutes per game. Junior Dion Dixon averaged 4.9 points while seeing 15.8 minutes of playing time. Six-three Jaquon Parker got his feet wet as a freshman, starting eight games and averaging 4.3 ppg. Six-seven Darnell Wilks (3.4) and 6-3 Larry Davis (3.2), a pair of seniors, are experienced hands who have been through the BIG EAST battles. Six-four swingman Sean Kilpatrick, who carries strong offensive credentials, figures to make a strong drive for a prominent role after being redshirted as a freshman. Anthony McClain, a senior center, returns for reserve duty.
Who’s Missing: Stephenson, who averaged 12.3 ppg, was the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Vaughn averaged 11.7 points and finished his career third on the school’s all-time list with 1,885 points. He also was third with 511 assists and 313 3-pointers. In BIG EAST regular-season play, he finished fourth on the all-time 3-pointer list with 172 made.
Storylines: Cronin wants to continue the momentum that he and his staff have established. The Bearcats are a known quantity on defense and on the boards. UC was second in the BIG EAST in rebound margin (+6.2). Although Stephenson and Vaughn have departed, the Bearcats are still an experienced club with five scholarship seniors and two juniors on the roster. The search for more offensive punch may also include two freshmen, 6-8 Justin Jackson and 6-10 Kelvin Gaines.