Editor's Note: The BIG EAST will be previewing both the men's and women's team from each BIG EAST member each weekday from October 22 to November 8 in advance of the 2012-13 season. Use hashtag #BECountdown to join the conversation on Twitter.
Cincinnati Bearcats Men's Basketball
The Big Picture:
Coach Mick Cronin has elevated the Bearcat program back into the national picture. UC has won 26 games in each of the last two seasons with last year’s club finishing 26-11 overall and 12-6 in the BIG EAST, including an appearance in The BIG EAST Championship title game. The season did not end until the Bearcats reached the NCAA Sweet 16 round. Cronin has to find a way to replace forward Yancy Gates and guard Dion Dixon, but he has three returning starters, including a pair of double-figure scorers and some other experienced players who appear ready to accept larger roles.
Sean Kilpatrick, one of the BIG EAST’s top perimeter shooters and an All-BIG EAST Second Team pick, averaged 14.3 ppg while connecting on a league-high 92 3-pointers. The 6-foot-4 junior is the top returning scorer. Point guard Cashmere Wright returns for his senior season after averaging 10.9 points and 4.6 assists. Guard JaQuon Parker averaged 9.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg. The backcourt has depth with sophomores Jeremiah Davis, Ge’Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders. Up front, forward Justin Jackson averaged 5.1 points and 4.2 boards while starting 20 games. The 6-foot-8 athletic junior runs the floor well and is a shot-blocking threat. Six-foot-10 senior Cheikh Mbodj averaged 1.7 points and 2.1 rebounds while playing just under 10 minutes per game. Six-foot-10 sophomore Kelvin Gaines saw limited duty.
Gates was third on the team in scoring with a 12.2 average and first in rebounding at 8.9, which was fifth in the BIG EAST. Guard Dion Dixon averaged 13.0 points and was a prime contributor to the Bearcats’ gritty defensive play. Forward Octavius Ellis (2.3, 1.7) saw limited action.
The Bearcats have a solid core of players who also have winning experience, led by Kilpatrick and Wright. The team may try to get up and down the floor a little more this season. A pair of 6-foot-7 newcomers, junior Titus Robles and freshman Shaquille Thomas, may help with that plan. Both could see plenty of immediate playing time. Cronin wants his team to continue to play strong defense and take care of the ball. The Bearcats held 29 of 37 opponents last season to less than 70 points. Last year, UC was third in the BIG EAST in turnover margin (+3.11).