Monday, September 14, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Cincinnati Bearcats

Too Busy for the Details?
Coach Cronin returns a solid nucleus of players, including combo guard Deonta Vaughn, center Steven Toyloy, bf/c Yancy Gates and wing Rashad Bishop. Red shirt freshman Cashmire Wright should be ready to take over the ball handling responsibilities that will allow Deonta Vaughn to roam and find the open area. To that mix add Top 15 recruit Lance Stephenson out of New York City -- assuming he clears the NCAA Clearing House (among others), and, if the Bearcats can shake off memories of their season-closing 4 game slide, this squad should be ready to make a big (upward) move. Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The 3 year table (below) is a great illustration of the effect of JUCOs. A good deal of experience available every other year, but a disquieting underachievement with that experience. The returning minutes this season come less from transferring juniors (or JUCO seniors) who bring a single season of DI experience to the table, but rather sophomores (1 year) and true juniors and seniors (2-3 years of experience).


Returning minutes are among the highest in the conference this season, giving observers and fans a reason to expect a move to the conference's upper division. On the offensive side of the ball everything is pointing up, returning points, field goals made and rebounds all suggest the Bearcats can expect to be even stronger this season. The defense has been a big problem in prior seasons, as Cincinnati has ranked near the bottom in overall defensive performance. Looking at Oliver's four factors, the problem areas have centered on shot defense (eFG%) and allowing opponents to get to the line. For all of their aggression, the Bearcats allowed opponents to take 4 free throw attempts for every 10 field goal attempts. That is uncomfortably close to a 1:2 ratio of FTAs to FGAs. The aggression did not produce many turnovers either. I expect defensive rebounding will be among the best next season, the key for the Bearcats will turn on whether they can step up their field goal defense (in conference...overall did not seem to be much of a problem), defensive rebounding and force turnovers.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg107.678104.6132103.7139
Overall DRtg97.910495.37297.298
Big East ORtg102.91198.11496.112
Big East DRtg110.415103.18106.316
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%48.419747.127545.9292
All Off. TOv%20.417920.817218.958
All Off. OReb%40.01035.08935.395
All Off. FTA/FGA30.331132.825829.7310
All Def. eFG%47.38849.213452.0252
All Def. TOv%18.826818.130722.491
All Def. OReb%34.223730.26432.4111
All Def. FTA/FGA35.415046.132137.9198
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%48.91047.11245.215
BE Off. TOv%18.5720.91220.07
BE Off. OReb%35.6635.2434.47
BE Off. FTA/FGA29.31231.91530.412
BE Def. eFG%51.81348.8655.216
BE Def. TOv%17.11318.41221.06
BE Def. OReb%34.41030.9433.16
BE Def. FTA/FGA40.81548.51430.612
All Gms Cons24.932119.313321.4201
All Gms Luck+.02378-.019193-.041260

Losing a slew of JUCOs (and transfers) at the end of the 2008 season took a toll on the team's consistency in 2009 (not to mention the Bearcat's defensive showing in conference). The JUCOs & transfers recruited in the aftermath of the Huggins/Kennedy changeover were replaced last season with freshmen (and a JUCO center named Steven Toyloy), two of whom played significant minutes last season. The two season lifespan of JUCOs and transfers over the past 3 seasons is also reflected in the Bearcats' record...

For the Record...
Big East8100.4448100.4442140.125
Post Season?BET/Rnd 1CBI/Rnd1No

Had they taken their 1st round game in the BET (versus DePaul), the Bearcats may have worked themselves into a post season tournament (NIT? Most likely another tilt in the CBI) for the second post season running. Very desirable when trying to build a contending team.

The Bearcats' Nucleus
Coach Cronin will no doubt work this group of players for all they can produce offensively. The entire cohort could have used another consistent scorer...

On Offense

When the shot went up last season, you could bet that either Deonta Vaughn or Yancy Gates (if they are on the floor) was the last to touch it. And that was a problem as the Bearcats could have really used a 3rd (consistent) option. If the Bearcats entered the 2010 season status quo ante, either Dion Dixon or Larry Davis would be good candidates to step into that 3rd (and/or 4th) scoring option. Both, hovering 19+ percent of the possessions and 20+ Shot% last season, hovers at the boundary of "Regular Guy" status in the offense. The key will be shot accuracy, at hitting their shots consistently was a problem for both last season. Stephenson, should he pass muster with the NCAA, will dramatically change that dynamic.

On Defense
Deonta Vaughn88.510.927.323.10.02.3
Rashad Bishop64.812.518.324.51.02.7
Yancy Gates57.516.34.513.74.61.2
Dion Dixon54.19.712.516.30.81.4
Larry Davis53.45.714.
Steve Toyloy39.518.38.627.81.70.7

Significant Additions
Ranked #12 in the Class of 2009, 6-5, 225lbs wing Lance Stephenson supplies what could be the missing piece to a Bearcat squad that struggled at times last season. Stephenson, a much heralded stud out of Abraham Lincoln HS on Coney Island, NYC brings confidence and credibility to Coach Cronin's squad. Stephenson will almost certainly play DI ball for a single season. And he will spend that season in Cincinnati. Given the tumult of the past 3 seasons, Cincinnati did not need a lot of replacements this season, so recruits Jaquon Parker, a 6-4 PG out of Suffolk, VA and Sean Kilpatrick, a 6-5 SG out of White Plains, NY (by way of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts), will have time to develop. If redshirt freshman Cashmire Wright does not develop as anticipated, Parker may see some playing time. Kilpatrick is an accomplished outside shooter who (I suspect) Cronin anticipated developing to eventually step into (Dion) Dixon and (Larry) Davis' wing spot. The addition of Stephenson should motivate the trio to work harder.

Explode If...
1. Lance Stephenson clears the NCAA (transcrips, finances, etc.) and blends into a team offense that will look for Vaughn 1st and Stephenson 2nd. "Born Ready" joins an established squad that is missing a consistent offensive option. This is not a squad built around him, but rather one he must fit into.
2. Toyloy and Gates cut down on turnovers under the Bearcat basket while and build up their rebounding presence their opponent's basket. Gates will have to learn to defer to Stephenson (and Vaughn) on offense, and wait his turn as the 3rd/4th option.
3. The Bearcat defense gets tougher, but cleaner. Cincinnati ranked near the bottom of the conference in shot defense (2FGAs especially), forcing turnovers and allowing opponents to get to the line. Points will come (one way or the other), but Bearcats have to stop their opponents.

Implode If...
If Stephenson does not play a minute in the Queen City this season, Cincinnati would still post a better record. The squad is experienced with several solid contributors ready to take the next step. With Stephenson the Bearcats can take a big jump...or a big fall. The question is how quickly (and how well) Coach Cronin can get this squad to play together. And play the game his way.

Crucial Runs
In the 3rd week of November the Bearcats will head to Hawaii, to play in the EA Maui Invitational, which will most likely provide them with their toughest tests in the OOC portion of the schedule. Cincinnati drew the Commodores of Vanderbilt in the 1st round, to be followed by either Maryland or host Chaminade. The Commordores, out of the SEC, return most of their minutes from 2009, including those posted by big man AJ Ogilvy, an Aussie who measures 6-10 and weighs in at 260 pounds. Vandy is projected by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla to finish 3rd in the SEC East and will surely be no worse than a bubble team. ESPN identified this matchup as one of the "10 Nonconference Games We Can't Wait To See" for good reason. Depending on the outcome the Bearcats will face Maryland, projected to be an upper tier team in the ACC this season (and Villanova's matchup in the BB&T Classic in December) or DII host Chaminade. 'Nati's 3rd round opponent will come from the pool of Arizona, Colorado, Gonzaga or Wisconsin. The likeliest candidates 'Zona or the Zags. Three solid games would be very encouraging. A 2-1 or better record against the field will bring some good press for the team. The Bearcat's cross-town game with the X-men will be one of those bellweather games in the OOC. Xavier, having lost Coach Sean Miller to Arizona in the off season, will most likely take a step back in 2010, providing Cincinnati with a good chance to beat a higher (lately) profile opponent. The Bearcats will also face traditional rival Miami of Ohio out of the MAC and the Red Hawks' conference mate, Toledo. Other tests include a road game with UAB out of Conference USA. While the Blazers, 22-12 in 2009, returns a fraction of minutes (and even less of the scoring) of that 22-10 team, they still hold the home court advantage. This one may have less to do with beating a fellow bubble team (and choking off the competition) as it does with winning in a hostile environment. How the team handles this test should, along with Maui and the local rivalries, give the Bearcat Nation some indication of how the squad will fare when the curtain rises in the Big East.

The 2+ week (12/30 - 1/16) stretch that opens the Big East regular season will be a good opportunity for the Bearcats to make a statement. They host Connecticut and Notre Dame as bookends to a run that includes road trips to Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John's interspersed among home games with Pittsburgh and California State at Bakersfield. 7-0 would garner notice around the conference and in the national media, but at minimum if Cincinnati is to fulfill expectations for an upper division conference finish they will have to beat inferior squads (Rutgers, Cal State), even as they exploit the home court advantage against similarly regarded opponents (Pitt and Notre Dame). The east coast road swing through Seton Hall and St. John's should yield some insight on the pecking order for those three teams. Each program's fan-base has expectations for their squad, and should the Bearcats go 2-0 or even 1-1 (with competitive games) in that swing, their fans would have have to feel optimistic about the rest of the season. Cincinnati fans would have to feel good should their team go 5-2 through that stretch (4-2 in conference). The end of the Big East regular season also holds a tough run as the Bearcats journey to Morgantown to face West Virginia, return to Fifth Third to host the Wildcats, then hit DC for season closer with Georgetown. Cincinnati collapsed at the end of the 2009 season, dropping the last 4 games of the regular season, then tacking 1 last loss (BET) to the end of that dreadful run. If Cincinnati is on the bubble, that 3 game run could be a dream-killer.


Steve D. said...

Great preview of the Bearcats. If Stephenson clears, this will be one of the Big East teams that I'll be paying extra attention to when the season starts. Unfortunately for Cincy, I see Lance doing more harm than good, but that's just my opinion.

Villanova handled these guys last year, 71-50 at the Pavilion, with Dante doing most of the damage (21 & 8). I don't remember specifically, but I'm assuming we put Reggie Redding on Vaughn. Vaughn shot just 3-for-14 from the field. 'Nova got to the line 24 times in that game, which you mentioned as one of Cincy's major problems.

greyCat said...

Thanks for the note Stevepit. Faced with pressure to rebuild quickly in a very competitive conference, Coach Cronin sees Stephenson, a high-risk/high-reward recruit that is worth the risk, even if he stays for a single season. I suspect Cronin is looking to parlay the Bearcat's (anticipated) jump into the upper division of the conference into a second round of high-level recruits. Not that unusual in the Big East these days, as Seton Hall, St. John's and Marquette have implemented a similar strategy.