Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Cincinnati Bearcats

Too Busy for the Details?
Going into the 2010 season, the Bearcats' motto could well have been "The Future is Now!". A senior volume scorer, an impact (volume scoring) freshman #3 and a low post offensive rebounding machine (highly efficient put-back scorer) would start with a deep pool from which to draw a variety of mix-and-match looks for the rotation. The 'Nati Nation had good reason to anticipate an ascension to the upper division (if not the elite level) of the Big East and a long-anticipated return to the Division 1 conversation. While Coach Cronin has upped the program's win total in each of his first four seasons, 2010 fell short of expectations, and the coach has to be nervous as he enters his fifth season. The Bearcats have a shallower squad with many of the same problems and challenges that plagued them in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons -- a glaring lack of shot and scoring efficiency. Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance


Coach Cronin's approach to offense shows the influence of his former mentor, Coach Bob Huggins, currently coaching at West Virginia. Coach Cronin's approach is similar to what we saw with West Virginia last season -- a long front court whose offense relies on put-backs from misses on the perimeter and lane. The returning numbers suggest a rebuilding year at what for Coach Cronin at least, has to be a most inconvenient time (as if there is ever a convenient time to rebuild...). The good news is that most of that rebounding will be back, but as the stats below suggest, there is only Yancy Gates in the front court to finish (when he is in the game) the possession.

According to Pomeroy...
Big East ORtg100.412104.61198.114
Big East eFG%48.21048.91098.114
Big East OR%36.1T535.6635.24
Big East DR%69.7165.61069.14

The roster and rankings within the conference provide insight to Coach Cronin's recruiting and game strategy. Rebounding and low post control are a high priority, playmaking apparently is a lower priority, and that appears to feed Cincinnati's inability to score consistently and efficiently. Offensive workhorses Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson for example, tend to be volume scorers -- they require a lot of shots/touches to put points on the board. The Bearcats' more efficient scorers, recently re-instated Rashad Bishop and (graduated in 2009) Mike Williams tend to see fewer touches and scoring opportunities. A good playmaking point guard who can distribute would be a blessing to the offense.

For the Record...
Big East7110.3898100.4448100.444
Post Season?NIT Rnd #2BET Rnd #1CBI Rnd #1

2010 yielded the best post season bid and deepest run (two games) of the Cronin Era, but many expected a four letter tournament bid, a possibly that all but died when Cincinnati stumbled to a 2-7 Big East regular season finish. The mini-run to the Big East Tournament quarterfinals was little more than a teaser for the fans. The issue was virtually settled when 'Nati dropped a four point overtime home decision to Marquette on February 21.

The Bearcats' Nucleus
As Coach Cronin sifts through the roster during the off season, his biggest task will be to find scorers (note the plural), efficient ones. Yancy Gates is a start, but the bfc has to stay in the game (literally and figuratively) and remember he has teammates.

On Offense
Y Gates62.8106.921.322.752.211.01.0730.3
C Wright44.288.621.119.640.63.40.8735.6
Dion Dixon36.896.419.620.
I Thomas36.094.019.918.841.111.10.8958.9
L Davis30.782.117.520.
J Parker24.1111.217.416.455.56.81.1440.2
D Wilks23.9105.218.419.756.110.51.1113.3

Yancy Gates excepted, the table above illustrates the Bearcat dilemna. The returners were largely third or fourth options on offense last season. Those (again Gates excepted) who did shoot (Davis & Dixon) did not convert efficiently enough to become offensive threats, and those who showed promise (Wilks and Parker) did not see the floor much. The door is open for rising sophomore Jaquon Parker, but can he pair with Gates and convert (when the attention is on him...) enough to carry the team? Dixon, Davis and Wilkes are far enough along in their collegiate careers for the fans to know a breakout-type season is not realistic (but not impossibie...that's what makes them fans). Significant growth will come from Parker and/or Ibrahima Thomas, an enigma who transferred from Oklahoma State after frustrating Travis Ford for half a season. Or a newcomer.

On Defense
Yancy Gates62.815.27.415.13.71.3
Cashmere Wright44.28.820.923.40.02.4
Dion Dixon36.88.513.
Ibrahima Thomas36.022.42.614.74.11.1
Larry Davis30.77.39.721.90.31.6
Jaquon Parker24.117.214.719.00.31.6
Darnell Wilks23.911.

The defensive rebounding (DR%) confirms that a low post presence is still in place -- the Bearcats will get their share of rebounds. Crossing the assist rate (Ast%) with the possession and shot rates (Poss% and Shot% above) suggests the squad is loaded with Indians, but where are the chiefs? Where will the shots and scoring (farther out than five feet...) come from? Filling out the returnees on roster, Anthony McClain, Eddie Tyree, Alex Eppensteiner, along with red shirt Sean Kilpatrick will provide depth.

Significant Additions
The Bearcats will add to their reputation as a front court power this season by adding a power forward, 6-8 210 pound #4 Justin Jackson and 6-10 225 pound Kelvin Gaines to the roster. Both are from Arlington Country Day School in Florida. Scout, Inc rates Jackson (the better regarded of the two) #86 overall in the class and #22 among power forwards in the class, citing his motivation as a strong asset. If rebounding and inside play were a weakness for Cincinnati, these two would be great additions. Both will no doubt get long looks on the Bearcats' Labor Day weekend tour of Canada.

Coach Cronin reunited with a former assistant and former Rutgers Assistant Darrin Savino, when he added the old hand to his staff in July. Savino, who was the lead recruiter for Rutgers Head Coach Fred Hill during Hill's four year tenure, helped Hill assemble a series of talented entering classes for the Scarlet Knights, will help Cronin recruit in metropolitan New York and throughout the country.

Explode If...
1. Cashmere Wright grows into the lead guard job this season and proves to be a much more effective floor general and much better scorer than he was last season. Wright will have to shoot better, dish more assists and cut down (a lot) on the turnovers. Modest mprovement would not surprise, freshmen who record offensive ratings in the high 80s for example, is more common than one might imagine. For the Bearcats to make a big jump in the conference however, Wright would have to improve a lot.
2. Ibrahima Thomas decides he really wants to play basketball, and be very, very mean when he is on the floor. Thomas has shown skill and flashes of skilled play. But little aggression or instinct for scoring.
3. Parker, Dixon and Davis (and Kilpatrick?) form a efficient and prolific rotation for the off guard and wing forward spots. Wilkes and maybe Jackson will fill the #4 spot in the rotation, but they will most likely need relief.

Implode If...
1. The staff cannot find/develop an effective leader who can direct the offense. Everyone who prepares for the Bearcats knows Gates will be the go-to guy on offense. If the squad cannot find another two players who can step up, take the ball and make a play, the game plan versus Cincinnati will be to shut down Gates, block off the low post passing lanes and wait for him to lose his temper and foul (and head to the bench).
2. Going into last season more than a few analysts (ahhh, that includes me) wondered if a senior and a heralded freshman could develop an effective attack without stepping on each other's toes. The answer for the most part was yes. There are egos on this team too. Will Gates be able to share the limelight with Thomas or Parker or a freshman like Jackson? If the chemistry is not right, there are not a lot of alternatives.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The cupcake count for Cincinnati's out of conference (OOC) schedule is pretty high, hopefully Coach Cronin will use it to work out any kinks the staff discovered/uncovered during their Labor Day Tour of Canada (links to my possession-based, post game analysis for the first two games are in the Further Readings Section of this post). The two biggest challenges should be Dayton at a semi-home venue (US Bank Arena in Cincinnati) on November 27 and Oklahoma at the a-not-really-neutral Ford Center in Oklahoma City on December 18. The Flyers should be in the hunt for the A-10 title this season, though they have shown a tendency to struggle away from the UD Arena. Oklahoma, ripped by turmoil in the 2010 campaign managed to finish five games under 0.500. The Sooners' prospects this season are even worse, as most project them to finish in the Big 12's lower division, closer to the bottom than the mid-point. A 12-0 record through December 23 would have to be a big confidence builder going into the Big East season. Cincinnati's last OOC opponent, Xavier, is the filling in a hard early conference season sandwich. The Cross Town Shootout (scheduled for Fifth Third this season) will take place between a home game with Seton Hall and a road game at Villanova. The Hall, like Cincinnati, looks to this season to gain some upward mobility in the conference, so this will be an early season test for both programs. The winner gains an important tie-breaker advantage (should it come to that) for seeding in the Big East Tournament. 3-0 through that stretch is unrealistic, even 2-1 would be another confidence builder for the program. But 1-2 or 0-3 is more probable. The five games that run from the middle of January to the end of the month will set the tone for the Bearcats' prospects in conference. The Bearcats take a three game road trip with stops at Syracuse, Notre Dame and St. John's before returning home to face Rutgers and West Virginia. West Virginia and Syracuse are pegged as First Quartile teams, so taking either (especially Syracuse on the road) is a stretch. Rutgers however, generally thought to be a Fourth Quartile team should be beatable. The last two, Notre Dame and St. John's, are (like the Bearcats) slated to finish somewhere in the middle of the conference, and Cincinnati has to win one, preferably both, to establish it's place in the pecking order. West Virginia on 1/29 is the nineth game in the conference schedule. If 'Nati has a 5-4 or better record at that point, Coach Cronin would have every reason to be optimistic for the season. 0-9 is very unlikely. A 3-6 record, a distinct possibility, would make for a steep hill to climb in the last half of the conference schedule.

Further Reading
Cincinnati - McGill post game analysis.
Cincinnati - Carleton post game analysis.

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