I think for the most part we're all pretty happy with 11-2 in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Xavier loss still stings, but they're proving to be a much better team than most anticipated this season. Also, at least for now, getting the Pitt win means more for the RPI/BPI/whatever metrics you believe in down the road. I still say my heart would trade the Pitt win to have beaten Xavier, but my head still thinks Pitt is more important.
Anyway, let's get to it. In looking back at Staff Predictions it appears as if everyone is right on in their non-conference record so kudos to us! As for non-conference lineups it was pretty simple to begin with and Mick started the same guys all 13 games, which is a nice luxury to have. We all had the same starting five so again, we rock!! It does not appear as if Mick is going to make any changes to the conference starting lineup even though Jermaine Sanders and Troy Caupain have generally outplayed Shaq Thomas and Ge'Lawn Guyn. And honestly there's really no major reason right now. They are getting some good defense from Guyn and Sanders seems to be settling in to his reserve/instant offense role.
As for MVP and others it was hit and miss. Shaq Thomas has not been the breakout player thus far and neither has Jeremiah Davis III obviously. But you can make a healthy debate on which player between Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson has been the MVP. SK is probably the best player, but Jackson's contributions cannot be overlooked and in fact might just be the most valuable because when he's not on the floor there is really no one to pick up his slack on the boards. When SK goes out, Kevin Johnson has been a nice surprise in his reserve role.
Honestly the best newcomer should just be "the freshman class". All three who are eligible and healthy - Caupain, Lawrence, and Johnson - have contributed a lot more as a group than I'd bet most of us anticipated. Lawrence is still finding his way down low but you can see his potential. Put 20 pounds on him and he's going to be very good. Johnson is already showing his range as well as his toughness. And as we've discussed before Caupain could very easily steal the starting point guard spot from Guyn...and just might before the season is over.
So what are they doing well? Their rebounding efforts as a team have really picked up since the Xavier game. They were dominated at New Mexico and in the Crosstown, so seeing the resurgence on both ends of the rebounding battle is a major plus. They're shooting .711 from the foul line which is up from .647 last season. From the field they're up to .430 from .403 last season. And they're playing typical Bearcat defense. While holding everyone under 70 points, they're holding teams to .356 shooting which is down from .387 last season. Now obviously the level of competition is down as well, so this might not hold through the conference portion. But, defense is a staple of the program and this year is no exception.
So what do they need to improve upon? I'd say they need some guys to be more consistent. Jermaine Sanders gets hot then goes ice cold. Shaq Thomas obviously drifts in and out of games. Ge'Lawn Guyn scores 14 one game then nothing for 2 weeks. Sean Kilpatrick has to continue to attack the glass especially when his shots aren't falling. Saturday was a prime example of how he can carry the team to victory even though he was 2-13 from the field. They probably need some more offense (if possible) from Titus Rubles. As much as he does everything else he needs to get some more garbage buckets, if Justin Jackson will let him. And they need continued improvement from the freshmen. That's not too much to ask for is it?
I'd be very interested to hear back from you. Am I off base? Am I close? Did I miss something? Do you feel better or worse about this team than you did in mid-November?