As Mick Cronin and his staff rolls out the balls for the first official time, they may be facing a roster with the most question marks. They also may be looking at their most athletic roster. Gone are senior staples Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker as well as 2-year contributor Cheikh Mbodj. There is a ton of experience to replace. There is a ton of leadership to replace. Good thing there are plenty of capable players to fill those voids.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I will break down each position individually. For now let's talk in general.
Point guard is going to be a 2-man battle from all indications. Junior G'Lawn Guyn and freshman Troy Caupain are going to handle the ball and get things running on offense. Whether or not Guyn starts or Caupain nabs it from the get-go they both will see significant time.
Shooting guard. 8th year senior Sean Kilpatrick. Wait, he's only been here five years? NO WAY!!! Anyway, he's pretty much the only absolute dead solid lock to begin the season (and likely every game) in the starting lineup. He has the opportunity to set some UC records if he has a good season. He no doubt will be amongst the most prolific scorers in UC basketball history barring something crazy. Others, like Kevin Johnson and Jeremiah Davis III will see some minutes, but not very many in crucial games.
Small forward hopefully will be Shaquille Thomas. I don't know about everyone else, but I've had visions of the Creighton performance all offseason. Thomas is arguably the most athletic player on the roster and could be a true difference maker if he takes that next step we all know he is capable of. Junior Jermaine Sanders will see some time here as well, but he quite honestly has to show some consistency he didn't have last year. Freshman Deshaun Morman is the wild card here as he could definitely steal minutes if Thomas isn't the player we hoped/thought he can be or Sanders plays passively.
Power forward. Here's where it gets a little interesting. There is no shortage of candidates here. Titus Rubles, Jermaine Lawrence (whether or not you believe he's a wing or a power forward), and perhaps Justin Jackson (if Mick decides to play Nyarsuk at center at the same time) could all see time here. Rubles certainly showed stretches of while I wouldn't call it "greatness", I would label it as "pretty goodness". He can handle the ball, he can pass, and he can rebound. Score? Well, that's not quite an area we can count on just yet. Jermaine Lawrence will see a lot of floor time. He's Mick Cronin's highest profile recruit to date. He's Mick's highest profile recruiting "win" to date. There's no doubt the kid has some talent. But he also has some things holding him back. His strength is one. His wrist injury from last year is another. Hopefully the injury business is long gone. But the weight and strength issues are likely not going away for a year or so. Either way, he is going to have to fight through it and make up for what he lacks in strength in pure athleticism and talent. He's got a bunch of it.
Center is basically up to two guys this year especially with the unknown status of freshman Jamaree Strickland. Justin Jackson has apparently bulked up, as has David Nyarsuk. They really don't have big shoes to fill as Cheikh Mbodj didn't set the world on fire last year. But, Jackson is still apparently *this close* to "getting it" to where he can be a viable player (believe it when I see it). Nyarsuk showed glimpses of positive play last year, but he was extremely weak and was exposed during Big East play no doubt. Hopefully the added bulk will pay off. If nothing else, the lesser AAC competition will afford UC and Nyarsuk some wiggle room down low. Even if Strickland is cleared (and who knows when the hell that might be?) it doesn't appear as if he's going to see much of the floor especially in key games. He may just be better off bulking up and coming back strong and ready to roll next year. But he will have to do it with some other pretty talented big men. We'll cover that later.
People don't know what to make of this team. Yes they did lose a lot of experience, but in my opinion Cash, JaQuon, and Cheikh were limited by either their talent or injury. This year's team has a chance to be the most athletic team Mick has had in his tenure. There are some gazelles on this roster and some true NBA talent if it develops. I just don't want to hear Mick say they're going to run run run and push the pace. We all know they can do that in preseason and select non-conference games. Once league play begins, it will be back to the walk-it-up pace. But, I'm not down on that. It seems that's the style of NCAA basketball these days.
Anyway, I don't know about you but I'm excited to see what the basketball Bearcats are all about. The Bengals and football Bearcats are off to less-than-impressive starts. So maybe the basketball team will lift our spirits.