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Lineup Change Proving To Be A Difference Maker For Cincinnati Bearcats

Jermaine Sanders for Shaq Thomas has been a boon for the Bearcats

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bearcats entered this season with a pretty solid rotation, a rotation that was perhaps more set in stone than was perhaps strictly normal for a team with this many new pieces. By the fifth game you knew who the starters wouldn't change, that Farad Cobb would be the first man off the bench and that the Bearcats would play suffocating defense and struggle to score.

For whatever reason the Bearcats starting five was not scoring the ball at a high level. Shaq Thomas was the easy scapegoat, because he wasn't giving the Bearcats what the fans expected coming into the year. It wasn't just that, Shaq wasn't doing what the coaches expected, but he wasn't even doing what the Bearcats needed him to do.

Everyone coming into this season thought that the Bearcats would be driven offensively by Shaq Thomas. That was the hope anyways. While he has consumed possessions like a primary scorer (21.2%) he has not delivered the production at the Bearcats have needed as his efficiency disappeared under a heavier offensive load. He is currently posting a career worst offensive rating of 87.4. That's more or less what the Bearcats got from Titus Rubles in his first year.

But unlike Titus Rubles who was a gifted passer, a decent play maker and a tenacious defender/rebounder. Titus simply couldn't shoot, but he still found ways to contribute. Shaq on the other hand gives you zero added value if his shot is not falling.

When Troy Caupain was forced to take more and more offense onto his own shoulders because Shaq wasn't able to find secondary ways to contribute. That's why he was sent to the bench in favor of Jermaine Sanders. Sanders won't set the world on fire offensively, though he is a better shooter than most Bearcats recognize. But he is very much in the Rashad Bishop / Titus Rubles mold in terms of what he contributes.

Sanders will have the kind of game he had against Temple once in a great while. But what he did against UCF is more emblematic of what he brings to the table. In that game he played 30 minutes, shot the ball terribly (2 of 5 (1of 4)) and still posted an offensive rating of 170, higher even than the Temple game. He can shoot a bit even though his percentages are down this year, he rebounds a bit, he knows where to stand and when to be there, he makes good off ball cuts.

Everyone has that one guy at their local run who just knows how to play basketball. He isn't a breathtaking athlete or a lights out shooter. His only points, if they come at all are on wide open layups where his guy forgot to guard him, or equally wide open three pointers where his guy actively rebels against guarding him. That guy never does anything that you will remember, but his team will run for hours without being beaten because he knows how to play basketball and he makes sure his team does too. That guy is Jermaine Sanders.

Among the Bearcats starters Sanders is, at best the fourth option. If Octavius Ellis isn't turning the ball over Sanders is bumped down to is number 5. That doesn't really matter because the team is so, so, so much better with him on the floor. There are no five man +/- stats for the college game like they have for the NBA, but I would kill to know how units with Sanders compare to those without him. My guess based on what I have seen is that Sanders groups blow the rest of them out of the water.

Tonight the Bearcats will be taking on the UConn Huskies, a team that beat UC back in early January in a game that the Bearcats had in hand until stagnation started setting in. The only real change in these squads from that game to this game is the insertion of Sanders into the Bearcats starting lineup. That has been a huge difference maker for the Bearcats, and we are about five hours from finding out if that holds true against the Huskies.