On Friday we can finally put the demons of last postseason to rest as a new campaign begins for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Once again buoyed by a talented core and some intriguing newcomers, the Bearcats are lifting heavy expectations into this season, but the journey ahead starts on Friday when they host the Brown Bearcats out of the Ivy League at Fifth Third Arena.
Meet the Opponent
As far as opening night opponents go, Brown is on the easier side. The Bears went just 8-20 last season, marking their eighth losing season in the last 10 years. They enter this season without much hope for drastic improvement, ranking No. 256 in KenPom’s preseason rankings. Last season they recorded an adjusted offensive efficiency of 101.3 and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 110.5, meaning they scored 101.3 points per 100 possession and let up 110.5, on average, over the same sample size.
Brown will be weaker on both ends of the floor due to the graduation of forward Cedric Kuakumensah (14.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG) who led the team in scoring as a senior and averaged 2.7 blocks per game during a productive four-year career.
With Kuakumensah gone, this team will be firmly in the hands of Tavon Blackmon, a 6’0” guard from Maryland who is as good a scorer (13.3 PPG) as he is a distributor. He led the Ivy League in assists last season and is seventh on Brown’s all-time list in the category.
Other players that will have an impact in this one including Steven Spieth (10.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.7 APG) and Obi Okolie (10.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG), who is coming off a solid freshman campaign.
Is Evans Healthy?
There is a lot expected of Jacob Evans this season. The sophomore carved out an increasingly important role down the stretch last season and finished the year in style, scoring a career-best 26 points in the Bearcats’ first round loss in the NCAA Tournament. He has been dealing with a foot injury during the preseason, an ailment that kept him out of the team’s exhibition against Bellarmine. He is expected to play tonight, according to CBS’ Jon Rothstein.
Cincinnati's Jacob Evans (foot) will play in tonight's opener against Brown, per Mick Cronin. Did not play in team's exhibition.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 11, 2016
However, it will be worth monitoring how hard Mick Cronin pushes Evans or if he just puts him in to get him some game time in preparation for bigger matchups that loom later this month.
A New Rotation
We know Troy Caupain and Gary Clark are in the starting lineup. You can write it down in permanent marker. But the group around them has shifted some, in terms of personnel and responsibility.
In place of Evans, who will be a starter once he is fully healthy, Justin Jenifer is projected to start in this one. The sophomore had some growing pains as a freshman, with his minutes diminishing as the winter turned into spring, but as the heir apparent to Troy Caupain, he should get more playing time, particularly if he can show improvement.
Along with Jenifer, Kevin Johnson and NC State-transfer Kyle Washington are also new additions to the starting lineup. Johnson is a native son and a long-time Bearcat who will be tasked with defending on the perimeter and shooting from there as well. Basically, he will be asked to fill the role Farad Cobb did last season, although with a bit less offensive responsibility considering he has averaged 5.4 points per game during his career.
On the other hand, Washington is the replacement for Octavius Ellis and it will be interesting to see how well he and Gary Clark play off of each other.
Evans will be used off the bench until he is back to full health, but the distribution of the rest of the reserve minutes remains a bit of a mystery. Junior Quadri Moore had a great outing in the exhibition against Bellarmine, but you have to think freshman stud Jarron Cumberland will be given a chance early and Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks are two big men with a chance to create roles for themselves.
This matchup is a satellite game for the 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The Bearcats will play another such contest on Monday against Albany before setting off to take on Rhode Island in the main event next weekend at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.