We made it. In less than 24 hours, Cincinnati Bearcats basketball will be back in our lives full force. They will open the season against the Savannah State Tigers at BB&T Arena tomorrow at noon sharp. But there is a whole season to be played after that. With expectations seeming to grow by the minute for this UC squad, its time we sit down and set them ourselves, with eight (this number will come up again) predictions.
1. Jacob Evans will average at least 15 points per game and lead the team in scoring
There are a number of players who will be gunning for Evans’ scoring crown from last season when he put up 13.5 points per game. Cane Broome is a volume scorer, Kyle Washington was only a shade behind Evans just last year and Keith Williams and Trevor Moore are freshmen who can score the rock. But that doesn’t matter. Evans is the best offensive option on the team and he’ll get the bulk of chances. With Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson gone, there will be some cracks that need to be filled, which is why Evans should not only lead the team in scoring, but post a career-high in points in the process.
2. Cane Broome will set a career-high in assists
Broome accumulated a total of 165 dimes in two years at Sacred Heart. He won’t reach that combined number, but with loads of talent around him, I’d expect UC’s new starting point guard to at least reach the 100-assist mark, which would be far beyond the best mark of his career. A crafty scorer, Broome has the handles to run an offense smoothly. He’s just got to show the instincts and court vision of a distributor just a bit more than he did at Sacred Heart.
3. Keith Williams will play more minutes than any other freshman
With such a deep and experienced roster, most of the new guys won’t get on the floor very often. However, Mick Cronin has been willing to play high impact rookies early, as shown with Evans and Jarron Cumberland in recent years. In UC’s two exhibition games against Bellarmine and Embry-Riddle, Williams played 21 and 15 minutes, respectively. That was more than Moore, Eliel Nsoseme and Mamoudou Diarra and makes sense, since someone has to fill in as the offensive spark off the bench now that Cumberland is headed to the starting lineup.
4. Nysier Brooks will play at least 13 minutes per game
This isn’t the most exciting projection, but Brooks really developed nicely down the stretch and has shown off improved ability through the offseason and into the exhibition portion of the schedule. He played an excellent game in limited minutes against Bellarmine, finishing with 11 points and four rebounds over 14 minutes. He also had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in the Red/Black scrimmage. While Gary Clark and Washington will take the bulk of time in the froncourt, someone will need to spell them and Brooks will be first in line and, now that he has a year under his belt, his minutes will grow as well.
5. At least one Bearcat will be on the American Athletic Conference first team
When the coaches of the AAC voted on their preseason favorites, they made some odd choices. Picking UC to win the league was smart, but it came with a puzzling lack of hardware for the individuals on the team. Not a single Bearcat was predicted to earn first-team all-conference honors. You can argue that UC is a team without a star and is greater by the sum of its parts, but it still seemed a bit contradictory. To be fair, Evans, Washington and Clark were all selected to the second-team, but I expect at least one of them (probably Evans) to get a promotion.
6. UC will win the American Athletic Conference
Third time is a charm, right? This is the third-straight season I’ve predicted the Bearcats would win the league and so far I’m 0-for-2. It’s not as if they haven’t been close. Last year, they went 16-2 in league play and reached the conference championship game. Unfortunately, SMU went 17-1 and beat them in said game. The year before that they went a respectable 12-6 (Temple won with a 14-4 mark) and got ousted in four overtimes by eventual champion UConn during the conference tournament. The field will be tough again this year what with Wichita State in the mix, but this is the best team Cronin has had in a while. The opportunity that presents won’t be squandered.
7. ...and make the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament
That’s right. You heard me. This is the deepest and best team in the AAC and one of the best in the country overall. In his first bracket projection of the season, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi pegged UC as a No. 3 seed, which would put them in the running for a deep run in the tourney, a place that has been filled with more speed bumps then green lights recently. In addition, the Bearcats are No. 11 in KenPom’s preseason ratings (that’s in the Elite Eight ballpark) and No. 6 according to Sports Illustrated. It’s a foregone conclusion that UC will make the tournament, but this is the year they play deep into March.
8. One Bearcat will be a second round pick in the NBA Draft
Technically, this is a prediction for next offseason, but I really think there is a decent chance that someone (Evans again) plays well enough for a team at the pro level to take a flyer on them in the second round. According to NBADraft.net’s most recent mock, Evans is slated to go No. 53 overall to the Washington Wizards. That seems right.