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Is No. 21 a Fair Ranking for Cincinnati?

With tons of established talent and plenty of reinforcements, the Bearcats are poised to be excellent once again. Do early preseason polls reflect this accurately enough?

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kansas State vs Cincinnati Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When USA Today released its 2017-18 preseason Top 25 on Friday, it was very likely that the Cincinnati Bearcats would be on there somewhere. That thinking turned out to be true, as UC fell in at No. 21. Now while rankings, especially ones in the preseason, are largely just a nominal honor and don’t actually do much other than spark conversation, its still good to see the Bearcats be recognized as one of the best teams in the country.

However, as much as being ranked No. 1, No. 25 or not at all is not something written in stone, where you fall does give an indication of the expectations put on your team. So that begs the question, does this ranking correctly reflect the team that UC is?

Last year, the Bearcats finished with a 30-6 overall record, won a game in the NCAA Tournament and ranked No. 18 in the final AP Top 25, No. 23 in KenPom’s final ratings and No. 22 in the final USA Today poll. So No. 21 indicates that UC will bring more of the same to the table next season. That’s probably a fair judgement considering some of the talent lost (Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson). But its not as if the Bearcats don’t have anybody ready to fill the spaces left by those two departing seniors.

With Scared Heart-transfer Cane Broome and incoming recruits Trevor Moore and Keith Williams set to become part of the rotation, the Bearcats are certainly reloading and not rebuilding. That doesn’t even take into account the expected steps forward taken by Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer in expanded roles. Plus, there’s the fact that the team will still feature the scoring wizardry of Jacob Evans, the post presence of Kyle Washington and Gary Clark, who you may have heard is a problem.

NCAA Basketball: Sacred Heart at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Caupain will no doubt be a bigger blow than we’d like to think, as his leadership and ability to run the offense were central to UC’s success the last few years. However, Broome provides a wonderful fill-in, albeit one with a different skill set. Namely, he is an excellent scorer, having netted 23.5 points per game on his way to Northeast Conference Player of the Year honors in 2016. With a PER of 20.7 that season, Broome has all the makings of a standout scoring guard. Meanwhile, Jenifer studied under Caupain for two years and although his contributions were not immediately apparent in the box score, he actually led the team in assist percentage (26.1 percent) this past campaign. By their forces combined, Broone and Jenifer can be #CaupainAmerica.

Then there’s Williams and Moore who just add more scoring punch and length to a group of wing players already spilling over with talent. We saw what Evans was able to do as a full-time starter and Cumberland excelled in a part-time role. Expectations for those two are now rightfully reaching epic proportions.

While the backcourt is stuffed with talent and upside, so is the frontcourt. Clark and Washington are already stars but Nysier Brooks and Tre Scott learned quite a bit as freshman and are only going to get better.

So where does that leave us? Honestly, I think No. 21 is a bit low. Its muting expectations, which is fair considering UC came up short of winning the American Athletic Conference the last two years. That will be an even tougher task this season with Wichita State — which ranked No. 4 in the updated poll — joining the AAC. Still, from where I’m sitting, despite losing Caupain and Johnson, I think UC actually got better. That’s quite a lot to say about a team that won 30 games this past year and should mean that No. 21 ranking, while fair in the preseason, will be wrong in the long run.