By Jon Rothstein
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Cincinnati has won 52 games in the last two seasons and is coming off a trip to the Sweet 16. The Bearcats return arguably the best perimeter in the Big East in Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, and JaQuon Parker along with a key reserve in high energy forward Justin Jackson.
The potential of reaching the field of 68 and going on another deep postseason run seems like more than a legitimate possibility. But Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin will be quick to point out the one thing that will ultimately determine his team’s fate during the upcoming season.
“Our bench is going to be our key,” Cronin said recently. “If you look at our team last year, we ran out of gas in the finals of the Big East Tournament. We had beaten Georgetown and Syracuse on back-to-back days and then against Louisville in the finals we ran out of gas. Our guys were exhausted. This season, we’re going to need guys like Ge’lawn Guyn, Jermaine Sanders, and Shaq Thomas to be good for us. Those guys have to be productive.”
Guyn is the likely backup to Wright at point guard while Sanders figures to spell Kilpatrick. Now a sophomore, Sanders is down 20 pounds since the end of last season and should be more ready to make a contribution.
“He has to give us minutes,” Cronin said of Sanders. “He’s going to be a big part of things.”
Senior big man Cheikh Mbdoji has also dropped a significant amount of weight and Cronin firmly believes that 7-1 newcomer David Nyarsuk can make an impact with his size.
“Cheikh is a different player than he was last season,” Cronin said of Mbdoji. “He’s changed his body. He’s much quicker now and he’ll be more effective in switching ball screens and stuff like that. David is really, really big but it’s his first year with us. Things are still somewhat new to him.”
JUCO transfer Titus Rubles figures to have the greatest upside out of the Bearcats likely reserves. The 6-7 Rubles was considered by most scouting services to be the number two junior college prospect in the country and his face up game should only be augmented by Cincinnati’s system.
“I’d be shocked if he didn’t have a major impact,” Cronin said of Rubles. “He’s a true face up forward. My hope is that he’ll eventually become for us what Jae Crowder was for Marquette last year.”
The elements are there for Cincinnati to remain in the upper echelon in the Big East. Their pieces off the bench may be a little of a mystery — but that’s the way it’s going to be until they can produce at a high level once the games begin in November.
“The usual suspects, guys like Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker, and Sean Kilpatrick are all known commodities,” Cronin said. “Sean’s work ethic is off the charts. He’s the type of kid who’s in the gym three to four times a day. We need our bench to take on that same type of mindset. Our main guys are established because of how hard they’ve worked. That’s what we need our bench to do so they can give us the depth we’re going to need to be successful.”
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