Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/4/12
The Bearcats went undefeated with Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis suspended, including victories against Oklahoma and at Pitt in the Big East Conference opener.The trio of big men were suspended six games for their roles in a brawl with crosstown rival Xavier on Dec. 10. UC utilized a four-guard offense during their absences. The question now is how the Bearcats will adapt their approach with Gates back in the starting lineup. Head coach Mick Cronin said he now can give opponents different looks.In the first five games since the new offense was implemented, UC shot 49.2 percent from the field, made 62 three-pointers and averaged 86.2 points. Sunday's win over Pittsburgh extended the Bearcats' winning streak to six games.The Bearcats' guards have thrived in the freewheeling style which has given them the freedom to shoot almost at will. UC was averaging better than 82 points per game and made 73 3-pointers.When the shots weren't falling in wins over Oklahoma and at Pitt, the Bearcats relied on their defense to create turnovers and fast-break opportunities.UC hosts Notre Dame and St. John's this week. It'll be interesting to see if Cronin pulls in the reins, and returns to more traditional half-court sets with Gates and Mbodj back. Or will he keep the four-guard system in his back pocket just to keep opponents on their heels? Regardless, the Bearcats now are back at full strength with renewed confidence as they continue league play.NOTES, QUOTES--Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis served six-game suspensions for their roles in a brawl with crosstown rival Xavier on Dec. 10. G Ge'Lawn Guyn was suspended one game for his role in the fight. Gates, Mbodj and Ellis are expected to be reinstated for the Jan. 4 contest vs. Notre Dame. Gates was suspended for landing a punch that bloodied the eye of XU center Kenny Frease.--With its victory at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati moved to 5-2 in Big East Conference openers, including three straight. The victory gave the Bearcats wins in five straight Big East road games.--In their first five games since switching to a four-guard offense, Sean Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 17.2 points per game with 18 3-pointers and 15 steals. He scored in double figures in 12 straight games, including a 19-point game in a victory at Pitt.BY THE NUMBERS: 40 -- Mick Cronin has set a goal for his defense to get 40 deflections per game, a lofty objective but one that has helped the Bearcats focus on staying aggressive on defense. UC had 33 deflections in a win against Oklahoma.QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is what UC basketball is all about. We grind out wins, any way we can. We scrap and we just run. That's all we are about." -- Bearcats G Sean Kilpatrick following a gritty 56-55 win over Oklahoma last week.STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAMES:--vs. Notre Dame, Jan. 4KEY MATCHUPS: Notre Dame brings balanced scoring with sophomore guards Eric Atkins, who has scored in double figures nine times this season, and Alex Dragicevich, who scored a career-high 22 points against Pitt last week. The Irish are playing without star F Tim Abromaitis, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.--vs. St. John's, Jan. 7KEY MATCHUPS: St. John's was down to six scholarship players after starting PG Nurideen Lindsey abruptly decided to transfer. The Red Storm are freshmen-laden, led by frosh GF Moe Harkless. The Bearcats likely will pressure St. John's and take advantage of their advantages in depth and experience.FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Ge'Lawn Guyn has drawn praise for his effort on defense. Guyn had six steals in his first 12 games and is a tenacious on the ball defender. Head coach Mick Cronin said Guyn has a tenacity on defense that is often rare for young players. "He cares about defense," Cronin said. "Most guys don't care until they realize that if they don't play defense they won't play." Cronin wants to see Guyn improve his off-the-ball defense.PLAYER NOTES--Junior C Cheikh Mbodj has difficulty staying on the court. After missing the first three games due to a high-ankle sprain, Mbodj was then suspended six games for his role in a brawl with rival Xavier on Dec. 10.--Junior G JaQuon Parker missed seven games with a torn groin muscle but has emerged as a key contributor after battling for playing time last season. Parker averaged 10.5 points per game in his first six games, including five starts. He scored a career-high 21 points last week at Pittsburgh.--Highly touted four-star recruit Shaq Thomas was ruled ineligible due to alleged academic discrepancies at NIA Prep in New Jersey. Thomas, a 6-foot-7 forward, will practice with the team beginning in mid-December.
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