Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 12/28/11
Amid the suspensions and public relations nightmare stemming from the brawl with Xavier, the University of Cincinnati basketball team learned something about itself -- it plays bigger when it's smaller.With post players Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis suspended for six games for their role in the fight with the Musketeers, UC was forced to institute a guard-laden lineup and quicken the pace. Although it's occurring in the softer portion of the schedule, the results are undeniable.During a four-game winning streak since the brawl, the Bearcats scored 100-plus points in two consecutive games and fell just five points short of becoming the first team in school history to score 100 or more in three straight games. The four-guard offense has resulted in a quicker pace that seems to fit well with the current personnel."It's a lot different, playing four guards," said UC guard Sean Kilpatrick. "Shooting is the key, especially from three-point range. Everyone on our team can shoot."With the freedom to shoot seemingly at will, UC's guards are on a 3-point shooting binge. During the four-game winning streak, the Bearcats made 55 3-point shots after making just 43 through the first eight games. They hit a season-high 16 3-pointers in a 95-60 win over Chicago State.While UC averaged nearly 94 points per game in those four games, there is plenty of reason for skepticism. Three of those victories were over Chicago State (0-13), Arkansas Pine Bluff (1-9) and Radford (3-9). The suspensions will not be lifted until the second game of the Big East Conference schedule. So the new-look smallish 'Cats will be sternly tested when they host Oklahoma on Dec. 29 and play the Big East opener at Pittsburgh on Jan. 1. And the bigger question is, will the four-guard approach work when Gates and Co. return?"Obviously we know rougher waters are coming," UC head coach Mick Cronin said. "But when we get back to full strength we'll be able to give you different looks. That's the difference."NOTES, QUOTES--Three players are suspended and will not play this week against Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis are serving six-game suspensions for their role in a brawl with crosstown rival Xavier on Dec. 10. Guard Ge'Lawn Guyn was suspended one game for his role in the fight. The trio of big men 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.--Sophomore G Sean Kilpatrick has been on quite a roll. Kilpatrick has scored in double-figures in 10 straight games and 11 times this season. He has scored 20-plus points on three occasions including wins over Georgia, Wright State and Chicago State.--A portion of the Bearcats' recent success can be attributed to the play of PG Cashmere Wright, who has effectively managed UC's four-guard offense, going three games without a turnover. Wright had 50 assists and 12 turnovers in one eight-game stretch, a 4.2 assistturnover ratio.BY THE NUMBERS: .448 -- Cincinnati shot .448 from 3-point range during its four-game winning streak, going 52 for 116 from behind the arc.QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be a challenge. We need to take the underdog mentality into this game. Our guys need to understand that is our edge right now. We need to keep it for the rest of the season. I haven't seen Oklahoma yet, we played them last year so I know their personnel. They seem to really have their confidence going." -- UC head coach Mick Cronin on the short-handed Bearcats' first true test.STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAMES:--vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 29.KEY MATCHUPS: It'll provide the Bearcats with their first true test since playing Xavier on Dec. 10. The Bearcats guards will be busy trying to contain Sooners junior G Steven Pledger, who averaged 19.8 points and shot 49 percent from 3-point range through nine games.--at Pittsburgh, Jan. 1.KEY MATCHUPS: The Big East Conference opener could be the last game played short-handed by the Bearcats. Big men Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis are expected to be reinstated from their six-game suspensions in time to face the Panthers who are led by senior G Ashton Gibbs.FUTURES MARKET:One player benefiting from the player suspensions is redshirt freshman C Kelvin Gaines who is gotten additional playing time due to the absence of Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis. But Gaines has earned it too. He had a career-best seven rebounds and seven blocked shots in his first career start vs. Chicago State.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 10.4 points per game in his first five games, including four starts.--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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