The Cincinnati Bearcats begin their basketball season on Sunday afternoon. They play Tennessee-Martin at 2 PM. The game will be televised by FSN Ohio for those of you who want to watch it live or DVR it and watch it after football is over. Here is the quick and painless Bearcats Blog prediction. UC will win! By a lot!
Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to know the players that we will be watching twice a week for most weeks this winter and spring. I'll start with the people I project to be the starters and then move to the bench.
Cashmere Wright - #0 - Guard - Senior
We all know who Cashmere Wright is, the starting point guard. The announcers during the last exhibition game thought that Cash will take a step back shooting wise this season. I don't really see where they are coming from on that one. Cash didn't really shoot the ball a ton last year. He took 35 more shots than Yancy Gates, who you might remember was suspended last year. It might have seemed that Wright took more shots because he made nearly double the 3s that he made as a sophomore. His overall shooting was worse. His plain field goal percentage was down. His true shooting percentage, which weighs 3s and FTs, was down. His 3 percentage jumped just 2%. The difference was that he attempted 170 instead of 91.
The most disappointing thing in Wright's game last year was his inability/reluctance to not get to the free throw line. He played 31 minutes a game last year and got to the free throw line just 63 times. That was lower than his freshman season total. I expect that to change back toward his sophomore season number of 113 attempts.
Wright turned into a great defender last season. Mainly because he got a lot of steals. He ripped 74 last season, which was 15th in the nation. That is going to be a hard stat to keep so high, but he has very good instincts. He should be able to get close to that number.
Last season Cash was an 11 point, 4.6 assist, 3.8 rebound, 2 steal player. I think we see something closer to 14 points, 5.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals a game. His scoring should jump right off the bat. Dion Dixon isn't around to take shots away from him anymore. Wright quietly turned into a very well rounded point guard. His numbers will take some people by surprise this season. But not us. We know what's up.
Sean Kilpatrick - #23 - Guard - Junior
Sean Kilpatrick turned into the Bearcats star player last year. He was expected by many to be a breakout performer and he was, scoring 14.3 points a game to lead the Bearcats. Even though Kilpatrick broke out last year, there is room for improvement in his game. His shooting percentages were 43%, 37.6% and 75%. His freshman year was 43.7%, 37.7% and 72.2%. With a player of SK's talent level, there is always a jump in percentages. His effective and true shooting percentages were almost dead on from his freshman year. He is a sharp shooter, but there is no reason to think that he could be better. Even if his 3 percentage stayed the same, if he can get better looks while driving to the basket, that could add points to his game.
Another way to add points to his game would be at the foul line. He played 34.5 minutes a game, up from 20, but only shot 88 free throws. Killa is a very good foul shooter. He's leaving points on the court when he doesn't get to the line. I thought at times last year he was almost too cool sitting on the wing waiting for the ball. I am not worried about him evolving into a more rounded scorer.
Exhibition games are no indication of anything, but I have really liked what I've seen from SK when it has come to rebounding. He was nearly outrebounded by JaQuon Parker last year, and Parker missed 7 games. He has been among the team leaders in crashing the glass this exhibition season. If he can pull in more boards, he's the type of player that can lead a break. If UC is serious about playing faster, this is an ideal scenario.
Kilpatrick averaged 14.6, 4.6, 2.1, 1.3 steals a season ago. Maybe this is a little crazy of me, but I see a big rise in his numbers. I think 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals a game. He can be Big East Player of the Year. The talent is there. The drive seems to be there. Big things are coming.
JaQuon Parker - #44 - Guard/Forward - Senior
It seems crazy that JaQuon Parker is a senior. Parker had the lost sophomore year which seems kind of crazy when you look at his production from years 1 and 3. It seems weird to say that a guy who is listed at 6-3 brings toughness and rebounding, but Parker brings toughness and rebounding. He was tenacious on the glass last year. He pulled in 7.5% of the available offensive rebounds. His defensive rebounding was solid as well. One thing that has stood out with Parker this exhibition season is that he has been very aggressive in looking for his shot. He's been second to Kilpatrick in terms of shots and was the team's leading scorer in the 2 games.
There were a couple things about Parker's game last year that don't look incredibly impressive on the page. His defensive numbers were nothing to write home about. One hopes that will improve since he won't be playing the 4 role. His assist total was low for a player who used to be a point guard. He could be a little too trigger happy with the jumper. He made only 41.6% from the field.
When you look at where the points Gates and Dixon leave behind, I think Parker is going to find most of Dixon's. I am a bit worried he will run into Dixon's problem with shot selection, but I trust Parker. I also think he is going to get to the foul line quite a bit. He has had nice FT rates for his career. He improved at the foul line a lot last year as well.
Parker together a 9.4, 5.6, 1.3 season last year. I think he gets close to the 13 Dixon averaged last year, but not quite that high. I'll say 12.4, 5.8, 1.7 assists for JaQuon this year. I don't know if the steals go up, he's not that type of defender. Prediction, he will make 1 game winner this year.
Justin Jackson - #5 - Forward - Junior
When you look for the fan favorites for the Bearcats, look no further than Justin Jackson. Let's just get it out of the way, #JustinJacksonMeanFace.
Of all the things I've said, can't believe that caught on. For his sophomore year, Jackson was allowed to be a defensive dynamo. He blocked 61 shots, which was 4th in the Big East. He averaged nearly a steal a game. He was an energy player. Jackson's game on offense was centered around the basket, where he made 52%. He also made 52% of his free throws. That sounds bad, and it is not good, but he worked hard at his foul shots. Jackson was a pretty decent passer, averaging 1.1 assists. I didn't start joking that he was Magic Jackson for nothing.
The biggest flaw in Jackson's game last season was rebounding. He averaged 4.2 a game. He started 20 games last year. That simply wasn't good enough. He had 8 games with significant minutes and under 3 rebounds. His offensive rebounding was decent, 10.1%, but his defensive rebounding fell off 3% to 12.5%. That's a power forward playing 21 minutes a game. Jackson has been wild with the basketball, racking up a turnover percentage of 26 last year. He averaged 1.5 turnovers a game. The turnovers don't bother me that much, but there are a lot of them so it's worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning are his fouls. He fouled out 7 times last year. That's very many! He can't do that again.
I really want to believe in Justin Jackson. He is a fiery player. I love watching him block shots. I hope that he puts that kind of fire into rebounding. I expect his offense to start getting better. Not leaps and bounds, but it should pick up. He was at 5.1, 4.2, 1.1, 0.9 steals, 1.6 blocks a season ago. I look for a bounce to 8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. When I said I wanted to believe in him, I really want to believe in Justin Jackson.
Cheikh Mbodj - #13 - Center - Senior
Cheikh Mbodj wins the award for biggest transformation during the offseason. He dropped 30 pounds. His foot doesn't hurt this season. When you see him in action on Sunday, you will be surprised that's him. The young man went a long way to making himself look like a basketball player. He showed some of it on defense. He blocked 8 shots during the 2 exhibition games. He blocked 19 last year.
If you follow me on twitter, you'll notice that I said that Mbodj would play 15 minutes a game once Big East play starts. That's because he has not gotten any better offensively or rebounding. He had 6 total rebounds in the 2 exhibition games. He's 6-10 playing against Bellarmine players that at 6-5 at the most and not rebounding against them. He didn't even score the last game. He put in 8 the first game, 4 of which came at the foul line.
Mbodj made just 38% from the floor last year. He also made 38% of his free throws. He hasn't shown that he can do anything but score on tip in dunks and easy passes for a layup. Miami last year was an aberration. He hasn't shown that he can rebound consistently. All we know about him is that he can block shots. That's a bench skill, not a starter skill. I don't know what he shows in practice, but he'll have to show a lot for major minutes this season.
Cheikh had a line of 1.7, 2.1 and 0.7 blocks. I think he goes 3, 2.5, and 1.1. His early season block total will buoy him through the year. I would absolutely love to be wrong about him. I don't think I am.
Now that we have the starters out of the way, here are the reserves. I am listing them in order of impact.
Titus Rubles - #2 - Forward - Junior
A lot of people were excited to hear the buzz about Rubles during the summer. Sometimes with the JUCO players, you don't know how much of the hype to believe and how much of it to brush off. With Rubles it seems like all of the hype was to be believed. It is hard to base your opinion off of a player because of 2 exhibition games, but you can get a glimpse of who that player is.
We know that Titus Rubles has an inside game and an outside game. His jump shot is good looking for someone who will play the 4. He can slash to the basket well. He has rebounded better than I expected. He wasn't tabbed as a big time passer, but he makes nice reads with the ball. He is hard to guard when he gets the ball out on the wing because he's a multi-threat. Think of how the offense ran when it was Jackson-Parker-Dixon-SK-Cash last year and Parker had it on the wing. You had someone who could drive and dish, pull up, and pass. I wonder if UC will run a lot of screens with Rubles because he could pick and pop and cut to the basket.
There have been a couple of things in Rubles' game that can be tightened down. The first is shot selection. He's come out the first couple games and thrown up some ill advised shots. I believe he got pulled from the first game after one of them. Hopefully that is something that will work itself out. He didn't get to the line much, so it's hard to tell if he's a good free throw shooter. He was a little sloppy with the ball in the exhibition opener.
I love the game of Titus Rubles. I think it's just a matter of time before he is starting and Mbodj or Jackson is coming off the bench. I understand the need for a scorer off the bench, but you can sub around that. If you leave SK and Rubles out with the second unit and sub out Parker and Cash, I don't think you miss that much offense. If it was me coaching, 2 of Cash, Rubles and Kilpatrick would always be on the floor. Maybe that's an argument for a bench role and starter minutes. I am looking for 11, 4.6, 1.8 assists and 0.9 steals a game.
Ge'Lawn Guyn - #14 - Guard - Sophomore
It was kind of tough to get a read on Ge'Lawn Guyn's freshman season. He played behind Cash during the non-conference, then Dixon took over the back up point guard and Guyn was the guy who hounded the other team's point guard. He got called for a surprising number of fouls due to his defensive aggression. Guyn is a solid on ball defender. If you can guard, you can play.
Guyn had a couple of moments scoring wise last year. He had a couple of double digit scoring performances of 10 and 11. He had a 7 assist game against Chicago State, the game where he scored 11, where he looked like he could be the point guard of the future. After that game, he had 6 assists the rest of the season.
I am interested to see what type of production we get from Guyn in an expanded role. He didn't show much offensively, 39/27/64 were his slash line percentages. I'm going to guess 4 points, 1.3 assists, 1 rebound and 0.8 steals a game. Maybe I'm being very conservative.
Jermaine Sanders - #15 - Forward - Sophomore
If you read me at all last season, you would know that Jermaine Sanders has a bandwagon and it's called Bearcats Blog. I think there is a lot of potential with him. He's 6-5. He can play inside or outside, mainly outside. He is a lefty. He has a jump shot that looks good. Except at the foul line, he was very bad at the foul line last year. Maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there with him, but I think he can be a major player.
I think it starts with confidence for Sanders. He seemed too passive last year. He would get the ball on the right wing every time and he would pass it away. Right after the suspensions, he had his 3 best stat lines of the season. He had 9 points on 3-3 from 3, 12 points on 3-4 shooting, 2-2 from 3, 4-4 FTs, and then he had 7 rebounds.
Sanders is going to have to show something in these early games. Mick juggled minutes between he and Shaq Thomas pretty evenly. I think Sanders is a bit more progressed offensively, but Thomas is a bit more progressed defensively. Sanders does get the edge because of his jumper. Here is my world famous Jermaine Sanders pep talk for Sunday. Shoot the ball. It will go in. Also rebound.
Shaquille Thomas - #3 - Forward - Freshman
Just like I did with Rubles, here are some things we learned about Shaq Thomas after the first 2 games. He's always going to go 1-4 and miss a 3. We've seen him do it twice and that's a trend that will continue forever. He was all over the place defensively against whoever the first team UC played was. He was very quiet in the second. Just like a freshman. He is not afraid to drive to the rim. He is 6-7 with handle. I think there is room for him to fill out and when he does, he could be a very tough player to guard.
Speaking of guarding, his defense has looked very good. He has a knack for passing lanes. He can block some shots. I'm a little less high on his chances of stealing minutes from Mbodj or Jackson because he plays more like a small forward than a big man, unlike Sanders. I think Sanders can play some 4. Thomas can be a great sub for Kilpatrick or Parker. I would love to see him on the floor with Kilpatrick because they are friends and maybe they have some friend thing where they run some play that can never be stopped like guys you play in the park.
This season seems to me like we will see a lot of flashes from Thomas. He will have flashes of great play. He will have flashes of being a freshman. Getting him time as the 7-8 man in the rotation will help him step into one of the free starting roles next year.
David Nyarsuk - #33 - Center - Junior
David Nyarsuk is the tallest player in UC history at 7-1. Be prepared to hear that 8,94,848 times this season. It's the "Ralph David Abernathy's grandfather is the civil rights leader," of the basketball team. Nyarsuk has been more impressive to me than Mbodj has, just because Nyarsuk has used his tallness to score some points. He has a very good looking free throw stroke for a big man. Hell, for anyone.
Nyarsuk has fouled a lot in his first two games. He's going to limit his own minutes because of his fouling. I probably have him too low on the projected depth chart. He's going to see some time early in the season. Will he see time later in the season? I don't know. That was a great answer. Kept you all on the edges of your seat, it did.
Jeremiah Davis, III - #0 - Guard - Sophomore
Jeremiah Davis very well could be the Cincinnati version of Russ Smith, minus the defense. Davis is not afraid to shoot the ball. He's not afraid to go to the basket. He's very confident in his skills. He got a chance to showcase them the other night and scored 13 points. Davis is kind of like Sanders in a way, because in the games after the suspension he went nuts. He scored 8, 13 and 11. He put up 10 against Notre Dame. Davis made the game tying 3 pointer against St John's. Then he didn't do much until the second St John's game, when he scored 8 points.
Davis has 5 things going against him in his quest for minutes. 1) UC is loaded at the guard and wing spots. 2) He turns the ball over a lot. Like a lot a lot. 3) He is not that good on defense. 4) He wears a t-shirt when he plays and that's kind of dorky. 5) He shoots a lot of 3s, 31 in 66 FG attempts last year, he is the III and yet Trey is not his nickname. How can we let this happen?
Kelvin Gaines - #24 - Center - Sophomore
If we were playing the 'guy who looks like he would be awesome at basketball and kicking your ass' game, Kelvin Gaines would win. He is a big guy. He can block shots. He can rebound. He can dunk. That's the extend of his game. He is very raw. Especially offensively. I think you have more moves than he does. His free throw stroke is somewhere between god awful and cover your eyes. That was kind of mean, but I kid because I care. If Gaines could develop some offense, he could get more minutes. Instead, he's worse offensively than the guys ahead of him who are bad offensively. I hope he gets some time. I would like to see what he can bring to the table.
Alex Eppensteiner - #10 - Guard - Senior
The loveable walk on is a senior. Eppensteiner needs to go out in a blaze of glory this year. He has scored 0, 4 and 6 his career. He needs a 10 spot. Come in games, put up shots, score some points and everyone will be happy. Eppensteiner's career high is 3. Let's make it 4. Let's score 4 needs to be a student section chant this season.