Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats looked to be dead in the water on that fateful day at the Cintas Center in early December, but they proved many wrong by winning 26 games and reaching the Sweet 16.
And even with Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon gone there’s optimism amongst the Bearcat faithful as three starters and ten letterwinners return for the 2012-13 season.
But if the Bearcats are to not only return to the Sweet 16 (and possibly go further) but also become a leader in the Big East, they’ll need to develop depth that hasn’t been there during the Cronin era.
“For us to be a dominant program, our numbers are key for us the way our program is set up right now. We have 12 on scholarship and all 12 have to be able to play effectively,” said Cronin to Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“We won six of our last eight all against great teams, but when you assess the Ohio State loss we expended too much energy to get back in the game and our lack of depth hurt us.”
Returning starters Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick are known commodities for the Bearcats heading into the 2012-13 season.
Kilpatrick and Wright are Cincinnati’s two leading returnees in regards to minutes per game, with Kilpatrick averaging a team-high 34.5 mpg and Wright not too far behind at 31.2 mpg, and Parker averaged 26.7 mpg.
But to Cronin’s point about the team’s depth, two of the players who will need to increase their production this season are guards Ge’Lawn Guyn (2.3 ppg) and Jeremiah Davis III (2.5 ppg).
“It comes to a point where I can’t play 35 to 40 minutes a game. So one of them or both of them have to play if we’re going to try to get to where we want to go,” said Wright of Guyn and Davis III before the team’s first practice on Friday.
“There’s no way I’m going to be able to play those minutes and we make it to the Final Four and then still have all the gas in the tank. We’re going to need them and they are going to be a big help.”
With Dixon and Gates out of the picture more may be required of Wright from a scoring standpoint, and the emergence of a Guyn or Davis III at the point would allow the senior more opportunities to work off the ball.
Of the two players Davis III was more involved offensively, finishing the season with a possession percentage of 20.4% to Guyn’s 15.6% according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (subscription required).
But both finished the season averaging around one assist for every turnover (Guyn just about that mark, Davis just below), and that’s something they’ll need to change this season.
The Bearcats have the talent to be a factor in the Big East when considering not only their returnees but also front court newcomers David Nyarsuk, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas (Thomas redshirted last season).
But how much of a factor Cincinnati turns out to be will depend on what they can get from two guards who weren’t asked to to be major contributors last year.