Cincy’s call: Stick with 4-guard lineup, or go back to Gates?

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Cincinnati’s won six straight games since its brawl with Xavier on Dec. 10. The Bearcats have done it without center Yancy Gates, their best post player and leading scorer from last season.

No one’s ever questioned Gates’ talent. It’s always been more about his attitude – as his role in the brawl showed – and his effort.

So. Does Bearcats coach Mick Cronin just plug the 6-9 senior back into the starting lineup when he’s eligible on Jan. 4? Or does he stick with the four-guard system that’s worked so well the last three weeks?

More on the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl

As if there’s an easy answer. Those guards – Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and JaQuon Parker, the new starter – have all thrived at different points during the Bearcats’ streak. Kilpatrick’s the team’s leading scorer and has embraced it. Dixon and Wright have been bold down the stretch of games and Parker scored a career-high 21 points in Sunday’s win at Pitt. (6-8 senior Justin Jackson is the lone starting forward.) Panthers coach Jamie Dixon? He was impressed.

Cincinnati was 0-4 at Pitt since joining the Big East in 2005. Maybe a switch should’ve been done before now.

“All this was (done) with relentless effort by the guys,” Cronin said. “You watch those guys play you think ‘How are they doing it, they’re so small?'”

None of them are taller than 6-4. But they’ve compensated for any height issues with aggressive defense, a faster (until Pitt) tempo and by doing the best thing of all: making baskets.

“You always look smart when guys make shots,” Cronin said.

Cincinnati (11-3) has scored at least 1.07 points per possession in five of their six recent wins and boasted an eFG% of at least 61.9 until Oklahoma and Pitt rolled around.

Perhaps that’s the notable part. Beating the likes of Radford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Chicago State should be a snap for any Big East team, even one with a starter suspended. But beating other BCS schools? That’s worth keeping an eye on.

It seems unlikely Cronin would insert Gates back into the lineup right away. There’s the “why mess with the streak?” aspect, not to mention upcoming opponents Notre Dame and St. John’s represent winnable games (not to mention rosters that aren’t filled with giants).

But most importantly, Cronin bided his time last season when he suspended Gates for lashing out at an assistant coach. It ended up benefiting the Bearcats (they won five of their last seven regular-season games and even an NCAA tournament game) and Gates. He averaged nearly a double-double in that span.

Cincinnati would take half that production from Gates this time around.

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