August 30th, 2006
Basketball Preview: Cincinnati
Trying to determine who plays what position and for how many minutes for the
Bearcats next season is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. With
only one returning player who got significant minutes last season, the rest
of the lineup is filled with question marks..
Cedric McGowan, a juco transfer a year ago, was a pleasant surprise,
averaging 8.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg in 28.3 mpg. He had some monster games,
including a 20-rebound performance against De Paul. He also showed he can
score as he had games of 18, 19, and 20 points. However, he was inconsistent
as he scored in double figures in only four of 16 conference games and had
two games with 0 points, one with 2, and another with 4. He will have to be
more consistent this year, which he should be since he won't be the fourth
or fifth option on offense as he was last year. He is the favorite to start
at the 4, especially since he's a bit short for the 5 and doesn't have
sufficient range or enough of a handle to play the 3.
Abdul Herrera sat out last season due to issues with the NCAA, but he
returns as well. He's big, but he was reportedly raw when he came in, and a
year off probably didn't help his progress. He should get some time at the 5
coming off the bench.
Ron Allen also returns, but he got minutes last year more by default
than anything else. He might beat out Herrera as the primary reserve at
center because he's athletic, but his minutes will be limited.
Cincinnati will rely on six incoming jucos and a prep school player.
Bearcat fans are extremely optimistic about this group of newcomers, but
the fact is few players making the transition from junior college to
high-major D-1 programs have much of an impact, particularly their first
year. This is especially true for interior players, even those who come to
D-1 amid glowing accolades. Instead of becoming the highly-anticipated
aircraft carrier in the middle, many simply crash and burn.
Cincinnati fans have seen this happen first hand. Two years ago Robert
Whaley came to the Queen City amid extremely high expectations. He did
almost nothing as a junior, then left the program as a major
disappointment. Last year at this time, first-team juco all-American Ivan
Johnson was penciled in to start, along with Eric Hicks, at the 4/5,but
after Higgins’ ouster, he got cold feet and opted to play at Oregon. On a
mediocre team, he averaged only 16.1 mpg. While he did score 7.5 ppg in
those limited minutes and got 3.2 rpg, those are hardly major-impact stats.
In essence, even junior college all-Americans don’t necessarily produce when
they move up to major college ball.
That being said, the prize of this year’s recruiting class is Hernol
Hall, a 6'10" center who first committed to Duquesne. He's another
first-team juco AA who averaged 14.3 ppg and 10.0 rpg. Hoopmasters ranked
him the #4 juco player in the country. He’ll start at the 5 for Coach
Cronin, but he’s going to find it considerably more difficult to score and
snare rebounds against Gray, Hibbert, and Watkins, among others, than it was
against his former competition.
It's interesting that Cronin brought in two power forwards in 6’7”
Marcus Sikes, who was ranked #6 among all junior college players by Hoopmasters, and 6’6” John Williamson, whom Hoopmasters ranked #8. Sikes
averaged 13.1 ppg and 11.3 rpg while Williamson's stats were even more
impressive - 27.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg. However, Williamson played at a
Division 2 junior college, so his competition wasn't exactly tough.
Williamson could also see time at the 3 and could even start there. If he
doesn’t, there will be a logjam at the 4, and Cronin will have a hard time
keeping everyone happy.
Three juco guards enter the program, along with Deonte Vaughn, a
fifth-year prep-school player. Vaughn is my pick to eventually start at
point. Scout ranked him as the #28 point guard in the Class of 2006. The
juco point guard is Tim Crowell, who averaged 11.0 ppg and 7.2 apg. He's
very quick and has a bit more experience than Vaughn. Regardless of which
one eventually earns the bulk of the playing time, there's not a snowball's
chance in Southern Ohio that he'll produce anything even close to what last
year’s star freshman, Devan Downey, would have provided this year had he
There will also
be an interesting battle at the 2 guard between Marvin
Gentry and Jamual Warren. Gentry is a good perimeter shooter, which is
something the Bearcats will certainly need. Warren, a second-team junior
college all-American, is more of a scorer than a pure shooter. He averaged
22 ppg and 6 apg, but he doesn’t have the long-range shooting credentials
Besides the obvious question of how well these junior college players
can adapt to the level of play in the Big East, the other major concern is
whether or not Cronin can get these players to mesh as a team. It’s
difficult to get even veteran players to work well together, but trying to
accomplish that goal with so many new faces will be an extraordinary
If three or four of the newcomers can adapt to the rigors of playing in
an elite conference against elite competition, then the Bearcats have a
chance to make the Big East Tournament. However, the odds of that happening
are not great. Cincinnati may pull off a few upsets, especially at home,
but, overall, it wouldn't surprise me if the Bearcats, despite a more
friendly conference schedule than last year, finish 6-10 or 5-11.
Put it this way: there’s no way Hall will be better than Hicks was last
year, and no one on this year’s roster will be nearly as good as James
White. At point, no one is even close to the same level as Downey. And, as
inconsistent as Muhammed and Kirkland were, the best any Bearcat fan can
hope for is a slight upgrade. Cronin definitely has his work cut out for
him this year.
- Predicted Finish:
13 of 16