Cincinnati, OH – The anticipated Crosstown Classic, pitting Cincinnati versus Xavier, usually provides an electric atmosphere, and at the beginning of the contest that was certainly so, however the Musketeers got-off to an early start, and cruised to a 64-47 victory. 6’6” junior forward Justin Martin paved the way with a season-high 17 points, while 6’10” junior center Matt Stainbrook hauled-down 11 boards. The only consistent scoring from the Bearcats came from 6’4” senior guard Sean Kilpatrick, who contributed 17 points, mostly from beyond the three-point arc. Xavier out-shot Cincinnati 56% to 33% from the floor, and had a large advantage on the boards and free-throw line.
The Bearcats are looking to challenge in the American Athletic Conference, the inaugural season of the league that will lose its marquee team (Louisville) to the ACC following the season. While it is unlikely that they can knock-off the defending National Champions to capture the league crown, Cincinnati does expect to make the NCAA Tournament, counting-on the experience of their returning players.
Cincinnati began the 2013-14 season with promise, remaining undefeated through their first seven games, although the level of competition was light, outside of an early-season game versus North Carolina State. Unfortunately, their weaknesses have been exposed in their recent two-game losing streak, failing to come-up with an accompaniment to leading scorer Kilpatrick and not providing enough interior defense.
Mick Cronin’s squad will have to rely upon their pressure defense, not only to keep the opponent from scoring, but to create offense from their opponent’s turnovers. The team possesses plenty of athleticism, especially in the backcourt, but lack strength and depth in the frontcourt. 6’8” senior power-forward James Jackson and 6’9” freshman power-forward Jermaine Lawrence make up the only height on the club that play significant minutes.
The Bearcats are led by Kilpatrick (19.3 ppg), a dynamic scorer and pre-season All-AAC player who is deadly from three-point range, whether coming off picks or off-dribble. He is athletic enough to take his defenders to the rim and is the player most opponents will be keying their defenses around. Though not a true point-guard, Kilpatrick does lead the team in assists and is part of their stifling backcourt defense.
Offering backcourt support is 6’2” junior starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn and 6’3” freshman combo-guard Troy Caupin. Both are similar players in that they are lethal defenders who play outstanding on-ball defense, but are limited offensively (7.2 and 5.7 ppg respectively) due to poor shooting percentages and marginal assist-to-turnover ratios. There is promise with hometown freshman Kevin Johnson, a 6’2” guard who has yet to find his shooting touch, but could be the future leader of the backcourt.
The majority of the frontcourt scoring comes from Jackson (9.6 ppg) and 6’7” senior forward Titus Rubles (9.4 ppg). Neither are going to score much from beyond the paint, but are more athletic than most of the players guarding them, which they can use to their advantage. These two are unfortunately the only two rebounding assets the Bearcats employ, pulling down over six rebounds a contest apiece. Jackson also adds some physicality inside and is one of the better shot-blockers (almost three per game) in the conference with his length and long arms.
In addition to Lawrence (4.6 ppg), significant frontcourt minutes are logged by 6’5” junior forward Jermaine Sanders (4.7 ppg) and 6’7” sophomore forward Shaquille Thomas (6.8 ppg). Each of these players express athleticism and length, but lack the strength and tenaciousness to be factors on either side of the ball. Lawrence has the upside to become a force inside, but will need physical maturity and experience.
The 2013-14 season should be a successful one for Cincinnati, with a post-season placement certainly within reach. There will be some inconsistency, especially on the offensive side and will need to find a reliable second/third scorer to take some of the pressure off Kilpatrick and provide more balance.
Deric McKamey is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.