The Cincinnati Bearcats have been a defensive orientated program since Mick Cronin took over the reins in 2006.
That’s not to say that Cincinnati’s offense has been poor or hasn’t been able to produce at a high level (just think of Sean Kilpatrick and what he was able to do in his college career), but it just means that Cronin’s bread and butter is on the defensive end of the floor.
Starting last year, the Bearcats began to transition to more of an offensive approach, where their focus was more on getting buckets in transition, while also having the same mentality on the defense.
They still only averaged 73 points per game (168th in college basketball), however, they added recruits who’s forte was offense.
With a roster that has some really talented scorers and skilled players, the 2016-17 Bearcats should take another step forward on that end of the floor.
It all starts with Jacob Evans. The rising sophomore forward averaged only 8.4 points per game, but really came on at the end of the season. Evans scored 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting against St. Joe’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and scored in double figures in four out of five from mid-to-late February.
Evans was decently efficient (37 percent from the field) and used his size (6’6″) to his advantage. The Baton Rouge native has a knack for putting the ball in the basket though, as he can score from all three levels.
The next step is improving his consistency from three and obviously tightening up his defense, but we already know he can create and make plays on offense.
The other two pieces that will spark the Bearcats offense is North Carolina State transfer forward Kyle Washington and veteran forward Gary Clark.
Washington, who sat out last season due to the NCAA transfer rules, averaged 6.8 points per game in his second season with the Wolfpack. While that number seems low, the Wolfpack had numerous other weapons on offense who were obviously better with the ball in their hands. Also, Washington was a bit less experienced at the time.
Regardless, Washington shot 47 percent from the field and a surprising 54 percent from three. He can catch-and-shoot, pass, finish inside with authority and is capable of grabbing offensive rebounds.
Clark, who is an undersized forward at 6’7″, averaged 10.4 points, shot 52 percent from the field and drilled 52 percent from long range. The North Carolina native is also an excellent defender, but he has greatly improved on the offensive end as well.
Even though he tends to be passive at times, he has range (more consistent in mid-range than three but he worked on his shot from year one to year two) and improves Cincy’s spacing.
The Bearcats even brought in another wing player who is a flat out scorer: four-star shooting guard Jarron Cumberland. The 6’4″ guard from Ohio is already drawing comparisons to Kilpatrick for his ability to put the ball in the basket.
“He’s a freight train in transition,” Cronin said on Jon Rothstein’s College Hoops Today podcast. “He’s a shot maker and playmaker on offense.
“I like the fact that he’s a very, very gifted basketball player. We’ll have to teach him to find the open man but he’s not afraid to take the big shot. He just needs to polish his game up, and put in the time and the work, but he’s going to have a great career. He’s going to be a great Bearcat. He’s a big cornerstone recruit for us.”
Cumberland will step in from day one (likely off the bench) and have some type of an impact.
Even moving forward Cronin seems to be spotlighting the offense.
Cincinnati landed a “bucket getter” and a gifted scorer in former Sacred Heart point guard Cane Broome. The point guard will have to sit out the 2016-17 due to the transfer rules, but will be eligible in 2017-18.
Just imagine what it would be like to watch Evans, Cumberland, Washington and Broome together in two years.
Cincinnati will always be a good defensive team though. Regardless of their personnel, Cronin gets his players to buy into his philosophy. No team is going to win conference championships without any effort or intensity on defense, and Cronin will continue to mandate that from his players.
But the Bearcats will have a potent offense next year, one that helps them hang in with UConn as one of the top teams in the AAC and possibly one of the top 25 teams in the country.
It’s the start of a “new era” in Cincy.