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American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Power Rankings: No. 4 Cincinnati

Can the new look Bearcats remain successful under Coach Mick Cronin?

Steve Dykes

Head Coach: Mick Cronin
2013-14 Record: 27-7, 15-3 AAC, lost in NCAA Tournament round of 64

Key Losses: Sean Kilpatrick (20.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG), Justin Jackson (11.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG), Titus Rubles (7.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG)

When they play UConn:
January 10th (at UConn)
January 29th (at Cincy)

Key Players:
Shaquile Thomas
Troy Caupain
Gary Clark
Jermaine Sanders

Replacing Sean Kilpatrick will not be easy for the Cincinnati Bearcats but it is doable.  However, doing so while also losing Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles seems almost impossible.  Mick Cronin certainly has his hands full this coming season as he loses his leading scorer, leading rebounder and best defender from a year ago.  Still, it can be argued that the Bearcats come into the season bigger, longer and with more depth than last season.  Cincinnati returns five guard/forwards and adds another pair of guards along with five big men who could all see time.

Junior forward Shaquille Thomas is the team's leading scorer from a year ago at only 6.8 PPG.  While he is not known for being a scorer, he started all 34 games last season and will be looked at big time for leadership.  Senior forward Jermaine Sanders was arguably the team's best three point threat as he shot 37.6% from three while averaging 5.7 PPG.  Sanders needs to step into a bigger role this year to give the Bearcats a legitimate three-point threat.

Ge'Lawn Guyn is another guy who will be looked at for leadership. The senior also started all 34 games last season.  The 6-foot-2 point guard only averaged 4.5 PPG with 2.0 APG as he was not a scoring threat with Kilpatrick and Jackson on the team.  While Guyn did start every game a year ago, sophomore Troy Caupain could easily give him a run for his money for the starting job at point guard.  Caupain averaged 5.4 PPG and has the ability to create easy shots for his teammates but must cut down on his turnovers.  Kevin Johnson will also provide depth at the guard position as a knockdown shooter.  His stroke did not translate as well from high school to college as Cronin would have hoped for but the potential is there.

The perimeter is not the only area of the court that Cincinnati is deep at as they have three 6-10 big men joining the program along with two freshmen power forwards who will likely see the court this year.  Octavius Ellis was with the program as a freshman before transferring to a Junior College and then subsequently transferring back.  He already knows the system which should bode well for his playing time as he is known for his rebounding and shot blocking.  Coreontae DeBerry will also see time as he is the most physical of the three big men which is something Mick Cronin loves.  Lastly, there is Jamaree Strickland who redshirted last year.  The big lefty is arguably the best scorer out of the bunch so he should also see time this year.

Two main players to watch for on the Bearcats are Gary Clark and Quadri Moore, both of who could make an immediate impact as freshmen.  6-foot-7 Gary Clark is ranked as a four-star recruit according to ESPN and is known to be "your typical, Bearcat hybrid-forward."  He has the ability to play different positions as he can knock down mid-range jumpers while also being able to score out of the post.  Clark has a very long wingspan too which allows him to be an effective defender.  The 6-foot-8 Quadri Moore is a different prospect as his offensive skills are something the Bearcat coaches have not seen.  He can face-up, take guys off the dribble, and knock down the three-pointer but must improve on his defense if he's going to see time in Mick Cronin's rotation.

We do know one thing-these guys are going to give 110% for their head coach.  It may not be the prettiest at times but the depth and length of the Bearcats will give them the ability to give multiple looks on defense which always has the chance to disrupt teams. Going into last year very few thought Cincinnati would be a threat, but by the end of the season they were in that race for AAC regular champion.

It may take a while for Mick Cronin to figure out who plays best with each other and what rotations work, but his guys certainly have the talent to compete within the conference.  Their big-time non-conference games come right before conference play on the road against Nebraska and N.C. State and home against San Diego State and VCU.  If Cincinnati can get in an offensive flow by the time they head into the thick of their schedule, they have the potential to win 20 games for the fifth straight year and even make it to the Sweet 16.