Cincinnati will play its 2017-18 home games in neighboring Kentucky, taking its show to Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, 10 miles from the Cincinnati campus. Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989, is undergoing a much-needed $87 million renovation. With the talent the Bearcats have returning, they should have no trouble convincing their fans to make the trip across the Ohio River. Cincinnati lost its two starting guards, including point guard and team leader Troy Caupain, from a 30–6 team but returns three starters on the front line. Even without Caupain, expect this team to be better offensively due to the addition of Cane Broome, a high-scoring guard who transferred from Sacred Heart.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mick Cronin
2016-17 RECORD (AAC): 30-6 (16-2)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to UCLA 79-67 in the second round
G Troy Caupain (10.5 ppg, 4.4 apg)
G Kevin Johnson (7.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
Senior forward Gary Clark has been a mainstay in Cincinnati’s starting lineup from the moment he arrived on campus in 2014. As a junior last year, the 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting a team-high 52.9 percent. He’s joined up front by two other standouts — 6'9" senior forward Kyle Washington, who last year averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds after transferring from NC State, and 6'6" junior swingman Jacob Evans, who led the Bearcats in scoring last year with 13.5 points per game.
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Cincinnati added depth on the front line with the signing of Mamoudou Diarra, a former Washington recruit who was given his release after coach Lorenzo Romar was fired. He’ll be joined by 6'8" sophomore forward Tre Scott, who averaged 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds last year; 6'10" sophomore center Nysier Brooks, who averaged 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds; and 6'8" senior Quadri Moore (2.9 ppg). Incoming freshman Eliel Nsoseme could also contribute.
Broome transferred to Cincinnati after he ranked eighth nationally in 2015-16 with 23.1 points per game during his sophomore year at Sacred Heart. “He changes our offense,” says UC coach Mick Cronin, entering his 12th season at his alma mater.
Broome will be joined in the starting backcourt by 6'5" sophomore Jarron Cumberland, who made the AAC’s All-Rookie Team after averaging 8.3 points and shooting 49.3 percent from the field. Cumberland grew more aggressive offensively as his freshman season progressed, and he capped his first season by scoring 15 points in 20 minutes in the Bearcats’ second-round NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA.
Junior Justin Jenifer, who backed up Caupain at the point last year, is a flashy ball handler who needs to improve his offensive efficiency after shooting only 44.4 percent from 2-point range last season. Incoming freshmen Trevor Moore and Keith Williams also will compete for playing time.
The Bearcats are expected to challenge for the AAC championship, although the presence of Wichita State, which joins the league this season, will make it more difficult. This is the most balanced offensive team Cronin has had at Cincinnati. The key will be the Bearcats’ ability to progress offensively while also maintaining the trademark defensive prowess that has been a hallmark of the Cronin era.
Despite the program’s impressive run of seven straight NCAA Tournaments — one of only eight schools that can claim that level of consistent success — Cincinnati has reached the Sweet 16 only once during that span. Bearcat fans will be expecting this team to reach the second weekend — at least — of the NCAA Tournament.