As preparations begin for another college basketball season, optimism is running high in Cincinnati after a very successful campaign last season. The Bearcats started the year by reeling off 15 straight wins, and they ended up posting one of their best records in school history at 26-9.
They went 16-14 against the spread in games with posted college basketball odds, and 19 of the 30 games stayed ‘under’ the total as a result of a stifling defense.
Cincinnati finished tied for sixth-place in the Big East. It made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a six-seed out of the West Region before bowing-out, 69-58, to the eventual champions, the Connecticut Huskies, in the third round.
2011-12 Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball Outlook
The reason for such high expectations is the return of the team’s top four scorers from last year.
Look for senior forward Yancy Gates to lead the way after averaging 11.8 points per game last year. He was also the Bearcats leading rebounder with an average of 6.8 boards a game.
Also back are guard Dion Dixon and guard/forward Sean Kilpatrick. Dixon was right behind Yates with an average of 11.6 points per game and Kilpatrick added an average of 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Another key component of this year’s team will be junior guard Cashmere Wright. He averaged 8.9 points per game and led the team in assists with 3.9 a game.
The real advantage of having this much experience in the starting lineup could actually be on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati was second to only Pittsburgh last year in points allowed. They held opponents to an average of just 61.7 points a game.
One of the biggest losses from last year’s squad was forward Rashad Bishop, who played four years for Cincinnati and averaged more than 23 minutes per game throughout his career. Last season Bishop averaged 26.6 minutes a game while averaging 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds.
Also gone is forward Ibrahima Thomas, who was second on the team in rebounds with 5.3 a game.
This season’s recruiting class consists of five freshmen and one junior-college transfer. The biggest name on the list is forward Shaquille Thomas, but he will redshirt this season after being declared ineligible for the fall semester.
Look for 6'10" center Kelvin Gaines and Jermaine Sanders to make an immediate impact as freshman along with another 6'10" center Cheikh Mbodj, who spent some time in junior college.
2011-12 Cincinnati Basketball Schedule
One of the main reasons for a 15-0 run to start last year was a soft schedule in the Bearcats’ non conference games. That appears to be the case again in the early going, but they do face Xavier on Dec. 10 and Oklahoma on Dec. 29 before kicking-off their Big East schedule against Pitt on Jan 1.
Things really heat up later that month with road games against Georgetown, Connecticut and West Virginia along with home tilts against Villanova and Syracuse all within the span of two weeks.
By then we should have a pretty good indication of just how far this Cincinnati team might be able to go this season.
2011-12 Cincinnati Bearcats Predictions for College Basketball
Depending on the preseason poll, Cincinnati has been ranked as high as No.17 by Sporting News, but generally falls near the back of the top 25 as an overall average.
The Bearcats find themselves in the middle-of-the-pack to win the Big East this season at +1200 along with Notre Dame and West Virginia, with six other teams having more favorable odds. The few sportsbooks that do have odds on Cincinnati to win this year’s National Championship have them as a moderate longshot at +10000.
This team has enough talent to make a serious run at the Big East regular season title and could easily enhance its position in the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament.
Look for Cincinnati to top last season’s sixth-seed in the West Region with a fourth or fifth seed closer to home in the East for this year’s Big Dance.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks Web site.