NCAA countdown: No. 41 Cincinnati
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Cincinnati’s season ended in March with an early exit in the NCAA tournament. Veteran coach Mick Cronin’s April turned out much better.
First he received the news that top player Sean Kilpatrick, one of the most dangerous scorers in the country, was returning for his senior season and holding off on declaring for the NBA draft. Then he found out heralded recruit Jermaine Lawrence, a 6-9 forward rated in the top 20 for the class of 2013.
Two potential All-Americans are better than one. And certainly better than none. The Bearcats return a fair amount of experience from last season’s team despite losing double-digit scorers Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker, and there’s enough talent on the roster to keep Cincinnati in the mix of the newly structured American Athletic Conference, a league that features defending NCAA champion Louisville, last year’s Conference USA champ Memphis, and a up-and-coming Connecticut team hungry for the postseason.
Coach’s corner: Last season, Cincinnati was one of the top defensive teams in the country, ranking 14th nationally in field goal percentage defense. This season, the team’s defense could surge. “I think we have the potential to be an even better defensive team than we were last year. I think we could be one of the better defensive teams in the country. We could be more versatile and athletic, and we have the chance to be deeper. Our pressure will be relentless for 40 minutes.” — Cronin, now in his 8th season with the Bearcats.
2012-13 in review: 22-12 overall (9-9 in old Big East), lost in second round of NCAA tournament to Creighton.
Path to the Dance: Cincinnati has the skillset to reach the NCAAs via a conference tournament title or an at-large bid. But the AAC is a mystery at this point when it comes to NCAA tournament bids and how the committee views the league. Louisville, Connecticut and Memphis seem to be locks. And Cincinnati should fall in that conversation, too. That’s four bids. But if other teams, like SMU or Temple, have breakout seasons, the argument could be made that five-plus bids … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 41 Cincinnati, click here.]