Friday, July 03, 2009

How Good Will Cincy Be?

I promised that I'd talk about more about Cincinnati's signing of Lance Stephenson, and here it is:

First of all, it's worthwhile to note that Cincinnati was going to be good even before they signed Stephenson. I've seen people debating whether they think Stephenson will push Cincy into the top 7 or 8 in the Big East, but in my mind they were already there. Just a week or so ago I had them as an 8 seed in the Tournament. Last year's team was a lot closer to making the Tournament than most people realized, and they bring back absolutely everybody. Yancy Gates looks like a player who will really take the leap now that he's played a full Big East season and knows what to expect.

On top of that, Cincy is welcoming in a new transfer: Oklahoma State's Ibrahima Thomas. Thomas played one full season at Oklahoma State (2007-08), and these were his per-40 minute averages from that season: 13.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.1 fouls. He is a very athletic talent who will be a great complement to Gates, as long as he can control himself and stay out of foul trouble. Cincy also welcomes Cashmere Wright, a highly touted guard from Cincy's 2008 recruiting class who had to redshirt his freshman season with an injury. He might actually start in 2009-10 as a redshirt freshman.

Assuming Stephenson is able to play next season (obviously there is still the possibility that the NCAA will revoke his eligibility due to some money changing hands during his tumultuous high school career), Cincy will have a very good starting lineup, and will be very deep. Obviously Gates, Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn will start. I'd be shocked if Ibrahima Thomas doesn't start at the power forward position. Gates will play inside with Thomas, Stephenson is a swing forward, and Vaughn is a guard. The other guard position might be taken by Wright, although that's not certain right now. But either way, Cincy will have great depth. A guy like Larry Davis started 28 games last season and might be a sixth or seventh man this coming season. I expect the Bearcats to go ten players deep easily, and this will be so important with the grueling Big East schedule. It shouldn't have been as big of a surprise that teams with little depth last season (Notre Dame, Marquette and Georgetown come to mind) faded down the stretch.

Now of course, Stephenson is a risk. He could be a behavior problem who creates strife in the locker room and makes the team worse. I've always liked Mick Cronin, but this might be his toughest task yet. He needs to make sure that Stephenson takes the national criticism as motivation to be a better person and teammate. That he sets out to prove everybody wrong by being a model player and by leading Cincinnati to great success. Certainly the opportunities will be there for the Bearcats next season, if Stephenson can set his ego aside and be the player he can be.

No comments: