CINCINNATI (AP) — A new era in Bearcats basketball started when they moved into an on-campus arena in 1989. Bob Huggins turned them into a national powerhouse that was ranked No. 1. After he was forced out, the program fell off and Mick Cronin was brought in to dig it out.
While their arena underwent a year-long renovation last season, the Bearcats made it back into the Top 10 — their best season under Cronin. They’re getting ready to reopen their arena on Nov. 7 against Ohio State, a team they haven’t played in Cincinnati since 1920.
In a sense, the Bearcats have come full-circle, moving into a new facility while trying to build upon a high-profile season that ended badly.
“OSU being the first game, that makes it more exciting,” senior point guard Cane Broome said.
There’s a buzz about the Bearcats again coming off their 31-5 season that included an American Athletic Conference championship . They went 15-1 while playing at Northern Kentucky University, with a 76-72 loss to Wichita State ending their 39-game home-court winning streak that was the longest in the nation.
Their season ended with a meltdown. Up by 22 points with 11 minutes left, they lost to Nevada 75-73 , matching the second-biggest collapse in NCAA Tournament history.
The Bearcats have to replace guard Jacob Evans III, their top scorer at 13 points per game, and forward Gary Clark, their best overall player at 12.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. They were not only the core of the team but the most reliable players in the pressure-filled moments.
“With Gary and Jacob, we lost their voice,” Cronin said. “Not their voice of rah-rah; their voice of where to rotate defensively, when to rotate defensively, and the calm they brought to the offensive end. Both of those guys played under control.”
Five things to watch with the Bearcats:
FINALLY HOME: The Bearcats played only one game in Cincinnati last season, losing at Xavier . They and their fans had to cross the Ohio River to watch home games. They dressed in a temporary locker room on campus while their arena was renovated. Players are looking forward to having their own space again.
“For a year and a half, they’ve been in a makeshift locker room,” Cronin said. “It’s cold, you can’t control a lot of the draft where they’re at. So for them, they just want to get into the locker room.”
ABOUT THOSE BUCKEYES: Ohio State leads the intrastate series 6-4. The last time they played was in the NCAA Tournament in 2012, when the Buckeyes won 81-66.
CUMBERLAND’S TIME: Junior guard Jarron Cumberland is the top returning scorer. He averaged 11.5 points last season and had 103 assists, second on the team. His biggest problem has been getting into foul trouble early. Cronin has been harping on him during practice to avoid fouls.
“Being an all-around player is not something I have to sell him on,” Cronin said. “The most important thing with him is keeping him out of foul trouble early in games.”
GUARD TANDEM: Senior point guards Cane Broome (7.9 points) and Justin Jennifer (4.8 points) each played about 20 minutes per game last season and are being counted upon to score more this season with Evans and Clark gone.
“Coach has been on me to shoot more and take open shots and not pass up shots,” Broome said. “This offseason I feel I’ve been getting back to myself as far as scoring a lot.”
NEW FRONT LINE: In addition to Clark, the Bearcats also lose forward Kyle Washington, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. With both of them gone, the Bearcats will turn to an in experienced group including junior Tre Scott (3.1 ppg) and sophomore Eliel Nsoseme (0.9).
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