The Cincinnati Bearcats began their 2012-13 quest tonight with an 80-60 exhibition win over a game Grand Valley State team.
If you didn't see the game, I'll fill you in with my observations.
1) Cheikh Mbodj is a completely different player than you saw last season. He lost 25 pounds, and it showed in his quickness. The Senegal native was very active, blocking shots and grabbing offensive rebounds. He also drained his first four free throws.
2) David Nyarsuk is a very tall man. The 7 foot 1 transfer from Mountain State is pretty mobile for a guy his size. This is not another Anthony "Biggie" McClain, folks. He grabbed rebounds outside of his area, he cut down the lane and flew in for a dunk and he ran the floor well. He also swatted a few shots. Definitely has work to do, but he has the potential to be a difference maker.
3) The new four out, one in dribble-drive motion offense will take time to gel. Tonight it mostly looked like chaos out there. You could hear Bearcat coaches yelling at guys to cut or pass the ball most of the night. But there were some flashes of the potential of this new system. Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker were all able to beat their man down the right side of the lane multiple times. There were also instances of a controlled drive leading to a kick out for an in-rhythm 3-point attempt.
4) The high octane defensive pressure will also take time. Grand Valley State repeatedly shot and pass faked the aggressive Bearcats out of position, leading to driving lanes for shots or kick outs. The Lakers drained a bunch of wide open threes.
5) This game was actually closer than the final 20-point margin. The Lakers missed a ton of free throws but were still able to hang around, cutting a 25-point second half lead down to 11 with about four minutes left. But Titus Rubles got a steal and threw down a vicious right-handed dunk off one foot and then knocked down a 15-footer from the left wing to stretch the lead back out.
6) Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas are very raw, but they are the type of athletes out on the wing that most schools simply do not have on their roster. Rubles hit a few outside shots, although he is known for his quick first step. That quick first step was on display, but the second and third steps were a little out of control tonight—which is to be expected from a first year Division I player.
Thomas is tall, long and athletic. He made a few steals and had a nice offensive rebound and put back in the lane. Offensively he looks tentative, which is no surprise as he adjusts to the speed of the college game.
Both of these kids have top level size and athleticism, and once the game slows down, Mick Cronin has himself a couple of significant weapons.
7) Cashmere Wright still has one of the sweetest jump shots in college basketball. He's smooth as silk with that release-rotation-splash from a distance. Enjoy him this season—it's gonna be a huge void to fill when he's gone.
In the end, it's about what you would have expected from the first exhibition game. Mostly sloppy with some great plays and coaches yelling at the new guys. Cronin will have plenty of teachable moments when the team watches the film on Tuesday. The players will all be receptive, they'll practice hard the rest of this week and then tee it up again next Monday—same time, same place—against Bellarmine.