UC basketball could be even better next year – Cincinnati.com
The disappointment will linger for the University of Cincinnati basketball team for some time, after Sunday night’s 79-67 loss to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 in Sacramento.
Yet, the Bearcats (30-6) also will rank among the top teams in UC history. UC was nationally ranked for most of the season, and its 30 wins were second in school history to the 31-4 mark posted by the 2001-02 Bearcats.
“We were able to a mark on the program,” UC senior guard Kevin Johnson said. “30 wins, four NCAA appearances, able to make it to the second round of the tournament. We played in so many big games, met great people. It’s a family forever, and I’m sad that it’s got to be over. When I reminisce, it’s the greatest time of my life.”
UC will lose Johnson and fellow senior guard Troy Caupain, along with walk-on Zack Tobler.
“Not only did they win, they won the right way,” UC coach Mick Cronin said. “We’re really proud of the way we win at Cincinnati, graduating players, selfless, doing in the right way with integrity and character.”
Some thoughts on UC’s season, and a look ahead:
Seniors truly will be missed
Caupain (Midlothian, Va.) leaves UC with 1,317 career points, tied with Cashmere Wright (UC 2010-13) for 22nd on the all-time Bearcats list. Caupain also finished No. 1 in UC career assists with 515.
Johnson (Summit Country Day) finished strong with a 13-point game Sunday. He departs with 829 career points, and will be remembered as one of the top defenders in UC history.
Tobler (Covington Catholic) was one of the most popular walk-ons in UC history, with his own Twitter hashtag (#ToblerTime) and an army of Bearcats fans who frequently chanted his name, “Tob-ler! Tob-ler!” when he had a chance to enter games late.
Moreover, Caupain, Johnson and Tobler all were quality people on a team loaded with quality people. They will be among the toughest senior groups ever to replace at UC.
Future looks bright
Point guard Caupain (10.5 points per game), shooting guard Johnson (7.9) and Tobler (1.3) all made their marks, with Caupain and Johnson leaving big holes in the starting lineup.
Next season, the arrival of point guard Cane Broome could make the Bearcats even better. Broome sat out this season as a transfer from Sacred Heart. A quick, offensive dynamo who averaged 23.1 points in the 2015-16 season at Sacred Heart, the left-handed Broome has been compared to UC great Nick Van Exel. Broome will have two years of eligibility remaining.
The best guess at next year’s starting lineup would be Broome at the point, seniors-to-be forwards Kyle Washington (12.9 ppg this season) and Gary Clark (10.8), and shooting guards in junior-to-be Jacob Evans (team-high 13.5 ppg this season) and Jarron Cumberland (8.3). Cumberland, from Wilmington High School, led UC with 15 points in its Sunday loss to UCLA.
Also back are senior-to-be forward Quadri Moore (2.9 ppg), sophomore-to-be forward Tre Scott (3.1 ppg), junior-to-be point guard Justin Jenifer (2.8 ppg) and sophomore-to-be center Nysier Brooks (2.4 ppg).
Incoming freshmen will be 6-foot-5 guard Trevor Moore (Houston, Texas), 6-5 guard Keith Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and 6-9 center Eliel Nsoseme (Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo/RISE Centre Academy in Brantford, Ontario Canada).
Temporary home next season
With Fifth Third Arena closed for an $87 million renovation, UC will play its 2017-18 home games at BB&T Arena (capacity 9,400) on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. The NKU arena area includes 8,000 parking spaces within a five-minute walk to the facility. NKU is approximately seven miles from downtown Cincinnati.
At Fifth Third, UC will return for the 2018-19 season. Improvements to the facility, which opened in 1989, will include the creation of a 360-degree seating bowl, new HD scoreboard, ribbon boards, sound system, new restroom and concession facilities, a new upper-level concourse with fan amenities, expanded premium seating opportunities and more.
What next for Cronin?
The 45-year-old Cronin last year signed a two-year contract extension, paying roughly $2.2 million per year through the 2022-23 season.
In March 2016, Cronin and UNLV did a highly publicized dance in which Cronin nearly took the Runnin’ Rebels’ job. Cincinnati native Cronin (La Salle High School, UC grad) opted to stay home, but his name will arise for certain vacancies again. Already, ESPN has mentioned Cronin as a potential candidate at Indiana.
From here, it would seem that Cronin is not going anywhere. It also appeared that way last year until UNLV came calling, but Cronin admittedly was at a personal crossroads then. UC had just lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game to Saint Joseph’s. Cronin wondered if maybe he had gotten the Bearcats program as far as it could go, after 10 years. Cronin also was still thinking about his medical leave in the 2014-15 season. Mid-life crisis? Perhaps.
After all that, Cronin stayed home and is glad he did. You truly never say ‘never’ in this game but it would be hard to imagine Cronin leaving, especially with the stacked roster he returns in 2017-18.
All in all, a boffo show
When the season began, most UC fans probably would have taken a 30-6 final record. The Bearcats advanced to the NCAA Round of 32 for the second time in three years, only to face a potent UCLA team that includes three projected NBA first-round draftees.
Although some UC fans are rankled that crosstown rival Xavier remains alive in the NCAA Sweet 16, the Bearcats did beat the Musketeers this season for the first time in four years. UC finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, released last week.
UC this season won its most games in the 11-year Cronin tenure, and made its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. UC is one of only eight schools to appear in the last seven NCAA tourneys, along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, VCU and Wisconsin.
UC did not win the American Athletic Conference, nor the AAC tournament. The Bearcats did win an NCAA tourney game, 75-61 over Kansas State in the first round.
“Wild success,” was Cronin’s description of the season. Indeed, it was a very good year.
Not only did UC win, it entertained. Highest scoring team in Cronin’s tenure (74.3 ppg). A truly likable group of players, a team that fans could get behind. Home attendance averaged 9,865 per game, the highest under Cronin. The needle points upward.
UC basketball could be even better next year – Cincinnati.com