The Cincinnati Bearcats opened up their 2012 exhibition schedule with a 80-60 win over the Grand Valley State Lakers at Fifth Third Arena on Monday night.
The Bearcats, who begin the season ranked 24th in AP poll, were ready to get the ball rolling with what could arguably be their most talented team in the past ten years.
The game got off to a slow start for the Bearcats who displayed some expected sloppiness in the early going, but the additional talent on this year’s edition of the Bearcats’ roster immediately began to shine through.
The Bearcats would pull away early in the second half after a 19-6 run spanning the first four minutes put them in front by 23. Sloppy play down the stretch allowed the Lakers to keep it close, but the game was never in doubt.
“It was good practice for us,” said Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin after the game. “They’re an extremely well coached team that played a lot of guards and did a great job of protecting the basketball. Most division two teams are going to be guard heavy, and they were able to make shots and make us pay.”
He continued on,
“We haven’t had a lot of chances to play five-on-five. Some schools have had two or three scrimmages and we’ve had none. The reason I bring that up is because we’re trying to wear teams down and I thought we got tired towards the end. I thought once we built a big lead we got tired and got lazy.”
Power forward Cheik Modj, who dropped 35 pounds in the offseason, was nearly unrecognizable when he took the floor Monday. His new, leaner frame allowed him to move better, and his added explosive was evident underneath the basket.
Modj finished the game with 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 5 blocks in just over 26 minutes of playing time.
“It makes it a lot easier for me to get around,” said Modj. “It really helped to get my ankle healthy, too. I can move around the floor so much easier.”
Some other new faces for the Bearcats included forward David Nyarsuk and wings Shaq Thomas and Titus Rubles.
Nyarsuk, a 7-foot tall junior transfer, provides the Bearcats with another interior presence. Nyarsuk, who finished with 3 points and 3 rebounds, impressed with his ability to run the floor in transition.
Thomas, who redshirted last season, saw the first substantial playing time of his career on Monday. Despite a relatively quiet night, Thomas showed some of the athleticism that garnered him plenty of attention during the recruiting process.
Perhaps the most impressive of the newcomers was junior transfer Titus Rubles. At 6’ 7” and 207 pounds, Rubles passes the eye test. His play on the court made it evident as to why many have him penciled in as a starter in 2012.
His ability to get to the basket is nearly as good as anyone on the roster and his jump shot, although unconventional, was impressive as well.
As for the elder statesman of the bunch, the Bearcats’ stars performed as expected.
“It was good practice for us,” said Kilpatrick after the game. “We still have a lot we need to work on. We need to keep improving every day to get where we’re trying to go.”
The Bearcats close out their exhibition schedule next Monday night against Bellarmine before beginning their regular season schedule with a home tilt against Tennessee Martin on Sunday, November 11th.