Cincinnati opened the two game exhibition portion of their schedule with a comfortable 80-60 win over DII Grand Valley State on Monday night.
The trio of guards that will lead this team for the season all turned in solid performances in their debut.
Sean Kilpatrick led the way with 18 points and 8 rebounds on the night, and hit two shots from long range to key a 19-6 run that opened the 2nd half and put his team up 57-35 at the first media stop after the break. He finished the night 6-14 from the floor and an uncharacteristic 2-7 from long range in a team high 36 minutes of action.
It was a typical lunch pail performance from Parker as he was second on the team with 16 points and added 6 rebounds from his wing position. With his physical style of play, it was also nice to see him go a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line. His attacking style is going to send him there a lot in his senior campaign and there are going to be a lot of key moments down the road where he has to step up and convert.
Wright spent a good portion of his night orchestrating the new dribble drive style offense and still managed to produce 13 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes of action. After 4 years in the program, the senior now has the complete trust of head coach Mick Cronin as the floor general and watching the two communicate during stops in play just showed his maturation from a talented but young kid that had a lot to learn growing into a 5th year senior that is an extension of his coach.
With Justin Jackson sidelined with a thumb injury the door was open for JUCO transfer Titus Rubles to leave a strong impression in his first game as a Bearcat. It is safe to say the Dallas native did just that in his debut.
Rubles finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes of action, and he honestly could have had a higher point total if he wasn't always looking to make the extra pass on several drives to the rim. After the game Cronin said his new junior power forward was likely the best talent he has brought into the program in his 7 years as head coach based on his pure basketball ability, and the flashes of what he can become in his two years on campus were certainly on display Monday night.
Second Chance At First Impression
It was without question a rough junior year for Cheikh Mbodj a season ago as he suffered two ankle injuries over the first month of practice and was never really able to show much of what he could do as he struggled to heal.
With 30 pounds dropped off his frame this off season Mbodj showed his increased mobility with 5 blocks on the night. He was also a decent threat around the rim with 8 points, but Cronin was concerned with him only pulling in two rebounds, and none on the defensive end. That is a number that will have to get closer to 6 or 7 going forward.
A Solid Test
One thing coaches don't want when they schedule these exhibition games is a totally outmatched squad coming in and putting up little fight. That was certainly not the case as GVSU made things uncomfortable for most of the 40 minutes by running solid offense, taking care of the ball and connecting on 9-19 shots from the perimeter.
After the game Cronin explained that they had been in contact with the GVSU staff leading up to the game, and basically prepared them with a scouting report on what the Bearcats wanted to accomplish to ensure that they would come out with 40 minutes of tape on what needed work with the start to the season less than to weeks away. Look for an even tougher test next Monday as D2 power Bellermine comes to town for the final tune up.
Maybe the biggest takeaway from the night was a sold out student section for an exhibition game. Cronin gave the bulk of the credit to AD Whitt Babcock and his administrative staff for a policy change that includes general admission seating and a priority point system that is aimed at keeping them engaged throughout the year.
Wright and Kilpatrick also echoed that seeing their peers out in full force to open the season was an important factor in the growth of the program and their connection to the student body. If they can carry that momentum through the non conference and into Big East play the home court advantage will continue to grow.