The Cincinnati Bearcats (11-3 1-0) look to improve to 2-0 in Big East action as they open their home conference slate against Notre Dame (9-5 1-0) on Wednesday night at 7 pm inside 5/3 Arena.
Cincinnati is an improbable 6-0 in their absence, and with limited options in the post Cronin put a 4 guard offense in place to utilize the remaining talent available. While everyone wonders how their return with mesh with the new style of play, Cronin is excited to have them back.
“We're looking forward to having some options.” Cronin said. “We don't have to look at getting out rebounded every game.”
While suspended from game action, they have been available to practice with the team and have learned the new system as it has developed. Keeping them engaged has been a challenge, but one Cronin has been trying to keep fresh.
“The hardest thing that those guys have all fought is practicing knowing you're not going to play,” Cronin said. “It's hard, it's hard to stay focused, it's hard to have a sense of urgency. We try to change things up and do different types of workouts for them, but there's really no substitute.”
The biggest challenge will be getting them back into the flow of the game while meshing with a group that has rallied and built a strong bond through adversity. Some rust is expected, and it is likely they will be brought along at a moderate pace with things going as well as they have recently.
“We've worked them as hard as we can, but it's not the same,” said Cronin. “I would not expect any of the three guys to be sharp. Hopefully they can give us some depth, but it’s just like JaQuon (Parker) when he came back from his injury. He needed a game. His timing was off.”
The biggest spotlight will be on Gates who was the focal point of the old offense. How will he fit in an open court system as the lone post player on the floor?
For the recently named Big East Player of the Week Sean Kilpatrick he is looking forward to the big man drawing defenders away from the perimeter for open jumpers and allowing more room for ball handlers to attack the lane.
“It makes everything a little bit easier,” Kilpatrick said. “A lot of attention will be brought back to the middle and that will make our shots open up a lot more and our drives open up a lot more.”
Cronin wouldn't elaborate as to how he plans to employ his returning big men into the system, but he was adamant that they would only see the floor if they put forth the same type of effort that has been a staple through each of the past six wins.
“They just need to do whatever we ask them to do because that's what the guys are doing right now,” Cronin said. “What role does a guy play? He just needs to do what we ask him to do when you get to play.”
The game will mark the start of the third chapter of what has already been a long and winding 2011-2012 season. If they can beat a Notre Dame team that has started to find itself since losing star forward Tim Abromaitis to an ACL tear two game into their season, the Bearcats will be sitting at 2-0 in Big East play. Three plus weeks ago that seemed all but impossible.