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No. 19 UC-Miami (Ohio) preview

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The offense has changed for UC's basketball team. It's no longer about finding a way to get guard Deonta Vaughn a shot. It's no longer about wanting one guy - the only player who could score on a consistent basis - to take as many shots as possible.

 

Instead, Mick Cronin wants a free-flowing ball-movement style of play where any of the five players on the floor can take a shot - and make it. It's a change of pace for the Bearcats, and it's partially why the UC offense has struggled for much of this season. The Bearcats are simply trying to find a new way to score points, and it's taking plenty of time for them to learn how.

 

"That type of offense takes some time to develop," said Cronin, whose squad takes the U.S. Bank Arena floor at 8:30 tonight to face Miami (Ohio). "It's easier to say, 'You're going to pass it, you're going to screen, you're going to shoot.' We were that way in the past with Deonta because we had other guys who were struggling to score. Now, we're trying to be a well-balanced team.

 

"When we get to a point where we're playing this way offensively, we'll be much harder to deal with because we won't be predictable. We'll have five guys that can score and three guys out there that can beat their man. We're going to reap the benefits of it as the season goes on, but we haven't looked fluid because we've got guys who are being asked to make plays that are freshmen."

 

The defense is the reason UC enters tonight's game with a 5-1 record. Yes, the Bearcats average 75 points per game, but if you throw out last week's 94-57 domination of a bad Texas Southern squad and the 92-68 decision against a completely overmatched Toledo team, that number drops to 66 points per game. Don't expect a waterfall of points tonight either. For one, RedHawks coach Charlie Coles' squad will do its best to slow down the ball as much as possible and keep the game in the 50s. For two, UC, Cronin said, is still a month away from playing as fluidly as he wants.

 

"But," he said, "it's going to help us in the long run."

 

For now, the easiest way for UC to score points is from the foul line. The Bearcats haven't spent much time there this season. In the three games in Maui, they took an average of 13.7 free throws per game, while their opponent shot 29.7. That ended up being a difference of nearly 11 points per game. If the UC defense hadn't been so good in the Maui Invitational, that disparity could have been an absolute killer.

 

"We're trying to become a team that gets to the foul line," Cronin said. "We're not there yet. We have to let our big guys catch it deeper and get fouled more. We have to get our perimeter guys on wing-to-rim drives and get themselves to the free throw line. True scorers get layups and free throws. If you're going to be a high-scoring team, you'll probably have to get 15-17 layups and 20-30 free throws. If you can get 45-50 points on layups and free throws, you can be a high-scoring team. We don't just live on jump shots. When we do, we struggle offensively."

 

Junior wing Rashad Bishop knows this, though. He likes this offense better than the one before.

 

"It's more of a fast-paced offense," he said. "It's not the half-court things we did last year. We have enough people who can get out and run a full 40 minutes. It's a lot more fun. It's just fun getting up and down the court, running and showing our athleticism. In the past, it had to be more structured, but now that we have more talent, there's more freedom. He lets us do what we can do."

 

--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson is averaging 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but Cronin says you haven't seen anything yet.

 

"He has not played well offensively," Cronin said. "He plays unselfish offensively. He has not played like he plays in practice. There are days in practices he never misses a shot. It's scary how hard he is to defend. He hasn't had that kind of game. But to his credit, all he's worried about is playing defense, playing hard and winning."

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