Tonight marks the third game in the past five days for UC, and you'd expect a variety of Bearcats to play so the top three scorers can get some time to rest on the bench.
Yes, freshman guard Lance Stephenson is averaging 13.1 points per game (and 15.3 in Big East play), senior guard Deonta Vaughn is averaging 11.7 (and 17.0) and sophomore forward Yancy Gates is averaging 11.0 (and 10.8). That's all fine. But the problem - and UC ran into this during the Pitt game - is that the Bearcats are susceptible to using their top three players too many minutes.
On the season, Stephenson, Vaughn and Gates are playing 29.6, 29.4 and 25.4 minutes per game, respectively (remember Gates' average dropped significantly because of the 4 minutes he logged against Lipscomb) Against the Panthers, though, those numbers were 32, 34 and 34.
That, for Cronin, is too much. The solution? Get a lead.
"We get behind and we have to play Lance, Deonta and Yancy too many minutes," he said. "Our defense isn't effective. Our defense has been good all year because we play fresh guys."
It showed vs. the Panthers. Gates, especially, looked tired as the game neared its end.
"He's playing well on offense," Cronin said. "But he's not in the (right) physical condition. He probably needs to play 29 minutes. He probably needs more than five minutes rest. Playing those extra minutes hurt us defensively."
An example of Gates' fatigue was evident as the game was nearing the end. With UC losing by two, Vaughn drove, trying to create a scoring opportunity. His first option was to shoot. His second option was to find Stephenson coming off a curl. His third option was to get the ball to Gates. Stephenson missed the layup, and a tired Gates fouled Jermaine Dixon - who then hit the two foul shots that gave the Panthers a four-point lead with 1:02 to play.
"For us to be the team we need to be defensively, we need to play our bench," Cronin said. "We did a lot of breaking down. We haven't played those guys that many minutes."
That should change tonight. So, look for freshman point guard Cashmere Wright, junior forward Ibrahima Thomas and junior forward Darnell Wilks to see more playing time. And whatever became of freshman guard Jaquon Parker - who has yet to make his Big East debut?
--If you don't know much about Cal State Bakersfield, you're not alone. The Roadrunners (yes, I had to look up their nickname) are in the final season of a five-year process that transitions them from Division II to Division I.
Don't know if you knew this - because I certainly didn't - but former Bearcats Charles Williams (1996-97) and Marcus Moss (1995-96) left UC and transferred to Cal State Bakersfield.
Those guys won't be playing tonight, though. So, who do you want to watch out for when the teams take the court at 7:30 p.m.? Senior forward Trent Blakley averages 14.9 points per game, and freshman guard Stephon Carter scores 12.3 per contest. The team's top rebounder is senior forward Santwon Latunde, who grabs 8.8 per game. But Latunde is only 6-6, and I expect him to have problems while trying to battle with Gates, Steve Toyloy and Ibrahima Thomas.
--Stephenson on how his Big East experience has been so far.
"The competition is great," he said. "Every team comes out tough, and they play defense. It's been a little bit harder for me to adjust."