Full rotation

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Mick Cronin touches on the expectations of his rotation at Thursday's media availability.


CINCINNATI -- What a rotation will be in February is hard to judge in November. If you think you have a rotation or even starters set for the end of the year at this point, you aren't living in reality.


Last season, who played, how many minutes and why became a major spearhead of discussion during last basketball season. Fans called for less players in the rotation and more consistency from game to game.


The exhibition Monday against Carleton St. and on Tuesday against Indiana Southeast will play a role in determining who earns opportunities when the games start for real on the 15th against Mt. St. Mary's.


"You can watch us play and see we have some interchangeable parts, that guys are going to play," Cronin said. "At the end of the day, I tell our guys, you've got to realize there is a battle going on for minutes."


The composition of this year's team would be more conducive to a deeper rotation. Players and coaches alike talk about being the sum of their parts this season. With no true stars outside of Yancy Gates and so many players capable of providing a points/defense combination, Cronin plans on running players in and out.


More than that, he plans on running. The full-court press will become a staple for the first time since Cronin's arrival.


"That's a big plan of ours," he said. "Obviously, we have had to build for a few years around here to get to a point of talented team parts, all fit style to be able to implement a certain style. This is the first year that we don't have a perimeter player who can't pressure the ball, that can't recover and close out and defend people and harass the basketball."


The Bob Huggins era of basketball at UC was defined by the full-court press. The physical trapping defense left a footprint on the path to the 1992 Final Four and rarely relented until Huggins left UC in 2006.


Deonta Vaughn, for all the points and excitement he delivered to the program, could never be considered a shutdown defender. Gates needed to lose weight and improve conditioning this summer because too often slow defense forced him off the court - either by coach's decision or foul trouble.


Cronin wants his team to be two-deep at every position and not suffer any drop off in talent. Concerns over losing offense came last year any time Vaughn and Stephenson left the game. So much of the scoring ran through those two, not enough consistency existed behind them.


Those who entered in their place, like Dion Dixon, felt the pressure to make an instant impression in the limited time.


"I got in and I was pressing a little bit," Dixon said, " trying to make something happen."


Exactly how deep this year's rotation will go and what it will entail remains anybody's guess at this point. Cronin made a habit of using minutes as a motivational tool and insists that will continue this time around.


"I don't want guys ever resting on where they are at in the rotation, accepting whether they are starting, not starting, to try to always get better," Cronin said. "You can't take your minutes for granted."


The rotation could include Biggie McClain for the first time. McClain played 14 minutes during the exhibition against Carleton St. and Cronin expressed confidence in his ability to play a role that doesn't detract from the flow of the offense.


He sees McClain contributing as Brian Zoubek did for the Duke Blue Devils last season, only in a smaller role off the bench.


Zoubek averaged 5.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for Duke as a senior.


"We don't struggle to score anymore when he is in the game because he understands how to help us score as a screener," Cronin said. "As big as he is, he's an eclipse as a screener, so, he understands that. He also understands, if we can get him right in front of the rim that he is going to score on anybody - he's 7-1, 290."


Looking at the minutes on the box score after games last season created a hierarchy of who earned playing time during the week. On what Dixon claimed was more a team of individuals, it didn't always sit well.


Luckily for Cronin, this team appears to be taking nothing for granted. The immunity to selfishness makes working a deep rotation easier.


"You go out there every game you try to give it your all and just play," Dixon said. "As far as playing time, it doesn't matter, we are all together, so it really doesn't' matter. As long as we get the wins."

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