Nov. 2, 2015
By Bill Koch
CINCINNATI – University of Cincinnati basketball Mick Cronin has talked before about picking up the tempo on offense and the Bearcats have occasionally thrived with that approach in recent years.
But when he talks about tempo this year, he’s not necessarily talking about pushing the ball in transition and looking for layups, although UC will be happy to take those every chance they get.
With the new 30-second shot clock in effect for the first time in 2015-16, the Bearcats’ emphasis during practice has been on creating a better offensive flow, with the goal to avoid having to confront a set defense to try to score late in the shot clock.
“We want to get kids to be able to read the defense instead of having to call a play every time,” Cronin said. “With the shot clock and the way that teams are going to press to shorten the clock, you can’t come out of a press offense and set it up and look back at me on the sideline for a play call. I think that benefits the defense. So we’ve worked really hard at trying to keep the ball flowing and getting the kids to play off each other and get the best shot we can without stopping the ball and looking over towards the sideline.”
The Bearcats will have their first chance to test their offensive fluidity at 7 p.m. Tuesday when they play Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.) at Fifth Third Arena in the first of two exhibition games before the regular season opener a week from Friday. The Lakers are coached by Ric Wesley, a friend of UC associate head coach Larry Davis.
Cronin usually tries to find Division II exhibition opponents that will provide meaningful competition for his team and he says the Lakers meet that criterion. They return three starters and nine lettermen from a team that went 13-15 last year. More important from Cronin’s standpoint is that Grand Valley has decent size with two players that stand 6-foot-10, one at 6-8 and one at 6-7.
“When you play some Division II teams, all their big guys run around shooting threes and they play five guards against you,” Cronin said. “That’s really not conducive to get ready for the regular season. Grand Valley’s got some size, so they play more like a Division I team. They’re not going to run around and shoot 35 threes against us. They’ve got some bigger guys that can hold their own physically. We’re going to have to box out or we’ll get hurt on the glass.”
The emphasis on offense, Cronin said, is the next step in a two-year development plan with this group.
“It’s just a continuation of things that we’re trying to accomplish,” Cronin said. “The thing we were able to do last year was get our toughness together, get our defense and rebounding together. The last horizon for us is to be able to spend time on offense, the time you need to spend on offense to really be highly efficient.”
Cronin said he didn’t know who would start for UC, but if he goes with the starters from last year’s 23-11 team the lineup will include Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb at the guards, with Shaq Thomas and Gary Clark at the forwards, and Octavius Ellis in the post. Regardless of who starts, Cronin said, everyone will play.
“We’ve got to start working with rotations,” Cronin said. “You don’t have to worry about substitutions when you’re scrimmaging each other. We’re trying to figure out playing time and how much can you play Corey (DeBerry) and Octavius together. For us to have a great season, we’ve got to develop our depth and our bench. We’re never going to win the national championship here playing six guys unless we get to the point where we can get four lottery picks to sign with us. Depth is going to have to be important to us.”
Bill Koch covered UC athletics for 27 years – 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer – before joining the staff of Go.Bearcats.com in January, 2015.