This question seems to come up every year.
After the 2010-11 season it was how will they replace the senior leadership of Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, and Darnell Wilks. After the 2011-12 season it was how will they replace the 12.2 points and 8.9 boards per game from Yancy Gates. After the 2012-13 season it was how will they replace Cashmere Wright’s presence at the point and second scoring option of JaQuon Parker. And after this past season UC fans are asking themselves how they’ll replace the hot hand of Sean Kilpatrick and inside presence and overall dynamism of Justin Jackson.
College basketball isn’t like the NBA where players can lock themselves onto a single team for a decade if they so choose. No, players at the collegiate level have a shelf life, 4-5 years depending on if they redshirt with typically 2-3 of those where they make meaningful contributions to the team. And because they typically peak in their senior year (if they stay on campus that long), it causes fans to naturally agonize about how their favorite team will ever go one without them.
But we at Cincinnati should have outgrown that natural reaction by now.
Replacing senior leaders at this point in the Mick Cronin era is about as difficult of a decision as choosing toppings on a pizza. You have a coupon that only lets you get a combination of two? No biggie. Just pick sausage and pepperoni or ham and pineapple and move on. No matter the decision at the end of the day you’ll be equally happy and equally hating yourself*.
*All of you wolf down pizzas by the double-slice, right?
The same goes for Mick Cronin when he’s putting together his roster in the months leading up to the season (and potentially ordering pizza). He’s built up UC basketball to the point where the team can lose key contributors to graduation, other players are given expanded roles, and Cincinnati keeps right on winning. Rinse and repeat. Just look at what happened to this team after Bishop, Davis, and Wilks left. Cincinnati continued to earn NCAA Tournament births and even notched a conference championship this past year.
Say what you will about Mick Cronin’s offense (I’ve said plenty myself) but the man knows defense. What’s more is that he knows it so well and he’s ingrained it so deeply into his players and coaches that the Bearcats are churning out a top 10 defense year after year like clockwork. That’s just what everyone has just come to expect from Cincinnati basketball.
Don’t get me wrong, UC is going to miss Kilpatrick’s 20.9 points and Jackson’s 7.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. That’s a fact. A team simply doesn’t deal with replacing 57% of their points and 51% of their rebounds between departing seniors Kilpatrick, Jackson, and Rubles and not struggle with the turnover. But the degree to which it affects the Bearcats will be mitigated by the system Cronin has established at UC.
Cincinnati will find an inside presence to replace Justin Jackson between Quadri Moore, Jamaree Strickland, and Coreontae DeBerry. They’ll find another Titus Rubles-type contributor at the 4 between Jermaine Lawrence and Gary Clark. UC will figure out who between Kevin Johnson and Deshaun Morman will provide an offensive spark off the edge a la Sean Kilpatrick. And I expect Troy Caupain will develop into a stellar point guard.
No matter how Cronin and his coaches put the pieces together, it’ll work and the Bearcats will find a way to win another 20+ games next season. It’s just what they always do.