Cincinnati Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup

G Cashmere Wright, junior
G Dion Dixon, senior
G Sean Kilpatrick, sophomore
F Yancy Gates, senior
C Kelvin Gaines, freshman (redshirt)

Key reserves: Justin Jackson, sophomore; Shaquille Thomas, freshman; Jermaine Sanders, freshman; Octavius Ellis, freshman; Cheikh Mbodj, junior

It has been a steady climb for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats returned to the NCAA Tournament last season, before losing to eventual champion UConn in the second round.

Yancy Gates returns after averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game from a

Pat Strang/Flickr

season ago. Dion Dixon (11.6 PPG) and Cashmere Wright (3.9 APG) are among the Bearcats top returners.

However, outside of those three Cinci is inexperienced. Outside of Gates, the rest of the frontcourt includes sophomore Justin Jackson, who only averaged 2.5 PPG, junior college transfer Cheikh Mbodj, and reshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines.

Cincinnati had a strong recruiting class of big men (Shaquille Thomas, Jermaine Sanders, and Octavius Ellis), but they will all need to contribute early.

The Bearcats is usually one of the best defensive teams, but outside of Gates and Dixon, do they have another option?

awbentley/Flickr

If Cinci does, maybe it will be up there with UConn, Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville as top contenders. If not, that defense will need to be better than it was last season.

Look for Cincinnati to float towards the top this season, but don’t be surprised if they fall towards the middle of the conference.

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Marquette Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup

PG Darius Johnson-Odom, senior        Pfighting Polish's/Flickr
SG Vander Blue, sophomore
SF Jae Crowder, senior
PF Davante Gardner, sophomore
C Chris Otule, junior

Key reserves: Jamail Jones, sophomore; Junior Cadougan, junior; Juan Anderson, freshman

The Golden Eagles return three starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team. Darius Johnson-Odom (15.8 PPG) is the team’s top returning player. DJO is one of the best scorers in the conference. The stocky 6-foot-2 guard can finish at the rim, as well as stroke it from deep. Johnson-Odom is one of the best shooters, right up there with Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs.

Rick Burtzel/Flickr

Marquette also returns Jae Crowder, a junior transfer. Crowder is the team’s leading rebounding in 2010-2011. Crowder averaged 12 and 7 in his first year in Milwaukee. Chris Otule returns at center and is one of the league’s best interior defensive players.

Head coach Buzz Williams has a 69-37 record since arriving four years ago after taking over for the departing Tom Crean. But his strength isn’t defense. The Golden Eagles allowed 68.8 points per game, which needs to improve in Marquette wants to seriously

bellyobsessed/Flickr

contend in the Big East.

Another problem is making up for the production of Jimmy Butler (15.7 PPG), who has since graduated. That puts a lot of pressure on sophomore Vander Blue (5.1) and freshman Juan Anderson.

With Johnson-Odom and Crowder, one of the Big East’s best one-two combos, can carry the team, but I don’t think it will be to the top of the conference.

Look for Marquette to get an NCAA bid, but not much better than that 11th-seed from last year.

Syracuse Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup 

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Katchen/Flickr

PG Scoop Jardine, senior
SG Brandon Triche, junior
SF Kris Joseph, senior
PF Rakeem Christmas, freshman
C Baye Moussa Keita, sophomore

Key reserves: C.J. Fair, sophomore; Dion Waiters, sophomore; Fab Melo, sophomore; Michael Carter-Williams, freshman; James Southerland, junior

In 2010 Syracuse had 30 wins. In 2011 the Orange had 27. One thing remains: postseason failure.

Syracuse once again has a quality team to put on the floor, but NCAA Tournament collapses still hangs over its head. In 2010 the Orange lost to darling Butler Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen. Last season, Big East rival Marquette pulled off the upset.

The Orange look solid in the backcourt and at the small forward position. Although Jardine can get trigger happy he did average almost six assists per game. Triche will be in his third year in the starting lineup and is a consistent No. 2; he knocked down 33 percent from deep.

Joseph is one of the conference’s best finishers and Fair had a brilliant freshman campaign a season ago.

The frontline could be an issue. Melo, a McDonald’s All-American, had a disappointing freshman season after being picked as the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year. What made things worse was Melo’s off court issues. His girlfriend has accused him of being physically violent.

Moussa Keita has an edge to get the starting job, but he is very limited offensively.

Photo Courtesy of Peter Manzari/Flickr

Syracuse will have to rely Christmas to contribute early. Christmas, another Philadelphia recruit for Jim Boeheim, is a tough defender, while being a difficult matchup for his opposition. Carter-Williams is the other highly-touted freshman, who possesses a smooth stroke.

The Orange is moving to the ACC, so Boeheim will like to make the most of his last Big East season.

Syracuse may not be the best team in the Big East, but it will definitely contend for the title. But for Cuse, its focus should be on success in March.