2007-2008 Team Record: 13-19, 8-10 Big East (10th)
Key Losses: John Williamson (11.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Adam Hrycaniuk (6.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Key Returnees: Deonta Vaughn (17.9 ppg, 4.0 apg)
Newcomers: Nick Aldridge, Dion Dixon, Yancy Gates, John Riek, Steve Toyloy, Mike Williams, Cashmere Wright
Cincinnati went 13-19 last year, including losses to powerhouse programs such as Belmont and Bowling Green, and lost four of their top six players. So how can I list them as one of the top 50 teams in the country? Well, it starts with one of the most exciting players in the country to watch - Deonta Vaughn. Last year, Vaughn averaged 17.9 ppg, but was one of the most explosive scorers in the country (he went for 30+ three times, 20+ eight times, and 19 four more times), mainly because of his three point shooting ability - he can hit them out to about 28 feet and has no conscience (and a permanent green light from Coach Mick Cronin).
Vaughn will be joined in the back court by top 100 recruit Cashmere Wright and sophomore Rashad Bishop. Wright is a similar player to Vaughn (shoot-first point guard) so he may end up coming off the bench, but since he is more of a penetrator than Vaughn is, they should complement each other well. Rashad Bishop is a tough defender who could turn into a very effective wing if he improves his jump shot - right now he is a slasher that can get to the rim and finish. Freshman Dion Dixon, who comes from Crane Tech in Chicago (which produced Tony Allen, Sherron Collins, and Will Bynum), and sophomore Larry Davis should also compete for time.
The Bearcats greatly improve their front court with the recruiting class that Cronin brought in, which is probably the second biggest reason I see Cincinnati being a good team. First and foremost, they add Yancy Gates, who has the potential to be one of the best freshman in the country. He is 6'9", 250 lb, and probably is the strongest player in the class, but he can also step out and shoot it to the three point line or put the ball on the floor. His biggest knock by most recruiting analysts is that he doesn't use his size or strength enough and falls in love with perimeter jumpers.
Outlook: Mick Cronin is really doing a good job with this Cincinnati program. It took them a while to gel last year, but once they did, they were very competitive in the Big East, starting the year out 8-5 in league play before dropping their last five (although, three were on the road - G'town, Pitt, UConn - and three were very close games). They will be young again, but with their front line and Deonta Vaughn, this team is my sleeper pick in the Big East.